How do you sum up a four-decade career in 63 looks? In a COVID-free world, Michael Kors’s 40th would have been the biggest of fashion bashes with a celebrity-filled front row and a glam after-party. Instead, we watched from our computer screens this morning, living vicariously through Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Carolyn Murphy, and Shalom Harlow, who vamped down 45th Street in sequins and double-face cashmere. In place of Champagne there was a Russ & Daughters care package, and absent his trademark jog around the runway, Kors gave a taped message announcing a money-raising drive for the Actors Fund: “The Broadway community has been suffering terribly since the shutdown,” he said.
New Yorkers had the rare chance to see an in-person Michael Kors mini show yesterday. A negative result on a Rapid Test granted entry to a Chelsea gallery space where many “so good to see yous” but none of the once standard air kisses were exchanged. The designer said that in the downtime of the pandemic, he’d gone searching for the “connective threads” of 40 years. “Certainly timelessness is something we’ve always prided ourselves in, something that I think our customers really appreciate.”
Kors is a New York fashion stalwart. One season he gives his runway a timely Mad Men gloss, another it gets a Studio 54 spin, but his collections are always optimistic, always unshakably him. Much of what he did first we now take for granted. Bare legs in winter. The unexpected combination of a rhinestone-encrusted cocktail dress and a man’s topcoat. A city-country mix. An evening number with streamlined athleticism, a maillot with leather straps and matching heels. “Extremes of opulence and glamour with simplicity and ease” is how he summed up his approach. In a year when the Costume Institute is showcasing American fashion for the first time in decades it seems important to recognize that much of what we think of as American sportswear is Kors-ian sportswear.
With one eye on the past, and the other on the future, he put Q.R. codes on a selection of 16 revived-from-the-archives pieces for fall. A quick scan will unlock original runway clips of the looks and present-day Kors riffing about their inception. The woman who buys look 48, a crystal-studded minidress from resort 1991, for instance, will learn about the consternation the designer sparked when he lent the in-demand piece to multiple magazines for cover shoots. “I love that if they’re 20 or 30 years old, 20 or 30 years from now you’ll have the story built into your garment,” he said.
Considering our collective experience of the last 13 months, back on 45th Street Kors put the emphasis on opulence and glamour. “People are going to want to step out, get dressed up—in certain instances get overdressed. Girls are going out for a hamburger in cocktail dresses and high heels.” This was his bid to clothe them for those reemergence moments. Maybe in a red patent leather balmacaan, a “cotton ball of a shearling coat,” or a glossy black puffer cape. Or perhaps in a hand-sequined silk jersey gown in gold under a pavement-sweeping camel cashmere coat. And always with a spiky pump or slingback.
Kors was equally focused on back-to-work-wear, and his tailoring was clean, sleek, and razor-sharp whether it was cut in Prince of Wales wool or black glove leather. “Let’s go on with the show,” Rufus Wainwright crooned on the Shubert stage, as the models socially distanced in the audience. Kors believes in timelessness, but not stasis. He’s ready to go on with the show when we are.
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