Michael Kors shares advice at WWD CEO Summit
Michael Kors, principal designer of luxury brand Michael Kors Inc., highlighted at the WWD CEO Apparel and Retail Summit Monday, displaying his trademark sense of humor and drawing on personal anecdotes as he presented on the importance of making your customers happy to a packed crowd of retailers.
Beginning with a short and sweet film, he chronicled his journey from his first charming appearance in a cereal commercial at a young age to more recently designing styles for First Lady Michelle Obama. But the real meat came when he got going on attracting and keeping customers.
“I treat my retail customers and partners like personal friends, and being connected to your customers is essential to sustaining and growing a business,” the designer told WWD. “If you can’t think about and visualize what they want next, what they’ll need next, guess what? You’ve lost the game.”
Kors is a big fan of making that personal connection. “I believe that to have the love for your customer and understand who she is and what she wants to wear is essential,” he said. “I meet my customers from all over. I’ve been able to talk to them and ask them how they live and what they think their needs are.”
His passion for fashion has guided his life. “I truly grew up in department stores,” said Kors. “Shopping was my after-school sport.…I believe this love that I have for the store experience also shows in my work.” His first official foray into the fashion world was at age 19, when he designed a collection for Lothar’s. Soon he was flying solo.
One of Kors’ mantras is fashion is local. He proves it with the following case in point. “If you travel to Florida in the month of December, it’s 65 degrees, and anyone who lives there is wearing a leather jacket and a cashmere sweater. The only people wearing white linen pants in Florida in December are the Northerners visiting their family or vacationing who are pretending it’s summer.”
With his fashion house topping $1 billion in annual sales, his advice might very well be worth following.
Kors, who has recently furthered his brand’s expansion into Europe and Japan, was questioned about his interest in delving into new product categories. His response: Brands must be genuine, as customers can easily discern when they’re being sold a phony. With his brand, according to his website, currently “rooted in producing polished, sleek, sophisticated American sportswear with a jet-set attitude,” Kors revealed that next on his list would probably be the travel market and clothes that go with whole encounter of planes and lounges.
The talk then turned to Kors’ position as a judge for the Emmy-nominated reality show “Project Runway.”
“The one thing that’s happened with ‘Runway’ is we truly never thought we’d have 12-year-old clients,” Kors said. “I thought we had a young customer when she was 20. Suddenly, you see girls coming in the store with their mother, but the reality is they are looking for that piece of Michael Kors, and the piece of the dream.”
Considering his role in counseling novices on screen, one might expect Kors would have a great deal of guidance for the fledgling designer.
“Unfortunately, it’s easy to get noticed for anything today — bad, good or in-between,” he said. “And I think everyone’s in a huge rush. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Slow down, start small and then expand.”