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The Kors touch

Designer Michael Kors, the TV fashion fave in town for a Children's Hospital benefit, won't neglect connecting with his adoring core customers.

Michael Kors' cap-sleeve dress with black/gold cheetah paillettes. He was the featured designer at the 51st annual Daisy Day event.
Michael Kors' cap-sleeve dress with black/gold cheetah paillettes. He was the featured designer at the 51st annual Daisy Day event.Read more

Designer Michael Kors' collections encompass it all - oversized camel leather bags; aviator sunglasses; wide basketweave belts; matte-jersey dresses for women, shrunken jackets for men, and royal-blue fox coats for everybody.

And if the super-licensing of the Kors name doesn't make for an impressive enough portfolio, the affable New York-based designer helped make fashion TV a must see as the sometimes nice, sometimes not-so-nice judge on Bravo's Project Runway.

Yet despite the near daily mentions in Women's Wear Daily, tweens clamoring for his accessories, and dressing celebs (last week, singer Jennifer Hudson), Kors still makes time for trunk shows and in-store visits.

That, he said, is how he connects with his core customer - the very well-off woman who adores clean lines and plush fabrics.

"Any designer who does not get out there and meet people and see what's going on ... see what life is like in different cities is doing themselves a huge disservice," he said in an interview yesterday, held right after his helicopter touched down in a foggy Center City.

Wearing his customary black, Kors was the featured designer at the 51st annual Daisy Day event at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, a grand luncheon held to raise money for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

This year, Kors helped the institution draw 975 attendees and raised $1.2 million for palliative care, a program of services that helps terminally ill children and their families.

"It's a wonderful program and I'm glad that I was here to support it," Kors said. "I used to come to Philadelphia twice a year when I visited Nan Duskin and Toby Lerner."

For the last 10 years, Saks Fifth Avenue has partnered with the hospital to bring an of-the-moment designer to speak to the audience and hold a fashion show, followed by intimate appointments back at Saks. Audience members this year included Tory Burch (with boyfriend Lance Armstrong in tow) and Aileen Roberts, wife of Comcast Corp. chief executive officer Brian Roberts.

Tom Marotta, vice president of couture at Saks, called Kors in August and personally asked him to do the lunch. When Kors was starting out, Marotta, who died last month, was one of the few elite buyers who helped champion the young designer, and Kors dedicated yesterday's show, his fall 2007 collection, to him.

"He was one of the early flag wavers for Michael Kors," Kors said. "He had the best smile, the best laugh and the best taste."

Unlike many designers before a show, Kors, 46, was cool, unfrenzied and typically tan (although probably from a tanning bed, because he had a skin-cancer scare this year). An abbreviated grouping of samples from the fall 2007 show, including an eye-catching pony trench coat, hung on racks behind him.

For Kors, next season is about browns - chocolate and rust - with wide-legged pants, minis and pencil skirts in cashmere flannel and tweed.

Cashmere sweaters in orange and mustard were thick and warm. Easy-to-wear shirt dresses and extra-long tunics appeared rich in silk matte jersey. And of course, there were metallics.

In between sips of iced tea, Kors took pictures, talked about his obsession with Dancing With the Stars, and announced that the June issue of Vanity Fair called him one of reality television's most ornery judges (along with Donald Trump).

Ladies carrying Kors' shoes and handbags oohed and ahhed. Andrea Freundlich of Bryn Mawr even pleaded with him to make clothes for curvier women.

"I dressed Jennifer Hudson, Ellen Pompeo and Eva Mendes all in the same night," he said, referring to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's lavish Costume Institute Gala held Monday. "How is that for a diversity of body types?

"Dressing for the celebrity is better than dressing for models because you get such a variety. People see a Jada Pinkett or Sigourney Weaver and think they can do it because they have the body type."

Kors got his start in fashion at age 19, designing for the New York boutique Lothar's. He created his first line in his early 20s, making clothing for women that they could easily take from day to evening.

Unlike his contemporary Marc Jacobs, who is known for creating silhouettes, Kors glams up everyday shapes. But unlike Donna Karan, who focuses on comfort, Kors tries to add extra pizzazz to his khakis and ski jackets.

"His clothes are like Banana Republic squared," said Toby Lerner, former owner of the now-defunct downtown boutique. Lerner, who carried Kors in his early years, still owns one of his double-faced cashmere pink dresses.

It wasn't until the 1990s that Kors, with help from fashion entrepreneurs Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll (the same guys who bankrolled Tommy Hilfiger), got into accessories. He also expanded his ready-to-wear runway collection to include a lower-priced bridge line.

As of today, Kors' company, which includes shoes, bags, belts and perfume, has estimated sales of more than $100 million a year.

Young designers, says Kors, who sees plenty of them on Project Runway, have their work cut out for them. While people are more aware of fashion and are hungry for new names, sustaining the momentum can be a challenge. He cautions the Jeffrey Sebelias and Jay McCarrolls of the world that they need more than flash to succeed:

"I've been at it for 26 years and it took me 20 years to lose the mantle of 'young designer,' " he said. "It's a slow build. It takes time. . . . Patience is something a lot of people in fashion forget."

To watch designer Michael Kors talk about "Project Runway" and Philadelphia fashion, go to