28 June 2010

Designer Michael Kors Honored for Classic, Common-Sense Style

The Detroit Free Press

Twenty-nine years IS a lifetime in fashion, yet Michael Kors' enduring youthfulness makes his two lifetime achievement awards this month seem a little surreal.

At 50, Kors is still the guy who bounces down the runway with a bona fide grin. He's the one who calls his mom his muse, the one who likes to do red carpets, the one who gabs it up with customers at trunk shows.

Most of all, he's the guy who still loves what he's doing, and he has no intention of calling it a "lifetime."

"In another 30 years, I don't know what they'll call it," he says, "a second lifetime achievement?"

Kors first sold his signature uptown look to Bergdorf Goodman while he was dressing windows. Now the Long Island, N.Y., native keeps company with socialites and stars, and became a celebrity himself on "Project Runway" with Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia.

His clothes aren't fussy, and he values function, so the pea coats, slinky cocktail frocks, wide-leg trousers and cozy cashmere also work for those without boldface names. (Kors has a second, less expensive line called Michael Michael Kors; and the designer recently opened a stand-alone boutique at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi.)

He favors the color camel, offset by crisp white and jet black. And, in Kors' world, anyone and everyone wears aviator sunglasses.

Kors has created a wardrobe that implies an appreciation for crisp classics. It's "luxurious but low-key and laidback," he says.

He has drawn inspiration from Italy's Amalfi Coast, Palm Beach, Calif., the Alps, the Greek islands, Hawaii and St. Bart's.

But there are still other places to explore. "I am doing a huge Australia trip at the end of the year. I'm going to Morocco. ... I've never been to Shanghai, and I'd like to go to Peru," he says.

Fashion designers need to be students of different places and cultures if they're going to stay relevant and hit the right trends, he adds.

"If you're a modern designer and involved in dressing people for real life, not costumes, the simple truth is fashion is about the zeitgeist. It's about what's right for the moment, so the designers have to be plugged in and aware of what's going on," Kors says. "You have to be aware of what's going on in art, politics, the theater -- it might be the way a girl tucked her shirt in."

Kors knows what he doesn't want to see more of: no more crazy clunky heels paired with microminis and no more rompers. They're both part of the overwrought style that came with the 2000s that seem dated now, he says.

"I am very happy that we're getting out of what I think has been a decade of too much excess. People felt like they've gorged themselves on fettucini alfredo, and now they're looking for something beautifully prepared and simple -- a fresh tomato and mozzarella, a great steak."

Don't mistake Kors for being anything less than a showman, though, when it comes to his catwalk. Twice a year he lives out his Broadway fantasy, creating a lively runway show that gets a further boost from a front row that has included Blake Lively, Bette Midler, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Simpson, Ellen Pompeo, Debra Messing and Eva Longoria.

He brought Gwyneth Paltrow as his date to the Council of Fashion Designers of America ceremony when he received the lifetime tribute from his peers. His second prize came from the Fragrance Foundation.

"Michael is a very warm person, very open and positive. He is great to be around," Paltrow wrote in an e-mail. "He is a compassionate person and not totally self-focused, which is rare for such a successful designer."

She adds: "His clothes are eminently wearable in a classic American way, never over the top or so constructed that you can't move your body or breathe, which is something I value highly."

The era of celebrity has changed fashion, Kors says, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Actresses, rock stars, supermodels -- and the first lady, for that matter -- can all serve as a divining rod for the broader fashion public, steering them toward flattering styles.

Still, he wishes a few more would try something new. "It would be nice to see ... a magazine cover with an actress in real clothes," Kors says.

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