As much as I can understand what gives a label its allure, I still marvel at just how excited some people get over certain brands. I recently did a make-over segment on the Marilyn Denis show, in which I took a couple shopping to Vaughan Mills. The woman, who had a strong penchant for style, but couldn’t afford to buy designer labels for herself, was given a gift certificate to buy a new mini wardrobe, and we managed to find several great things for her at various shops. But the ultimate thrill for her was being able to buy a chunky Michael Kors watch to complete her look. She’d had her eye on it for ages, and was incredulous that she’d finally be able to purchase it for herself. A little while later, a young friend of mine informed me that she thought Michael Kors was one of the most amazing designers around. When I presented her with an old Michael Kors bracelet of mine, she just about went through the roof. She now wears it proudly, like some badge of honour. When it comes to designer objects, I’m not always sure it’s the actual product that sets hearts racing. Often it may have more to do irresistible marketing strategy. And then there’s the personal appeal of the designer, and the distinct philosophy he or she subscribes to.
In the case of Michael Kors, there’s a simpatico synergy between him and his customers that has a particularly intimate feel: His innate understanding of what women want and need is uncanny, and as a result, he’s built one of the strongest American fashion brands on the planet over the past three decades. “I’ve always believed you can chic and have a sense of humour,” Kors told me in his spectacular new Paris Rue St. Honore store earlier this year. “You can be sexy and be comfortable.” It’s that kind of practical, easy-going style philosophy that appeals to women, and that’s made Kors a household name synonymous with sporty, classic, practical luxury. But like any haute brand worth its salt, a flagship store on tony Bloor St. is a must. So a couple of weeks ago, just in time for the hype and hoopla that the Toronto International Festival brings to this city, Michael Kors opened a little gem of a shop on our Mink Mile. I dropped by to check out the merch, and immediately fell in love with a tall pair of nude snakeskin boots and a tangerine “GIA” satchel bag. Meanwhile, the savvy Mr. Kors, whose career and brand I’ve watched blossom since our first meeting in the mid ‘80s, gave me his insights into what makes a solid brand and a store worth visiting.
JB: What’s your take on Toronto as a destination on the world’s fashion map?
MK: BLOOR STREET HAS EARNED A REPUTATION IN CANADA FOR BEING THE HEART OF THE TORONTO SHOPPING SCENE. MANY COMPARE IT TO NEW YORK’S 5TH AVENUE, AND I AM SO EXCITED TO FINALLY OPEN MY OWN STORE THERE. CANADIAN WOMEN PUT FASHION TO THE TEST, COMBINING STYLE WITH PRACTICALITY, WHICH FOR A DESIGNER IS TRULY INSPIRING.
JB: Why is it so important for you to have so many elements of your design vision together in one boutique?
MK: IN MY BLOOR STREET STORE I AM ABLE TO OFFER A COMPLETE LIFESTYLE COLLECTION TO ANSWER ALL OF OUR CUSTOMER’S NEEDS. KEY LOOKS FROM EACH SEASON ARE REPRESENTED, BUT IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL ITEMS… WE TAKE THE GUESS WORK OUT OF SHOPPING SO YOU CAN TRULY INDULGE IN THE EXPERIENCE. WHEN YOU SHOP IN ANY OF OUR STORES, YOU ARE BUYING A BIT OF LUXURY FOR YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE.
JB: You’ve tackled the concept of a high/low mix in fashion with such savvy and aplomb. Where do you glean most of your inspiration from these days?
MK: REAL WOMEN LIVING IN THE REAL WORLD INSPIRE ME. WOMEN WANT TO BE FASHIONABLE AND SEXY WITHOUT BEING OVER THE TOP, WHICH MEANS GIVING THEM OPTIONS WITHOUT COMPROMISING STYLE. .
JB: What is it that really gives life and longevity to a brand today?
MK: FINDING THE PERFECT BALANCE BETWEEN BEING ASPIRATIONAL AND ACCESSIBLE.
JB: I’ve watched you work so diligently over the years cultivating your strong point of view and building your brand. Now, your brand has never been stronger or more loved. Why do you feel this is so YOUR time?
MK: THANK YOU! I’VE ALWAYS STAYED TRUE TO MY VISION. I BELIEVE IN LISTENING TO MY CUSTOMER, AND GROWING AND EVOLVING WITH THEM & THEY APPRECIATE THAT.
JB: You travel the globe so extensively for inspiration. Does it become more challenging to be inspired the older you get, or is the opposite true?
MK: NOT AT ALL! I LIVE MY LIFE ON A PLANE, IN AIRPORTS, AND VISITING VARIOUS DESTINATIONS…WHETHER IN A CITY, AT A BEACH, OR ON SAFARI, I ALWAYS TAKE IN MY SURROUNDINGS AND THE PEOPLE IN THOSE LOCALES…TRAVEL IS THE ULTIMATE INSPIRATION, I NEVER TIRE OF IT.
JB: What’s the biggest lesson your customers have taught you thus far?
MK: CHIC WOMEN ARE NEVER INTO DISPOSABLE CLOTHING…A DRESS THAT YOU PAY $100 FOR BUT ONLY WEAR ONCE IS A LOT MORE EXPENSIVE THAT ONE YOU PAY $1,000 FOR AND WEAR A HUNDRED TIMES…QUALITY AND LUXURY ARE ALWAYS IN STYLE.
JB: Like all great designers, I know you’re intent on exciting the woman you dress, and giving her a reason to shop. With all the options that are out there, has that become an increasingly challenging task?
MK: I THINK THAT TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN FASHION YOU HAVE TO BE AUTHENTIC TO WHO YOU ARE AS A DESIGNER AND AS A PERSON. WOMEN ARE VERY SMART, SO WHEN SOMETHING SEEMS INAUTHENTIC TO HER, SHE SKIPS IT. AT THE SAME TIME, IT IS IMPORTANT TO THROW THE OCCASIONAL CURVEBALL AS LONG AS IT REMAINS WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF WHAT FEELS GENUINE TO YOU.
JB: With so many shopping on line these days, why is the in-store retail experience so crucial to both you and your customer?
MK: I CALL IT THE RUSH OF THE TISSUE, THE BAG, THE FABRIC… I LOVE TO SHOP ONLINE BUT, IN A WEIRD WAY, IT’S SIMILAR TO THE WAY I LOOK AT THE MAGAZINES. I CERTAINLY LOVE TO LOOK AT THINGS ON MY IPAD, BUT I STILL LIKE TO HAVE IT IN MY HAND. I THINK SHOPPING IS THE SAME THING. YOU GET TO ENJOY THE DISCOVERY OF SHOPPING IN PERSON, WHICH IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN SHOPPING ONLINE.
JB: What types of stores get YOU excited?
MK: I LOVE EVERYTHING FROM A GREAT VINTAGE STORE TO A FABULOUS DRUGSTORE & I AM IN HEAVEN SHOPPING AT THE CONTAINER STORE IN N.Y. I LOVE THINGS THAT ORGANIZE MY LIFE.