Kors & Effect
What are the secrets of making clothes work for you? Top US designer Michael Kors shares his tips< /p>
When Michelle Obama recycled three-year-old dresses for her husband's election and inauguration celebrations, she was doing what most women are doing these days – trying to get optimum mileage out of our clothes. In America, they call it 'shopping your closet', and Irish women are just as anxious to find savvy style solutions.
Enter Michael Kors, former creative director at Celine who now has a very successful clothing and accessories range of his own.
Famous for his straight-talking critique on the 'Project Catwalk' TV show in the US, I was curious to hear his take on what pieces deserve to be in a capsule wardrobe – or 'essential wardrobe', as he calls it.
Within minutes, we were down to the basics such as the benefits of a tailor who can make your clothes "fit better and look more expensive"; the tricks to using colour; playing to your strengths and the importance of a three-way-mirror when trying on clothes.
What goes into your essential wardrobe?
"Fashion evolves and there are those new pieces that you need to grab, but I'm a big believer in spending a big chunk of money on great jackets, coats and outerwear, because, when you walk down the street, it's your calling card," Kors explains.
"I like that you can wear a great anorak over everything from jeans to a cocktail dress.
"A beautiful slim, tailored coat automatically makes your jeans look dressed-up, and the right tailoring can make you feel taller and thinner."
Trying on clothes
"I'm all about the three-way mirror and trousers that make your bum look great," says Kors. "Unfortunately, when they try clothes on, a lot of people look at themselves quickly and say, 'Okay, this looks great', but the reality is that people look at the back, side and front of you.
"So, particularly when you're buying trousers, it is important to know how you look from every angle.
"A lot of people think that if you have a tailor, you're very wealthy. But you can spend money on tailoring, even on clothes that aren't expensive, because it is going to make clothes fit your body perfectly and therefore they look more expensive," he adds.
Piecing together the components of his essential wardrobe, Kors says you need a seasonless black trouser that can do everything from flats to a pair of evening shoes. "I always think that a little bit of stretch [in the trouser] helps," he says.
"The other piece of clothing that a lot of people think is impractical is a pair of white jeans," he adds. "But they are very practical, regardless of the weather. I don't care if you live in Lapland; nothing is more glamorous than white jeans," says Kors, who wears white jeans all year round. He even wore them on his wedding day, when he married Lance LePere at Dune Beach in the Hamptons in August 2011.
"White jeans are practical because you can wash and bleach them, so they stay crisp and white," he adds.
"They make you look as if you don't care about the elements and that you've just got back from a great holiday."
In terms of flexible pieces, Kors says a dress can be styled up or down. Again, he favours seasonless dresses.
"If your hemline is short, then cover your arms. You want to bare one thing, not everything.
"Accessories are what changes everyone's look and attitude. Saddle-coloured shoes and boots get better with age. I love a men's-style belt worn over everything from a super-feminine dress to a pair of jeans."
The season ahead
For spring/summer 2013, Kors suggests introducing "an added crispness" to your outfit with geometric shapes, bold stripes or colour blocking, all of which feature in his Michael Kors runway collection and the more affordable MMK (Michael Michael Kors) range of ready-to-wear clothes, bags and shoes, which have proved a hit in Ireland with shoppers at Brown Thomas.
Getting back your fashion mojo
"Figure out your best attribute and always put a star over it – that's always a help," says Kors. "In a world where we are always taking photographs of each other, turn the lens on yourself and see how you look in different outfits.
"The big question to ask is: what about yourself do you like? Do you like your hair colour? Do you love your shoulders? Do you have a slim ankle? Do you have a small waist ? No one thinks that they're perfect, yet no one is devoid of a great attribute.
"If you want to show off your legs, even if fashion goes long [with skirts], you have to be able to say, 'I'm not going to go long, I need to show my legs'," he explains.
"If you have an hourglass figure, the last thing you want to do is wear is a sack dress that has no waist. Likewise, if you don't have a great waistline, why are you trying on a very fitted, waisted coat?
"Go with your shape. If you are looking at something with a structured shoulder, well, guess what? If you have broad shoulders, it's the last thing you need."
Age and fashion
Kors could never be accused of ageism, but he has blind spots. "There are certain things – such as hot pants, micro-mini skirts, midriff tops, visible lingerie – that, unless you are a pop star, are to avoid when you are over 35. If you are Gwen Stefani, Kylie Minogue or Madonna, you have different rules."
On the flip side, he says if you have great legs, there is no reason why you should not be showing them off, even if you are over 70.
Getting older doesn't mean you have to throw in the towel style-wise, or cut off your signature long hair. However, says Kors, you can do it in stages.
"You have to go back once again to what is great about yourself," he says. "Slowly, you can turn it into an evolution, not a revolution."
Kors is especially upbeat about keeping your fashion point of view. "Maybe a sleeve is a good balance as you get older," he says. "You should never wake up in the morning and ask yourself if you look like your daughter or, worse, your granddaughter, because that's not what you want to do. You want to look the best for your age; you don't want to look another age."
Kors adds that this works both ways.
"I see 16-year-old girls who dress like 40-year-old women. When you are in your teens and your early 20s, if you want to go crazy and have fun, that's the time to do it. Don't get so conservative so soon."
Working with colour
Kors says: "Colour is such a mood changer. But, as much as I love strong colour, and a huge variety of colour, I don't think anyone should open their closet and see that the majority of things are colourful.
"It's like a dinner – you might want to have something that is outrageous and tasty, but you don't want to have too much of it.
"The majority of the closet should stay neutral, but that does not have to be black. It can be chocolate, olive, tan, camel or white, because that allows you to play with colour."
Kors doesn't subscribe to the belief that people can't wear certain colours. "Maybe you can't wear it next to your face, but you could break it up with a neutral colour."
He also points to solutions such as changing your lipstick to make a colour work for you.
What to wear with your hair
"I like a blonde in yellow and I like a redhead in orange," says Kors. "All the old rules, 'Oh you have blonde hair, you should never wear yellow' – it's old fashioned and ridiculous.
"If you're blonde and you wear yellow, you might have to wear a lipstick that has a little bit of warmth to it – it might have to be coral. If you're a redhead and you're wearing an orange dress, you might have to wear saddle-coloured accessories to tone it down.
"I'm a true believer that red is the one bright colour that is like a neutral," he adds. "It is powerful, feminine and sexy; men love a woman in red."
This season, for his runway collection, Kors placed narrow belts higher. His intention: "longer legs."
"I've yet to meet anyone – other than perhaps Czech model Karolina Kurkova [who is almost 6ft tall] – who wouldn't like to have longer legs," he continues.
"If you shift the waistline up just a touch – it doesn't have to feel vintage, or look like a period costume – it can give you that proportion switch."
Pressed for more designer tips, the 54-year old says: "Necklines are the most interesting thing because they frame our faces. If you are short-waisted, for instance, the last thing you want to do is put on a bateau neck. It is just going to squash you.
"Look instead at something that has a V or a scoop neckline, something that elongates. It's all about geometry."
While Kors has dressed all the top international names, from J Lo and Rene Russo (whose character he dressed in 'The Thomas Crown Affair') to Gwyneth Paltrow and, more recently, Kristen Wiig and Emily Blunt at the recent Golden Globes, the designer says he would like to dress a certain duchess.
"I think Kate Middleton would look pretty terrific in Michael Kors," he says. "It's a new age in how women in the public eye can dress, balancing appropriate and modern at the same time.
"Kate Middleton wears clothes very well; she understands herself, which, to me, is the greatest gift you can have when getting dressed."
Does he have a favourite piece in his spring/summer 2013 collection? It's a mean question, like asking a loving mother to pick out her favourite child.
"I love the cut-out gowns at the end of the show," he says. "They are athletic, they are geometric, and they are sexy without being overt. We made a short version of the finale dress for Gwyneth Paltrow.
"It's that rare thing – it was sophisticated and sexy at the same time. There was nothing overt, but it was certainly very sexy. I love it when things have that balance. The right evening clothes have no season or year.
"You need a pretty terrific body to wear those dresses, though," he adds. "Not everyone hits the gym quite as often as Gwyneth, but if you do, they're great pieces."
With so many achievements on his CV, is there anything he wished he had brought to the fashion world first?
"Probably the five-pocket jean, and I would like to have been the person who put Audrey Hepburn in her little black dress, rather than Givenchy."
His final tip? "I believe that the best fashion is a balance, yin and yang," says Kors. "Everything you buy should have something about it that feels like an old friend and something about it that's like a new friend. You want something familiar and something unexpected.
"When it has something familiar, you know you will grab it and keep wearing it. When there's a twist, it surprises you and gives you some joy. I'm always thinking about this yin and yang."