Miranda Kerr clutches hers tightly, as do her fellow lingerie models Heidi Klum and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, while actresses Zoe Saldana, Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain have all been spotted with one hanging off their arm. And no, we’re not talking about an A-list boyfriend, but something us non-celebrities can obtain quite easily too: the handbag de nos jours by replica michael kors handbags. Look around any office, restaurant or train carriage, and chances are you’ll spot several – the unobtrusively elegant shoulder bags and totes in navy or camel. The odd one will be burgundy red or fuchsia, but all will feature the shiny golden coin-shaped MK logo.
I wouldn’t want a woman to say, ‘I can’t go to the supermarket with this bag’
Kors, 55, has headed a fashion label for 34 years – the supermodel Iman opened his first catwalk show in 1984 – but in the past few years his brand has gone stratospheric, largely due to the success of his handbags which have sent company revenues sky high – up as much as 50 per cent year on year and reaching $3.3 billion (£2.2 billion) in 2014. The label is also the most searched-for online.
In the not-so-distant past, designer brands maintained their desirability by snootily protecting their exclusivity – unattainability was the basis of their appeal. Kors, however, has disrupted the old model, democratising fashion by selling what he calls ‘everyday luxury’ – a slice of something decadent for a price within reach of many more than a privileged few. A week on a yacht might not be an option, but a bag by replica michael kors (as his accessories range is known) can be. And as a result they are now top sellers in that middle-class bastion of reliable retail John Lewis – which reported a growth of 70 per cent in sales of the range last year and sells an average of 80 bags a day – as well as designer fashion haunts such as Selfridges, which sells around 225 of the brand’s Selma bags alone every week, and Harvey Nichols, which has seen a 34 per cent increase in demand for fake michael kors handbags.
It is one of the first days of spring when I arrive at Kors’s offices in New York. It’s sunny but still brisk, and I’m suddenly concerned about what he’ll think of my 100-denier black opaque tights. This, after all, is the man credited with popularising the bare-legs-even-in-winter look – part of the luxury ‘I don’t take the tube’ lifestyle his brand is infused with. The lobby of his Manhattan HQ is deeply resonant of that ethos too, decked out with caramel leather sofas and black and white shots of his fashion favourites: Jackie Onassis, her sister Lee Radziwill, Robert Redford and Goldie Hawn (whose daughter Kate Hudson is one of Kors’s coterie of A-listers, a firm fixture on the front row at his shows). I fear I should have worn something more impractical, in camel or cream.
When Kors himself crosses his sunny office to greet me, he is, I am relieved to see, in camouflage trousers and a black sweatshirt; only his tan and his large Rolex scream ‘jet-set’. And, perhaps, the large portrait of himself in his trademark aviators, taking up a central spot on the wall. How does he explain the unprecedented popularity of his bags? ‘A handbag is one of those things that’s utilitarian – we need to be able to transport our stuff – but at the same time it adds personality and glamour,’ he says.
‘People want luxury and quality but not something so precious that they will only ever use it on special occasions. I wouldn’t want a woman to say, “I can’t go to the supermarket carrying this bag,”’ he asserts. ‘She should be able to take it to the gym, to work, wear it at the weekend…’
There’s another factor in his formula for success: Kors has – albeit by chance, he maintains – capitalised on fashion’s sweet spot. According to recent reports, £300 is the magic price point at which aspirational shoppers and coveted designer treats meet – Kors’s biggest sellers, the Sutton and the Selma, are £285 and £315 respectively, while the Riley costs from £260. ‘Three hundred pounds is probably that magic spot,’ he agrees. ‘It’s not inexpensive but it’s not so prohibitive that it becomes your once-in-a-lifetime moment.’
Indeed not. Kors tells me that many of his customers are such fans of the bags they buy them in a rainbow of colours (Selfridges carries the Selma in 36 shades, while Harvey Nichols customers can’t get enough of the design in mandarin). ‘I call it the jelly bean principle,’ he says. ‘If you love that jelly bean in strawberry, you’re going to love it in orange and you’re going to love it in mint, so she lines them up.’ (‘She’ being the Michael Kors woman.)
‘She’s a watch collector that way,’ he continues. ‘She’s a shoe collector that way. She’ll buy the same cashmere pullover in six colours, if it’s the right one.’ To feed such apparent avarice, he designs several dozen new bags each season, plus four new collections a year for his significantly more expensive ready-to-wear line.
On loop in the lobby is a video of his autumn/winter 2015 catwalk show in February. Featuring models of the moment Kendall Jenner and Karlie Kloss, it was the most Instagrammed show of New York Fashion Week.
The catwalk range, Michael Kors Collection, is separate from his accessories line and the show is an indulgently high-end extravaganza, with vast swathes of fox fur, cashmere and sparkling sequined dresses, embellished by hand. ‘No, we cannot get you that dress for £300 – it’s an impossibility,’ he shrugs. ‘£3,000 is more accurate.’
So are there two different sorts of Michael Kors woman – the one who collects cashmere sweaters and might be tempted by a four-figure party dress, and the one who carries a Michael Michael Kors handbag to the office?
‘I actually think they are very similar,’ he says. ‘I call them glamorous jugglers. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the public eye or not; if you’re 25 or 65, you’ve got a lot going on – you’re balancing family and work and kids and travel.’
On the long, low shelf at one end of his office, alongside umpteen portraits of himself with models and his three awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, is a picture of Kors with the US president and one of his most famous glamorous jugglers, Michelle Obama. She has worn Kors’s dresses for numerous public occasions, including Obama’s first inaugural reception, and an official White House portrait – ‘a huge honour’, he says. And in January this year, while her husband delivered the State of the Union address, social media was discussing only one thing: Michelle Obama’s two-piece grey Michael Kors suit.
‘A lot of women, when they want to be in a powerful situation, wear a dress. Everyone wears a dress,’ he says. ‘And suddenly, she’s in a suit. So I think there were people watching saying, “Oh, you know what, I could look feminine and powerful and sexy all at once – I could wear a suit.”’ The suit sold out overnight, globally.
‘Fifteen years ago, there were still distinct borders in fashion, and that’s all gone,’ he says, referring to the impact of a social-media universe where everyone is a fashion critic and likes on Instagram can be as important as shoots in glossy magazines. Fifteen years ago, remarkably, he was just opening his first store, in New York. He now has 509 stores worldwide, 13 of them in the UK and Ireland, including a brand new Sloane Street branch in London. Seven more will open here next year, including a Regent Street flagship in early 2016.
Kors grew up in Merrick, Long Island, a suburban town outside New York City. He was interested in style from the start, he says, and at five years old advised his mother, Joan – a former Revlon model – on her wedding dress for her second marriage, coaxing her away from frills in favour of a more streamlined and flattering style. ‘Even at that age, I knew that the woman should wear the dress, not the other way round,’ he says. The numerous women in his family were an enormous influence in the development of this conceit. ‘It was a little bit like a Fellini or an Almodóvar film in my family,’ he laughs. ‘I was surrounded by these very strong women, and they all had different fashion points of view.
‘My mum was very understated, while my grandmother was over-the-top and glamorous,’ he recalls. ‘I had one aunt who was very bohemian, and another aunt who was a full-on sex-bomb [she apparently wore a bikini to his bar mitzvah]. And I saw that when people put the right thing on, they had a bit of a spring in their step.’
As a teenager, he regularly ventured into the city, hanging out at Studio 54, which was frequented by the fashion crowd including the iconic Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and writers such as Truman Capote. He began studying design at New York’s prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology, but dropped out before graduation to develop his own collection. In the cut-throat world of New York fashion, that takes some serious self-belief, I say. ‘I was very sure of myself. I knew what I liked and I knew what I wanted,’ he nods. ‘At the same time I had no idea about the mechanics of fashion, but I knew the kind of things that I wanted to design, and I knew the kind of woman I wanted to design for. I didn’t jump in scared about whether it would work,’ he says. ‘When I play the game, I know I want to win.’
His confidence paid off. At 22, his first collection was bought by New York’s most glamorous department store, Bergdorf Goodman, and championed by Anna Wintour, then fashion editor at New York magazine.
is first catwalk show came three years later, and he spent several years as creative director at the French fashion house Céline before opening his first stand-alone store on New York’s Madison Avenue in 2000. He unveiled the diffusion and accessories line Michael Michael Kors in 2004 – the same year he joined the hit television showProject Runway as a judge – and two years later launched a store selling accessories and homeware. These days, even he seems to think of himself as a brand – ‘That’s very Michael Kors,’ he says on several occasions.
It’s a tricky manoeuvre that Kors has pulled off over the past decade, not just democratising his brand without devaluing it, but harnessing that populism to create a powerhouse.
‘These are different times: girls who are just starting their career mix their high-street wardrobes with pieces that are more expensive, and then they add some vintage,’ he says.
‘The rules have changed – the wealthiest people in the world wear flip-flops.’
Kors himself falls firmly into this category – last year he officially joined the Forbes global list of billionaires.
He lives in Manhattan’s pretty, pricey West Village with his long-term partner Lance LePere, whom he married on the beach in Long Island in 2011. Not that it sounds as if he’s home all that much.
‘I’m off to Los Angeles next, then Amsterdam, then Milan, then Tennessee – but that’s on vacation – then Florida, twice,’ he rattles.
All in the next five weeks. When does he relax? ‘I’m all about the beach,’ he enthuses. ‘Get me to warm weather, with a juicy biography, and it recharges my batteries. It lets me exhale.’
And if he’s in the city, it’s the theatre. ‘I’m a theatre obsessive; in London or New York, if there’s a spare night, I’m at the theatre. So even when I am sitting still, I’m travelling, because the theatre is travelling,’ he declares.
This week Michael will be in London again to host Icons of Style, an event exploring the role of fashion in film over the past four decades, for which he has chosen three of his favourites – Love Story, Almost Famous and the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (for which he worked on the costume design).
The female leads in each film – Ali MacGraw, Kate Hudson and Rene Russo – and the characters they play, are all regular sources of inspiration for him, he says. ‘One of the three is always in my collection. But I see people on the street and at the airport who inspire me too,’ he continues. ‘I saw an older woman the other day in Florida, who had taken her cashmere muffler and pulled it through a big ring around her neck. I thought that was cool – it suddenly made her glamorous,’ he enthuses.
‘You don’t have to be famous to inspire Michael Kors. You might just pass me on the street.’ Let’s just hope you’re carrying one of his handbags.