Michael Kors’s name is so synonymous with aspirational jet-set luxury that he could set up a travel agency alongside his fashion business and no one would bat an eyelid. Turns out he has already considered this plan. “I’m the best travel agent in the world!” he cries. “I’m always doing amazing itineraries.” The 59-year-old designer travels incessantly, like the Dom Pérignon-swigging, private jet-commandeering shopaholics who populate his advertising campaigns, and he never allows geography to get in the way of his passions. “Only I, a true theatre addict, would do this,” he says conspiratorially, “but in November, we’re working in Italy, then going to South Africa for a holiday, then pit-stopping in London to see Vanessa Redgrave in The Inheritance that evening, before going back to New York. I can’t wait.”
“We” refers to Lance Le Pere, Kors’s husband, with whom he zips round the globe visiting the 1,008 stores that make up the $1 billion Michael Kors empire, stopping off at exclusive boltholes when his schedule allows. “When I talk jet-set, I mean jet-set!” he roars. “We’re travel junkies. We’ll fly anywhere, especially if it combines architecture and nature.” Lately, though, they’ve been looking to channel all those starry destination resorts – Amangiri in Utah, Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Southern Ocean Lodge on Australia’s Kangaroo Island – into one place, preferably one that’s within commutable distance of their New York penthouse. The result is this contemporary beach house – all teak, concrete and glass – which they have just finished building in Florida.
It’s taken almost five years to construct, with the help of architecture firm Stelle Lomont Rouhani (the waterfront specialist that realised Calvin Klein’s house in Southampton). This was the first house Kors and Le Pere had built from scratch, and he executes a dramatic eye-roll when discussing the process: “It’s been a labour of love.” Luckily, Le Pere, who is the creative director of Michael Kors womenswear (they met in 1990, when he interned at the company, but didn’t get together until years later), is the meticulous, detail-oriented cohort to Kors’s big-picture thinking. “His dad was an architect, so he has the rigour, the methodology,” says Kors. “I’m more, ‘Can we get this done in three weeks?’”
The duo took inspiration for the beach house, which resembles a stylish mid-century modern Florida motel, from holiday resorts that bring the outside in. “I don’t want to sound like I’m running off to a commune tomorrow, but it’s really about appreciating natural things,” Kors says. Nature is important to this extrovert – surprising, when you consider that Kors is a man who loves the bright lights and big city more than most, and whose brand is the embodiment of glossy-haired Upper East Side glamour.
“I enjoy people,” he concedes. “But, certainly, the world can throw you into a black mood. Your day can be overwhelming. It’s why places like the house in Florida or our beach house in Long Island are important to us – getting into nature somehow. Not that I’m hiking and eating granola. But I need to decompress, be in that chilled, barefoot zone.”
Who wouldn’t want to go barefoot in such a study of deliciously cosy elegance? Neutral tones dominate the interior scheme, with the only splashes of colour provided by the views: of the sea, through the sparkling floor-to-ceiling glass, and of the garden’s lush greenery, filled with fishtail and sabal palms, black olive and fig trees, and an audacious jumble of sea grape, jasmine and shell ginger plants. Entering the teak-clad building up some steps, the effect is one of sumptuous serenity: elegant mid-century pieces by Hans Wegner sit alongside petrified wooden tables and benches purchased from Andrianna Shamaris in New York, while custom-made, shortbread-hued sofas are offset by Kors’s collection of coral, picked up while in the Hamptons and the Philippines. A set of shelves displays other carefully collected treasures: a ceramic bowl from The New Craftsmen in London, hollowed-out gourds from Beijing, earthenware jars found in Big Sur and boxes of pebbles sourced from Keramiek van Campen in Amsterdam. “A lot of it is about subtlety of texture,” says Kors. “Perhaps people who aren’t in the design world would say, ‘Yeah, the room was cream.’ I kind of like that. Because it doesn’t feel precious.”
Florida weekends chez Kors sound supremely relaxing. As soon as the couple pull up in their convertible on Friday evening, they head to the safe and lock their phones inside. “It’s the only way I get to catch up on my reading,” Kors shrugs. A biography – and celebrity-obsessive, he is currently juggling Bunny Mellon with Jann Wenner and Loulou & Yves, the story of Loulou de la Falaise’s relationship with Yves Saint Laurent. On Saturdays, with Astrud Gilberto and Pandora Radio tinkling out across the terrace, the pair enjoy long lunches of shrimp and salad, as well as rides on their Electra Townie bicycles and swims in the sea. Kors doesn’t cook – “We have a really good cook. I can grill things, that’s about it” – but he can make ice cream. “My signature is black raspberry chocolate chip. Thank heavens for Cuisinart. You press a button and it’s done.”
The Florida abode is a world away from Kors’s childhood home in Merrick, Long Island, where he grew up with his mother, Joan. “My mom could never decide on what style she liked,” he says. “Each room had a different mood: one had a Spanish nod, one had a French Provençale twist.” When he was 14, the two moved into an apartment, and Michael told his mother he would decorate. “I went full ’70s crash pad: big rattan chairs, flokati rugs from Greece, lots of chocolate brown and indoor plants. It was very of the moment.” What sticks out in his mind as a defining design influence was the Manhattan apartment of his stepfather’s sister. “She was a young working girl out of college, about 22, living with a roommate when I went to see her,” he recalls. “Her apartment was very spare, all clean lines. They had no money, so their coffee table was just a box covered with interesting paper. My mother said, ‘They don’t even have real furniture.’ But I liked it. I responded to the cleanliness.”
Aesthetic differences polarised the Kors household. Perhaps that explains how he has managed to craft a luxury brand that speaks to a vibrant spectrum of women – from the smart young professionals who tote his handbags from 8-till-late to the trophy wives donning his leopard-print coats to the Hollywood megastars in his sequined gowns. “I grew up in a family of women who did not agree on fashion at all,” he says. “They were all opinionated, they all had their own point of view.”
He learned early on that style comes in many iterations. “My grandmother was an explosion of colour, pattern, accessories,” he recalls. “My mother was the opposite: streamlined. I once saw them duke it out – my grandmother was wearing a fuchsia suit, with a fuchsia blouse, fuchsia shoes, fuchsia handbag and she managed to find” – he pauses for dramatic effect – “fuchsia tights. My mother said, ‘Human beings weren’t meant to have fuchsia legs.’ My grandmother replied, ‘You wear so much black and it’s boring.’ I realised there were two sides to the coin.”
Kors has lived both of them, too. As a teenager, he had his own exuberant “the-sidewalk-is-my-runway” years, skipping his prom for another night at Studio 54, wearing an army jacket he had covered all over with vintage rhinestone brooches. Somewhere in the late 1990s, when he was designing collections for Céline and travelling to Paris 13 times in one year, he switched to an all-black uniform, from which he has seldom deviated.
“I am practical and indulgent – I have always been both,” he reflects. “As a teenager, I was so fashion-obsessed. I had no money, but I was gonna faint if I didn’t have Porsche Design goggles. I had to have an Elsa Peretti cuff bracelet. They were totems of success and glamour.” By the same token, he is wholeheartedly supportive of everyday luxury. “I have clients who say, ‘I love this, I’ll wear it to a wedding.’ And I say, ‘Well, after the wedding, just wear it with a T-shirt. Don’t be precious.’”
He can talk all day about his clients, and enjoys dropping into his stores unannounced (he insists that most customers don’t recognise him if he removes his ever-present aviator sunglasses, but enjoys a selfie session all the same). He’ll have even more cause to skulk around Mayfair after he opens a new four-storey shop on Bond Street in April. “We’re thinking of it as a residential townhouse,” he explains. The interiors will take their cues from the Florida house’s warm minimalism. “I like the idea that there’s a sparseness to the interiors, but it’s textural and inviting at the same time.” He’s a firm believer in bricks-and-mortar retail in addition to digital: “When you’re a shopaholic, you shop every which way!” The last things he bought online were “millions of pairs of little Falke socks”, while the last things he bought in person were some books. “I love getting lost in a bookstore,” he muses. “I ended up buying five biographies.”
Did he ever imagine he would be this successful? He cleverly sidesteps
any self-aggrandisement. “I think the question with that is, I never play a game unless I think I can win. I always thought I’d succeed. I don’t know that anyone could have imagined that fashion would have the possibility to be so global in its reach.” Then, he regales me with a story about two girls from Scotland he met in the Regent Street store earlier this week. “They were from Kelso. I’m like, where is Kelso?! It was so amazing! It’s the greatest way for a designer to learn what’s happening, what are people in love with? Too many people just sit and look at reports.”
Kors certainly hasn’t lost his common touch, even after a wildly successful
IPO in 2011 made him a billionaire. In September, he cemented his power via his conglomerate Michael Kors Holdings, recently renamed Capri Holdings, when it acquired Versace for $2.1 billion – making it effectively America’s first luxury conglomerate. Does he still feel like that Long Island dreamer? “I don’t think I’ve ever lost that understanding or empathy of what something can mean to someone, whether it’s a teenager buying a change purse or a woman in Hollywood being fitted in a $40,000 evening gown. I know the feeling.”
That same impulse has impacted his astonishing philanthropy. Many designers lend their names to charitable causes, but few dedicate themselves with such vigour to a single cause. For the last 29 years, prompted by the death of a close friend from Aids, Kors has been a supporter of the New York based non-profit, God’s Love We Deliver, which provides meals for people suffering from Aids, cancer and other serious illnesses. He knows the value of simple pleasures, such as nourishing dinners, or even a really wonderful shower. “My favourite showers are the ones in Parrot Cay, a resort in the Caribbean,” he says. “They’re outdoors, with lots of greenery. We modelled our Florida shower after that one. Even if it’s cold and rainy, I’d still rather take a shower in the open air. I would still rather see sky.”