Kors’ affinity for fashion started when he was very young. His mother thought his affinity might have been caused in part by his exposure to the apparel industry through her modeling career. Michael, at the age of five, even redesigned his mother’s wedding dress for her second marriage. As a teen, Kors began designing clothes and selling them out of his parents’ basement, which he renamed the Iron Butterfly. Kors also took acting lessons when he was young, but stopped when he was 14 when he decided to focus on becoming a fashion designer.
In 1977, he enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. However, he dropped out after only nine months and took a job at a boutique called Lothar’s across from Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan, where he started as a salesperson and went on to become both the designer and visual display head for the store. Shortly after, Dawn Mello, the fashion director at Bergdorf’s, discovered Kors. She asked if he would show his collection to Bergdorf Goodman’s buyers.
In 1981, Kors launched his Michael Kors women’s label at Bergdorf Goodman. In 1990, the company launched KORS Michael Kors as a licensee. A Chapter 11 filing in 1993, caused by the closure of the licensing partner for KORS Michael Kors, forced him to put the KORS line on hold. He managed to get back on his feet by 1997 and launched a lower priced line and at the same time was named the first women’s ready-to-wear designer for French house Celine. In his tenure at Celine, Kors turned the fashion house around with successful accessories and a critically acclaimed ready-to-wear line. Kors left Celine in October 2003 to concentrate on his own brand. Kors launched his menswear line in 2002.
Michelle Obama‘s first term official portrait showing her wearing a dress designed by Kors
The MICHAEL Michael Kors line was launched in 2004, joining the original Michael Kors Collection label. The MICHAEL Michael Kors line includes women’s handbags and shoes as well as women’s ready-to-wear apparel. As of the end of the first fiscal quarter in 2016, Kors has over 770 Lifestyle stores around the world. Currently, Kors has Collection boutiques in New York, Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, Chicago, Miami and Southampton. In the U.S, his women’s runway collection, labeled Michael Kors Collection, is sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and numerous specialty stores. Michael Kors Collection is also carried at the brand’s stores in London, Paris, Cannes, Milan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul. The year 2016 marked the 35th anniversary of Kors’ business.
A dress by Michael Kors, 2010
Among the celebrities who have worn Kors’ designs are Olivia Wilde, Dakota Johnson, Blake Lively, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift, Kate Middleton, Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, Heidi Klum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Michelle Obama wore a black sleeveless dress from the designer for her first term official portrait as First Lady and later sported Kors again at the 2015 State of the Union address. Viola Davis wore a custom Michael Kors Collection gown when accepting a Golden Globe for best supporting actress in a motion picture for her role in Fences. Kate Hudson and Olivia Wilde both wore gowns by the designer to the 2016 Golden Globes, and Emily Blunt, nominated for her role in Into The Woods, wore a white custom gown by the designer in 2015. Joan Allen wore his gown when she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Contender. As creative director of Celine, Kors designed many outfits for actresses to wear on screen, including Gwyneth Paltrow in Possession; and Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair. One of his gowns was worn by Alicia Keys for her performance at Barack Obama’s inaugural ball on January 21, 2013.
The ad campaigns for Kors, shot by Mario Testino, often reflect the jet-set sportswear that his fans like. Previous campaigns include the model Carmen Kass on a safari in Africa and relaxing on a yacht. More recent campaigns feature models Joan Smalls and Freja Beha-Erichsen living the jet set lifestyle.
Kors was a judge on the Emmy-nominated reality television program Project Runway, which aired on Bravo for five seasons; subsequent seasons aired on Lifetime. On December 18, 2012, it was announced that Kors would be leaving Project Runway, to be replaced by fellow designer Zac Posen.
In January 2014, Forbes reported that Kors reached a personal fortune in excess of $1 billion. Michael Kors Holdings had already “minted two billionaires”: Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll.