Michael Kors and Naples have a long history. Thirty years ago when he was first starting out as a designer, he was invited by Marissa Hartington to present trunk shows of his clothes at her store Marissa Collections. The two became fast friends, and Kors quickly became a favorite designer among the chic Naples crowd, returning many years for a multitude of in-store visits. Fast-forward to today, and he’s a household name as a judge on TV’s Project Runway and the head of one of the largest fashion empires in the world. Still a dear friend of Marissa’s, Michael came to town on November 15, 2012 as an honored guest at the ninth annual Hats in the Garden fundraiser for the Naples Botanical Garden, and he brought his Spring 2013 runway show with him to the delight of the six hundred ladies in attendance at what is known to be the unofficial kick-off to the social season. Naples Illustrated sat down with the legend that day in his boutique at Marissa Collections to hear his thoughts on the Paradise Coast, what we should be wearing and where he finds his inspiration.
NI.COM: When you first started your relationship with Marissa thirty years ago, what were your thoughts when you were invited down to Naples and what did you think after you got here?
Well, the funny thing is, you know, I knew about great beaches. I knew there was this laid-back, relaxed lifestyle. I grew up in New York, so Florida was always kind of part of my compass, but it was always the East Coast. I didn’t know anything about the West Coast. When I first came down most of the people were from Kentucky or the Midwest. There were not a lot of New Yorkers, not a lot of Europeans. The beaches and the nature you were surrounded by—that was what I expected. What I was surprised by was that you could have small town life but in a very sophisticated way. And I think Marissa has been part of that quite frankly as the town has grown and gotten more sophisticated. It’s essentially the best of both worlds.
What do you think is one wardrobe staple that every Naples woman should own?
Flat gold sandals. They go with everything from white jeans to a gown. We happen to have a perfect pair [laughter erupts as Michael points to a pair he designed on a shelf at Marissa Collections].
In terms of resort clothing for 2013, what did you see as the biggest trends and what do you think works best for us Floridians?
Obviously color was very important for me. A lot of what we were playing with was inspired by when I went to Istanbul. It was my first time there, and when you’re looking around, you’re talking about this incredible opulence, and, oh, the jewels. We played around with a lot of these jewel colors. This [gesturing to a dress on a rack at Marissa Collections] was based on a coral agate rock that we bought and sliced open. I think there is something in Florida certainly about putting color on at this time of year. If you live here year round, you don’t want to be in head-to-toe white because it’s finally your winter. And if you’re here on vacation, you don’t want to be in the drab gray that you might have been wearing in Chicago or New York, so I think to be able to put on color in these jewel tones is festive for the holidays and it can feel resort-y—it definitely goes both ways.
I love those bright tones.
Rich pops of color. And also in Florida, you look outside, and you’re surrounded by color. It makes you happy.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Figuring out the puzzle. It’s a puzzle of how do you have continuity but change at the same time. How do you think about people’s lives and what works for their lives, but at the same time still have a bit of escapism as part of it. It’s the best of the two, hopefully. Most importantly, I love to travel, and I get to travel a lot because of work. And I like people, so I like to meet people and see what’s going on. I’m a curious sort, so I think that’s been the most amazing part of my career. The number of interesting people who I have met over the years is remarkable.
When you first started, who were your biggest influences in fashion?
I think the two designers who changed the way women dressed were Yves Saint Laurent and Halston. I think Saint Laurent was the first person to take the couture and bring it into real life. He put women into a tuxedo, gave them a pea coat. He took things from the street and made them elegant. And Halston taught women that you could be glamorous but comfortable. And both of those things were certainly things that I was very much excited by when I was young and starting, and to this day, they’re things I think about when I design.
Aside from traveling, when you have free time how do you spend it?
I’m a theater buff, I have to say. It’s the quickest way to travel without getting on a plane. I can leave my office in New York, and go around the corner to the theater district, sit down in a seat and for two hours, and I’m immersed in another world. To me, it’s always about keeping your eye challenged.