Michael Kors has what many in the fashion industry would consider to be an enviable problem: he is selling too many handbags.
Having identified a gap in the market for a £300-£500 handbag – affordable luxury, in industry-speak – he has been remarkably successful in dominating it. In the last three months of 2014, revenue rose by 30% to £848m, and the opening of 194 new stores brought the global total to 509.
For a brand built on an image of jetset luxury – fox fur coats for Manhattan, crocodile carry-on bags for first class travel, gold-trimmed white bikinis for the yacht – this new ubiquity is dangerous, as it jeopardises the aspirational exclusivity which is the bedrock of luxury marketing.
This makes the latest Michael Kors catwalk show at New York fashion week a significant one. Where most labels use their catwalk collections to lure attention towards the more affordable items which make up their bread and butter – perfumes, make-up, wallets and keyrings – Michael Kors now needs to do the exact opposite.
This show was intended to make the select New York fashion show audience of editors, stylists, socialites and high-rolling clients forget about the inexpensive handbags and focus on the glamorous, sophisticated, unashamedly fabulous ready-to-wear with which Kors made his name.
At a press conference the day before the show, Kors made no bones about who he sees as his ideal client. “If you’re a Michael Kors woman you’re always travelling,” he said, demonstrating a concealed compartment in the base of a crocodile handbag. “So you have to have somewhere to hide your jewels.”
He cited his muses for the season as a troika of American high society: the Duchess of Windsor, Babe Paley, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. Stroking the striped fox fur coat with which he would open the catwalk show, he said: “My favourite thing is the idea of a very glamorous woman taking her kids to school in the morning, and just throwing on her fur coat over her nightgown.”
Kors’ high-camp chat is, of course, entirely knowing. Kors is an astute businessman, and he knows that Disneyfied jetset glamour is not enough to appeal to fashion’s tastemakers.
The clothes must be refined, sophisticated and subtle, and there must be season-relevant fashion content. This he addressed with a long-line silhouette which skimmed rather than clung, and muted tones of olive, charcoal and fawn mixed in with the dollar-sign signifiers of camel and vanilla.
Crystal-embroidered paisley evening pyjamas were impeccably chic, worn with flat brogues; Thirties-style bias cut dresses in necktie prints were quietly elegant.
“The most interesting style is always about contradiction,” Kors said before the show. This collection was a balancing act, but he pulled it off.