Michael Kors hosts epic event to celebrate opening of Shanghai store

Designer Michael Kors hosts an epic event in Shanghai to celebrate the opening of his flagship store, writesDivia Harilela

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 11:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 11:03am

While many brands are moaning and groaning about the slowdown of sales in China, Michael Kors is flying high - literally. Last week, the designer landed in Shanghai to host an event of epic proportions at Hongqiao Airport, aptly titled the "Jet Set Experience".

And jet set it was - held in a private hanger to celebrate the opening of his Kerry Centre flagship store in the city. Guests were immediately greeted by a parked private jet emblazoned with the designer's name (fun fact: it belonged to the CEO, John Idol). The journey continued as 1,000-plus attendees were transported to glamorous locales like Capri and St Moritz via hi-tech projections and videos that played on large screens surrounding the room.

Later, models including Miranda Kerr walked down a supersized runway in chic pieces from a one-off, exclusive Jet Set collection inspired by Kors' signatures: think elegant cashmere turtleneck sweaters and dresses, body-hugging skirts, show-stopping gowns and lush furs. Adding to the glam factor were a long list of local and international celebrities including Hilary Swank, Camille Belle, Freida Pinto and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Indeed, no one embodies the jet set life better than Kors. When we meet in a luxurious suite at The Peninsula the morning before the show, the permanently tanned designer is in his usual uniform of a black T-shirt, jacket, jeans and a pair of understated but luxe crocodile loafers. He is only in the city for 48 hours before flying off to Milan and then Capri for a holiday.

He reveals that it's his first visit to China, which is surprising considering that he has 29 stores on the mainland in cities as far flung as Nanjing, Tianjin, Dalian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Fuzhou and Guangzhou. The brand plans to open 20 more stores in greater China this year.

"If we talk about jet set, look at China… talk about living a fast life. It's constantly changing, even beyond first-tier cities like Shanghai and Beijing. The idea of a life in motion is natural to the Chinese. As travellers they are full of curiosity; they soak up new things constantly. That kind of curiosity and excitement about what's next makes me run as a designer - and at a high speed," he says.

Kors' career has been on the fast track since he made his first fashion decision at the age of five, when he advised his mother to cut off the bows on her wedding dress.

Later he studied at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology before dropping out to take on a job designing clothes at Manhattan retail giant Lothar's. He calls the experience his "real" fashion education.

"I was a problem solver. [At Lothar's] I didn't actually design collections; I flew by the seam of my pants. If it was raining in New York, I would say, I am going to buy fabric and make raincoats. If it was warm, I'd make linen sundresses. I constantly tried different things. It was like a laboratory - if it sold, I would make more.

"I loved the immediate gratification of seeing people in my designs, and seeing if they worked or not. From an early point in my career, that seemed more exciting than just a photograph.

"In a photo, anyone can make things look beautiful - an image is easy.

"When you see someone look great in it, and grab [the item] over and over, it's a turn on," he says.

By the time Kors launched his eponymous label in 1981, he had created a strong identity that resonated with modern women.

While European brands traded on heritage and tradition, Kors went about building a wardrobe of sporty yet luxe basics, be it a pair of well-cut white jeans, or a super-soft cashmere sweater, that were not just covetable but also wearable.

"[Americans designers] beat everyone to the punch in terms of the fast life. We have no couture tradition - our tradition is based on the clothes you want to live in. People will always crave glamour, but, for the modern world, it has to work in everyday life. I like the idea of everyday glamour," he says.

There have been some bumps in the road to his success. Kors filed for bankruptcy in 1993, but the brand was given a new lease of life when Hong Kong based Sportswear Holdings Limited, owned by tycoons Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, acquired an 85 per cent stake in his company in 2003.

From that point, Kors' career seemed to soar. In 2004 he became a guest judge on famed reality TV show Project Runway, making him a permanent fixture in every household in America and a celebrity in his own right.

When he wasn't scolding some young designer on television, he was connecting with consumers through social media channels such as Facebook, where he boasts more than 13.5 million likes. According to a report released last year by Digital Luxury Group, Kors is the most googled designer in the world.

As his public profile grew, he added to his empire, creating new product categories such as swimwear, children's wear, eyewear and beauty.

While he continued to show his more high-end collection at New York Fashion Week, it was his contemporary line Michael by Michael Kors that won him a broader customer base, allowing working women to buy into his name at a more affordable price.

"Both are lifestyle collections, but the big difference is that with the collection clothes, I am not thinking in terms of price. We treat it as a laboratory, where I can use any embroidery or fabric. It's the place to play with it. As much as I try to convince everyone not to be fearful of high ticket items being precious, those are the clothes that are the special pieces.

"But you can have fun with Michael by Michael Kors. I noticed customers around the world are mixing it up, because that's how people dress. It allows me to have my caviar and pizza," he jokes.

Kors created a unique retail concept which sees both lines housed and mixed together under one roof. It's a bold move for any "luxury" brand, but it's paid off, especially in emerging markets outside the US.

"In most cities in the world we have done the mix. We have so much cross shopping and, frankly, when it's a new market, it's great for people to get it all under one roof. A wealthy woman will come in and buy a dress, while a working woman will save up, come in and buy a handbag. They cross shop, so why not do it all in one place?" he says.

He is obviously doing something right. In February, two years after going public, Kors was named fashion's newest billionaire by Forbes. As of December 2013, the company's total revenues increased 59 per cent to US$1 billion. This is only set to grow as Kors is intent on bringing his vision of jet set luxury to more cities around the world.

"We are absolutely a luxury brand. The idea of design integrity and quality isn't based strictly on the idea of a high price tag. That's disappeared, that's old fashioned.

"Is [what we do] luxury in the old-fashioned sense, like couture? No. But what we do do is dress people for important moments on the red carpet, and their everyday life. That's luxury," he says.