Michael Kors on a roll

Michael Kors on a roll
Above left: The new Michael Kors boutique in Kerry Centre, Shanghai

SHANGHAI - In the fickle fashion industry where trends come and go in a flash, Michael Kors' classic luxury American sportswear designs are a rarity.

The 55-year-old American designer's aesthetic has largely remained the same since he started the brand in 1981.

Over the years, Kors has built up a huge celebrity following for his jersey dresses, luxurious cashmere sweaters and form-flattering coats. A-listers such as Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow are often spotted in his easy-breezy designs on both the red carpet and in paparazzi shots.

Even the United States' First Lady Michelle Obama chose to make a daring statement with a sleeveless black shift dress from the designer for her first official portrait in 2009.

However, Kors almost gave up on his signature American sportswear designs when he had to file for bankruptcy protection in 1993 after a manufacturing deal fell through.

The business met with financial difficulties when the company which the Kors brand was licensed to went bust.

Already a designer with more than a decade's worth of experience then, he started to doubt himself.

"My initial reaction was that I have to change what I make and design," he shares in an exclusive interview with Urban earlier this month in Shanghai, where he opened his first flagship store in China.

Kors, affable and animated throughout, is dressed in his signature get-up: a pair of black pants paired with a black T-shirt, a black blazer and a pair of black crocodile loafers.

"I didn't do anything for evening then. I thought maybe I should make lots of fancy evening clothes and started sketching crazy cocktail dresses," he recalls.

Fortunately, his customers told him: "We like what you do, stick to your guns."

He says: "It was then I realised I have to be true to myself. When the ground moves under you, you have to stay firm. Don't let the ground take you."

According to fashion website Vogue.com, the brand was given a shot in the arm in 1999 when luxury conglomerate Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton bought a 33 per cent stake in the company.

FORTUNES TURNED AROUND

In 2003, Michael Kors' fortunes were turned around when Hong Kong-based Sportswear Holdings, owned by tycoons Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, who have made a name for themselves acquiring and selling fashion brands, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Pepe Jeans, acquired an 85 per cent stake in the company for about US$100 million. They remain controlling shareholders of the company.

Last year, Kors made it to the 2013 Time 100 Most Influential People list and is arguably one of the most financially successful fashion designers around today.

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