LONDON — It may have been a flash trip to the British capital, but Michael Kors will still be departing with more luggage than he came with — and leaving a legacy, of sorts, at his favorite hotel Claridge’s.
The designer swept briefly into town this week to celebrate a partnership with McLaren-Honda Formula 1, and toast the opening of his 16,000-square-foot flagship on Regent Street — his biggest European unit — with a dinner for 100 at The River Café. Guests included Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Chastain, Solange Knowles, Elle Macpherson, Erin O’Connor and Eugenie Niarchos.
Although he knows nothing about cars, Kors said he’s excited about the McLaren-Honda deal that will see his branding prominent on the driver overalls and the McLaren-Honda MP4-31 car.
“If you said to me ‘Where is the carburetor?’ I would ask ‘What is the carburetor?’ I have no idea,” admitted Kors during an interview Thursday from an upstairs suite at Claridge’s.
The deal is meant to boost his European men’s wear business, which he says is already growing, and lend the world championship Formula 1 team some Kors kudos. (“We want column inches, we want to get into fashion magazines,” said McLaren Group chief executive officer Ron Dennis, explaining part of the rationale behind the deal.)
“When you think about what men fall in love with, there is this little sense of danger. Danger and style combined is a potent cocktail. Why do we have a long-standing love of James Bond? These drivers obviously are dealing with danger on a regular basis — plus they look so good doing it. We did not sponsor a sumo-wrestling team — I have to be honest — although anything is possible.”
Kors has also created 50 limited-edition black leather jackets with both brands’ logos, and a plaque with each item’s unique production number. He said the future will be about creating more limited-edition collections with McLaren.
Before he arrived at the McLaren press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Kors had already had a full day: After landing in London, he shot over to one of his Savile Row favorites — Kilgour — to have his tuxedo pressed (the dry cleaner in New York did a bad job), and while he was in there he ordered a suit.
“Tropical wool linen blend, very formal. I was at a party not long ago in New York where it was a thousand degrees outside, and it was a dressy event, and I realized that I do not own anything that looks formal that you can also wear in extreme heat.”
Kors is a longtime customer of Kilgour — one of Savile Row’s most progressive tailors whose creative director is Carlo Brandelli — and said he loves the way European men engage with fashion. “Guys here are not embarrassed to talk about what they are wearing. American men — except for very few — are traditionally afraid of it,” he said.
The designer added that he loves that a European man will wear a shoe that’s not traditional with a suit, or a backpack over a tailored sport coat. “There is a sense of playfulness. As a designer it is very liberating to have people who are willing to try new things.”
London men in particular, he said, are able to combine “heritage and eccentricity. There is also an attention to detail, and how something is made, but at the same time it is always about how you can look at something in a different way.”
Kors has certainly had a lot of time to observe the Brits: For years the city has fed his outsized passion for shopping and good food. His favorite places include Alfies Antique Market, a treasure trove for many a designer.
“There is always a lamp that calls my name, and it goes right to storage — but it is great looking!” he said, adding that if he’s in London on a Friday, he also likes to hit Portobello Road Market, although that’s become a problem of late.
“After we started doing television, all of the dealers recognize me so I started wearing a hat, because if you are going there you have to be able to haggle a bit.” Sadly, he’s not a good haggler. “Especially when they say, ‘Are you Michael Kors?’ Then it is really not good.”
His other picks include Columbia Road Flower Market in East London. “It is cinematic to me — I always think Eliza Doolittle is going to slide right in and there is a fabulous gastro pub right there near the market that does a great, great Sunday roast.” There’s also the Menier Chocolate Factory on Southwark Street and the new Dover Street Market, not far from Leicester Square.
Kors, who spends up to half of his year traveling, is off to Greece on Friday. He’s launching his new fragrance, Wonderlust, ahead of its U.S. debut in early August.
Later this summer, for his birthday, he’s visiting a part of the world that has long fascinated him: The South Pacific. He’ll be in Tahiti and Bora Bora and is really hoping they live up to his “insane cinematic fantasies — ‘South Pacific’ ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’”
This week, it’s Kors — not Marlon Brando — who’s the star. During the interview, David Downton, Claridge’s artist in residence, and one of the guests at Kors’ party last night, was sketching him.
The final watercolor portrait will be added to gallery of Claridge’s regulars, including Paul Smith, Joan Collins, Julia Roberts, Daphne Guinness, Alber Elbaz, and fellow American designer and TV personality Zac Posen, who touched down here earlier this month on a Brooks Brothers mission.