Michael Kors is an American fashion designer best known for serving as a judge on the popular television show Project Runway. He’s also known for designing Michelle Obama’s dress for her first official portrait.
Michael Kors was born on August 9, 1959, on Long Island, New York. He moved to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, but dropped out after two semesters. Kors launched his women’s collection in 1981 and became a judge on Project Runway in 2004. First Lady Michelle Obama posed in a Michael Kors dress for her first official portrait. Kors lives in New York City.
Born Karl Anderson Jr. on Long Island, New York, on August 9, 1959, famed fashion designer Michael David Kors was raised on New York’s Long Island. As a toddler, Kors worked as a model, appearing in national campaigns for products such as toilet paper and Lucky Charms cereal. Kors’s biological parents split when he was quite young, and he got his new name at the age of 5, when his mother married businessman Bill Kors. “My mother said, ‘You’re getting a new last name, so why don’t you pick a new first name?'” Kors recalled. He chose Michael as his first name and his second-favorite, David, as his middle name. His mother also allowed him to design her wedding dress. Kors, already a fashion addict, was thrilled with the prospect. “The marriage didn’t last, [but] the pictures are timeless,” Kors quipped later.
From their suburban home in Merrick, New York, Kors scavenged every bit of fashion intelligence he could gather. “I practically hyperventilated every month when Vogue arrived, and I loved shopping,” he said. Kors moved to New York City in the 1970s to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. He loved the city more than the school, however, and dropped out after two semesters. In 1978, Kors went to work at the French boutique Lothar’s, which allowed him to design and merchandise his first fashion collection. The well-received collection generated enough interest that Kors was able to start his own fashion line. Michael Kors Women’s Collection launched in May 1981, and was sold in the high-end department stores Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Fashion Design Success
Kors’s simple, elegantly tailored clothing and his charmingly persuasive sales techniques proved to be a winning combination. Kors traveled across the United States for small fashion shows at private homes, known as “trunk shows.” When he was 23, he convinced the formidable fashion editor Anna Wintour—then of New York magazine, now the editor of Vogue—to view his collection. The glitzy Madison Avenue showrooms he’d later have were still a long way off; Kors displayed the collection laid out on his bed in his apartment. From these humble beginnings, he soon picked up celebrity fans like Barbara Walters and earned awards for his designs.
In 1990, however, Kors; company was forced to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After getting back on his feet, Kors launched KORS Michael Kors, a lower-priced line. He also became the creative director of Celine, a French fashion house, in 1997. In the six years he held that position, he continued to expand his own brand, launching menswear, accessory and perfume lines. In 2003, he won the coveted Menswear Designer of the Year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the most prestigious prize in American fashion.
In 2004, Kors was asked to be a judge on a new reality television show called Project Runway. He almost turned it down. “Reality show? Fashion on television?” Kors recalled thinking. “I thought that only fashionista freaks, gays and men wanting to see Heidi Klum in a short dress would watch it.” He was wrong. The show premiered on December 1, 2004, and became an immediate hit with fans and critics. Kors’s quips and blunt criticisms were fan favorites, and he continued as a judge in subsequent seasons. Viewers of Project Runway often commented on his perennial tan, a source of pride for the beach-loving Kors. “Now that Valentino has retired, I believe someone must wave the too-tanned flag,” the designer joked.
In 2012, Kors announced that he would be retiring from Project Runway. By that time, the series had garnered several Emmy Award nominations, among other honors.
Just a few weeks after gay marriage became legal in New York, Kors married his longtime partner Lance La Pere, vice president of Michael Kors Women’s Design in August 2011. The pair had first met in 1990 when La Pere was an intern at the company.
Countless celebrities wear his garments, and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama posed in a Michael Kors dress for her first official portrait. With new lines constantly in production and more customers drawn in by his Project Runway appearances, Kors’s fashion empire continues to grow.