It s hard to pinpoint when Michael Kors first became a fashion designer. It might have been the moment when Dawn Mello, then-fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, stopped by Lothar s, the boutique on 57th Street where Kors was working as salesman/window dresser/in-house designer after dropping out of the FIT, and told him that if he ever went out on his own, she d love to take a look at his collection. It might have been the moment in 1981 when he established his label, marking the launch of the estimated billion-dollar Michael Kors brand he runs today. But there is a good chance that it was much earlier than that.
As much of the world has come to understand from watching Kors s work as a judge on the reality-competition show Project Runway, he loves fashion—but not in the way that your average person loves fashion. Kors s love is an inborn love, the kind of love that s almost preternatural. He embraces the idea of fashion in the way that someone who considers themselves a humanist might embrace the idea of humanity. He is a believer in what it stands for, in what it is, in its potential—and though he understands its fundamental limits, flaws, and fallibilities, he still wants it all to be good, both for himself and for the betterment of the greater whole.
Kors, who also did a stint as creative director of Céline from 1999 to 2003, was, of course, already well established as a designer when he began his run on Project Runway in 2004. But the platform of the show afforded him a new kind of cultural currency; suddenly, Kors was not just a successful designer, but an éminence grise of sorts known for his descriptive critiques of the creations trotted out before him. But upon closer inspection, even his greatest hits—who could forget old chestnuts like "Amish cocktail waitress," or "transvestite flamenco dancer at a funeral," or "She looks like a barefoot Appalachian Li l Abner Barbie"?—have always been directed at pushing the contestants to try to be better, work harder, and aim higher. In fact, the idea that fashion might be throwaway or exist purely as a vehicle for provocation or as the product of some tortured, art-damaged process is as foreign to Kors as the idea that someone might not want to look nice or be happy. His own work bears out that ethos: His collections operate at the nexus of a kind of classically American, Jackie O-era notion of glamour and an equally American sporty pragmatism, at once supremely luxurious and eminently wearable, and in creating them, he has managed to find a sweet spot for women who, quite frankly, just want to feel good