FROM THE MAGAZINE

Michael Kors Shares His Life in Parties

As he celebrates a major milestone, the designer reflects on teenage nights at Studio 54, Paris fashion shows, and wedding cake at home.


Michael Kors with models wearing his designs. Courtesy of Michael Kors.
Courtesy of Michael Kors.

In 1978, Michael Kors dropped out of the Fashion Institute of Technology after attending for nine months. He launched his namesake line at Bergdorf Goodman in 1981, and wound up in Vogue for the first time that same year (above, with models wearing his designs), all while working out of the Manhattan loft in which he lived. “I always knew what I wanted to do, but I was sort of astounded that it was happening at the time,” he says. Since then, Kors has been wowing devotees with his cheerful, wearable designs—and delighting them with his mischievous wit. Earlier this year, to commemorate his brand’s 40th anniversary, Kors opted for a presentation featuring a runway down the middle of 45th Street. “A lot of people think fashion has to be doom and gloom to be considered worthy of discussion,” he says. “That’s not how I approach it. The show was a tribute to what we’ve been missing from life: live performance, being with other people, and a sense of community.”

Kors, pictured here in a Qiana shirt (“A wonderful way to make polyester sound glamorous”), with a haircut he describes as “a cross between Farrah Fawcett and Leif Garrett,” started going out in the late 1970s on Long Island, where he grew up, before venturing into New York City nightlife at 17. “Instead of going to my senior prom, I went with a friend to Studio 54. They had just opened. We were kids from the suburbs, but I thought we were dressed fairly outrageously,” says the designer. “Then, when we got in, I realized that what we were wearing was kind of the starting point.”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

By the mid-’80s, Kors had 10 employees and had moved his business out of his loft and into a proper office. Above: A Christmas party with the team. “We’re jumping for joy,” he says. “We wanted every picture to feel like a Bill King photo shoot, so I jumped everywhere. My cigarette lighter is actually flying out of my pocket.”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

“When you are an only child and a summer baby, that means you have no holidays to compete with. Growing up, I felt my birthday was like a national holiday,” Kors says. Above: Kors celebrates his 8th birthday with his aunt and uncle in his hometown of Merrick, New York.

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

At 18, Kors enrolled at FIT, but he had a hard time separating nightlife from coursework. “I used to smoke in class and pretend that I didn’t know that it wasn’t okay,” he says. At night, he found himself surrounded by the likes of Halston, Calvin Klein, and Grace Jones. “When I was 14, I would take the party pictures from W and pin them on the wall. Then, a few years later, I’d meet Nan Kempner sitting on a banquette at 54.”

Robin Platzer/Getty Images.

“It’s one of the greatest parties I’ve ever been to,” Kors says of the first year of Seventh on Sale, an event to benefit the New York City AIDS Fund, in 1990. “It was one of those nights where the energy is positive and the mix is amazing.” Christy Turlington (above, right, dancing with Naomi Campbell) was his date for the night, and it was also the first time he met David Bowie, the partner of his friend Iman. “I tried to be blasé, but I basically peed in my pants. He was absolutely everything to me,” Kors says. “We ended up going to the Copacabana with Steven Meisel and a whole group of people, and Naomi danced on the table.”

Michel Dufour/WireImage.

In 1997, Kors was chosen to turn the historic French leather goods brand Celine into a full-fledged luxury fashion house. While his namesake brand has always been infused with a sophisticated sense of American practicality, at Celine he showcased more of a party-girl vibe, with bold prints, bright colors, and plenty of cocktail dresses. “It’s Paris, land of the three-hour lunch and women who eat foie gras and wear a size 4 dress,” he told The New York Observer in 1998. Above: His fall/winter 2004 show.

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

When he and husband Lance LePere tied the knot, in 2011, they decided to keep things low-key. “It was right after marriage equality passed in New York, and we decided that we wanted to be barefoot on the beach,” says Kors of the joint ceremony that he and LePere held with another couple. “Then we got in the car and had pizza at Sam’s in East Hampton, went home, and had our wedding cake and champagne.”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

Even though he no longer views his birthday as a national holiday, Kors used the occasion of his 60th to take over the famed West Village piano bar Marie’s Crisis, with his longtime friend Jane Krakowski by his side. “I call it scream therapy—to go and sing at the top of your lungs—because I really am not a good singer,” he says. “Everyone sang their hearts out that night.”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

“I’ve always been surrounded by this incredible group of women—Charlie with the Angels,” says Kors, pictured here with (from left) Karen Elson, Halima Aden, Iman, Ugbad Abdi, and Imaan Hammam at the 2019 Golden Heart Awards, an event Kors hosts to benefit God’s Love We Deliver. “They’re there to help support such an important cause. I’m really amazed to see how many young models who are just sort of getting their feet wet in the fashion industry want to help out.”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

In 2011, Kors opened his first store in Paris, and invited Mary J. Blige to perform. His instructions for Blige were simple: “I want you to do one thing that everyone knows you for, one thing that no one’s ever heard you do, and one thing that I get to pick.” Kors’s choice was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” “This is her hitting the crescendo. Everyone got up from their tables. The screaming was crazy. Everyone says the French are so subdued. Not when you hear Mary J. Blige singing ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ ”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

For years, Kors has been the costume contest judge at Bette Midler’s annual Hulaween Halloween gala to benefit the New York Restoration Project, and he never disappoints with his own attire. “I’ve dressed up like everything from a photographer in La Dolce Vita to Andy Warhol. One year, I thought I was going as a social lion, but I ended up looking like Priscilla Presley,” he says. “A lot of people pooh-pooh charity fundraisers and say, ‘Is it ever really fun?’ We have a blast every year, and we do something that’s so positive for this city that I love.”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

“Some of my best parties have been with the Obamas,” says Kors, who designed the dress Michelle Obama wore in her first official portrait. At one Obama event, he ran into Aretha Franklin and had a discussion on “the merits of sequins versus bugle beads.” Another memorable night was Michelle’s 50th birthday. “It’s Beyoncé; it’s waffles; it’s the White House,” Kors says of the scene.

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

Kors attended his first Met Gala in 1980, with Vera Wang, who was a Vogue editor at that time. The event was smaller then, with just Bill Cunningham and a few others taking photos. “I was so excited to go,” Kors says. “Unfortunately, we learned that night that John Lennon had been murdered, so the party ended very quickly.” However, Kors has taken several trips up the steps of the Met since then (above, with Gigi Hadid in 2019). “Talk about a mix of people. Where else are you going to see P. Diddy and Pat Buckley?”

Kevin Mazur/MG19/Getty Images for the Met Museum/Vogue.

“I did Project Runway for a long time. You got to work at your own company, then go and see a whole other work family, but we had so much fun doing it,” Kors says. “Heidi [Klum] once chased me around the judges’ chairs. She knows I’m very ticklish, and I was so afraid that she was going to tickle me that I fainted. I woke up with her straddling me, and she looked at me and said, ‘Aren’t you a lucky boy?’ ”

Courtesy of Michael Kors.

The 40th anniversary of Kors’s label fell during the pandemic, so the designer called in his favorite models for a socially distanced show in the streets of Manhattan (above, from top: Bella Hadid walking the runway; the marquee at the Imperial Theatre). “It was a great street party atmosphere,” Kors says. “The models had a blast. I had a blast. The paparazzi had a blast. Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but I still think fashion can bring joy to our lives.”

Courtesy of Michael Kors; Raymond Hall/GC Images.