How fashion icon Michael Kors turned a small boutique in his mum's basement into a $5.78 billion global fashion company

Julie Jacobson/APMichael Kors wasn’t always the household name he is today. In fact, he wasn’t always called ‘Michael Kors.’

Michael Kors started designing clothes in his childhood and has since turned the passion into a global fashion empire that contributes to his current estimated net worth of $US600 million as of 2018.

Getty Images / Rob KimMichael Kors pictured above.

Source: Celebrity Net Worth

In December 2011, Kors took his company public. It traded under the ticker KORS and was valued at $US3.5 billion.

Richard Drew/APMichael Kors at the New York Stock Exchange.

Source: Business of Fashion, 92Y

This was the biggest ever public offer in fashion. When fashion consultant, Fern Mallis, asked Kors what he thought about the business milestone, he answered, “Keep your eye on the ball, and you do what you do, and you do it well.”

AP ImagesKors outside the New York Stock Exchange.

Source: 92Y

In 2018, the public Michael Kors Holdings company — which owned its namesake brand, Michael Kors …

Mike Blake/ReutersMichael Kors storefront.

… along with luxury shoe brand Jimmy Choo …

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesJimmy Choo storefront.

… announced a new acquisition: Versace. With this addition to its portfolio, the company changed its name to Capri Holdings.

Scott Olson/Staff/Getty ImagesThe change in name took effect in January, 2019.

Source: Forbes

While Michael Kors is a clothing brand that has been around since 1981, it’s designer has a story that dates back to 1959.

Andrew Kelly/ReutersMichael Kors and Emily Ratajkowski (left).

His story starts in Merrick, Long Island, where he was born Karl Anderson Jr.

Keith Beaty/Contributor/Getty ImagesMichael Kors pictured above.

Source: Telegraph, Michael Kors

In a 1991 interview with People magazine, the designer said he changes his name when his mother married Bill Kors. “My mother said, ‘You’re getting a new last name, so why don’t you pick a new first name?'”

Mario Ruiz/Contributor/Getty ImagesHe said Michael and David were his mother’s favourites, so he chose them as his first and middle names respectively.

Source: Vogue UK

Kors attended Kennedy High School until 1977 when he started classes at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. After spending nine months at the fashion school, he left to pursue selling his own designs at Manhattan retailer, Lothar’s.

Dia Dipasupil/Getty ImagesThe Fashion Institute of Technology is in central Manhattan.

Source: Patch, Harper’s Bazaar

One day, while Kors was setting up a window display at Lothar’s on 57th Street, Dawn Mello — fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman at the time — tapped on the window and asked who designed the clothes. Kors admitted they were his and Mello then helped him develop his first line that would then be sold in Bergdorf’s.

Newsday LLC/Contributor/Getty ImagesKors holds one of his designs.

Source: Business of Fashion, Vogue, “Scatter my ashes at Bergdorf Goodman”

In 1981, Kors started his eponymous brand. He showed for the first time on a runway in 1984.

Keith Beaty/Contributor/Getty ImagesApplause for Kors after a show.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

Kors described his design aesthetic as a mix between Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor — saying his mum, Joan, was more like the former, and his grandmother like the latter.

Associated Press and Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesJacqueline Kennedy Onassis (left) and Elizabeth Taylor (right) pictured above.

Source: 92Y

Kors said that at five years old, he redesigned his mother’s wedding dress. According to his brand’s website, he told her to ditch the bows for her second wedding, and she did. His mother, Joan, told ABC News that when Kors gave design advice, everyone listened.

screenshot via HuluA young Michael pictured above at his mother’s wedding.

Source: Vogue, Michael Kors, ABC News

But it wasn’t all praise for the budding designer growing up. He told ABC News he was bullied outside the home and called “every name in the book.”

Charles Sykes/Invision/APKors with Hilary Swank (left) and Anna Wintour (right).

Source: ABC News

He said it was confusing for him growing up because he was so supported by his family at home, but when he wanted to sketch instead of play sports at school, the other kids ostracised him.

Caitlin Ochs/ReutersMichael Kors in his signature look.

Source: ABC News

Kors told ABC News that he wants to help kids going through similar struggles. He has become involved with the It Gets Better Project and hopes to help even just one young person who’s struggling and let them know, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

ReutersMarchers walk down 5th Avenue as they part in the 2019 World Pride NYC and Stonewall 50th LGBTQ Pride Parade in New York

Source: It Gets Better Project, ABC News

Even in the face of bullies, Kors was true to himself and opened his first store at the age of 11. The designer told Mallis at 92Y that it was called the Iron Butterfly Boutique and it was in his mother’s basement.

Daniel Goodman/Business Insider.comA Michael Kors store in New York City.

Source: Racked, Vogue

“I was very crafty,” he told Mallis, “so I made fabulous candles, I made whip-stitched leather bags, I made hammered copper bracelets … I set the whole thing up in the basement of our house in the suburbs, and I invited all the kids from the neighbourhood to come over and I sold everything in like a week.”

92nd Street Y/YouTubeMallis interviewed Kors at the 92nd Street Y in 2012.

Source: 92Y

Kors also talked about having a mustard and chocolate colour scheme for his Bar Mitzvah in the ’70s. “Every decade has its good points and its bad points … the good: Halston. The Bad: mustard and chocolate.” He went on: “Down to the invitations, the yarmulkes, the matches, the tablecloths, it was a pretty insane moment.”

92nd Street Y/YouTubeHe looked back on a colour scheme he wouldn’t go near today.

Source: Racked, 92Y

While the ’70s were tough for Kors to think about from an aesthetic standpoint, the ’90s were tough for him from a business standpoint.

Richard Drew, File/APMichael Kors storefront.

Source: ABC News, Harper’s Bazaar, Business of Fashion

He told ABC News that he had high expectations for the ’90s, but a financial crisis hit his business hard and it was struggling. “It was a domino effect,” he said. “And then the next thing you knew, it was all about nose rings and ugly. I mean, it was a trifecta of a nightmare for me.”

Seth Wenig/APKors gives an interview during a fashion show.

Source: ABC News, Harper’s Bazaar

In 1993, Kors’s company filed for bankruptcy protection. An Italian company decided to stop selling Kors’s lower-priced line, and without that income, there was no other option for the brand, Kors told The New York Times. But rather than give up, he simply reorganized.

Seth Wenig/APKors worked to restructure his brand.

Source: The New York Times, Business of Fashion

In 1997, Kors’s company gained an investor: LVMH. With both financial and business support from the luxury group, Michael Kors launched a low-priced line.

Bebeto Matthews/APKors thanks his audience during fashion week.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar, LVMH

As part of the LVMH family, Kors was tapped in 1997 to design for another group in-brand: Céline. He became increasingly known for his “luxurious sportswear,” which he brought with him to the French label.

Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Contributor/Getty ImagesKors at one of his Céline runway shows.

Source: CR Fashion Book

CR Fashion Book pointed out how Kors’s spring collections at Céline featured lots of beach-inspired looks.

New York Daily News Archive/Contributor/Getty ImagesHe told Mallis that as a Leo and a summer baby, he is ‘a beach boy at heart.’

Source: CR Fashion Book, Racked, 92Y

In 1998, he became Céline’s creative director and has been credited with totally revamping the brand with his ready-to-wear.

Swan/Contributor/Getty ImagesMichael Kors backstage in Paris, France.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

In 2003, Sportswear Holdings Ltd. bought a majority stake in Kors’s company, and he left Céline in 2004 to give his full attention to his namesake brand.

Kathy Willens/APHe said he felt ‘neglected’ by LVMH while at Céline.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar, CR Fashion Book

That year, MICHAEL Michael Kors launched — which ran counter to the price point of his first label and actually continued to sell during the recession.

Ron Galella, Ltd./Contributor/Getty ImagesKors with Isaac Mizrahi, Oscar de la Renta, Todd Oldham, Anna Sui, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

He also started selling accessories and perfume in 2004.

Eduardo Parra/GettyMichael Kors handbag.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

Also in 2004, Kors made a name for himself in TV when he joined the panel of judges on reality show, “Project Runway.”

Donald Traill/Invision/APKors with castmates, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Tim Gunn.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

While he was working on the show, Kors got married. In 2011 the designer married Lance LePere in Southampton, Long Island. The two shared a low-key, double wedding with two of their friends.

Demis Maryannakis/STAR MAX/APKors (left) and husband Lance LePere (right).

Source: 92Y

Kors told Mallis he was married barefoot in a black T-shirt and white shorts. He said that he and LePere got married on the beach, “jumped in a Jeep, drove to East Hampton, ate pizza at Sam’s, and went to go see ‘The Help.'”

Andy Kropa/Invision/APLance LePere (left) and Michael Kors (right) at a Halloween party.

Source: 92Y

Kors was married the same year his company went public. He continued to work as a judge on “Project Runway” until 2012.

Jason DeCrow/APKors with fellow judges Klum (centre) and Garcia (right).

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

In 2014, Kors reached billionaire status due to the success of his public company.

Kathy Willens/APBut his net worth dropped below $US1 billion in 2015.

Source: Forbes

In 2015, the company was on the rise, generating a reported $US4.5 billion in net sales.

Patrick McMullan/Contributor/Getty ImagesActress Kristin Davis (left) and Michael Kors in 2000.

Source: Business of Fashion

Just two years later, in 2017, Michael Kors Holdings announced they would be closing 125 stores. Sales and stock prices were nosediving — but it wasn’t an issue unique to Michael Kors, it was happening to more than two-dozen brick-and-mortar retailers across the US.

AP Photo/John MinchilloMichael Kors windows were often plastered with sale signs.

Source: CBS News

But in 2018, the company decided to phase out the major discounts that became synonymous with its name. Business Insider reported that heavy sales were tarnishing the reputation of certain once-luxury brands like Michael Kors and made them less desirable.

Larry Busacca/Getty ImagesKors and Kate Hudson at the Met Gala.

Source: Business Insider

With the $US2 billion acquisition of Versace, Capri Holdings is trying to increase its revenue and its reputation as a big player in the luxury fashion space.

Carlo Allegri/ReutersDonatella Versace pictured above.

Source: Business Insider

Today, Michael Kors the man is worth an estimated $US600 million.

Andrew Kelly/ReutersKors with supermodel Bella Hadid.

Source: Celebrity Net Worth

In 2018, he showed off his West Village, Manhattan, apartment during a tour led by Architectural Digest.

Architectural Digest/YouTubeKors said this is the ‘hangout room’ for himself and LePere.

Source: Architectural Digest

He and LePere spend their fortune on art, like this sculpture they bought at a flea market in France …

Architectural Digest/YouTubeWood is used throughout their home.

Source: Architectural Digest

… and the many photographs they have hanging on their walls. Kors said he has collected photography for more than thirty years.

Architectural Digest/YouTube‘Photos, photos, photos everywhere,’ Kors said in the interview.

Source: Architectural Digest

His collection even includes a signed photo of Elizabeth Taylor.

Architectural Digest/YoutubeIt reads, ‘To Michael, you are a very special man. I love you.’

Source: Architectural Digest

The apartment features a sleek, modern kitchen, but Kors says neither he nor LePere cooks. He jokes, “What’s my favourite thing to make for dinner? It’s reservations.”

Architectural Digest/YouTubeWhite and tan is the colour scheme for their kitchen.

Source: Architectural Digest

In keeping with his famously classic and chic design aesthetic, Kors says he loves having black bowls in his kitchen to fill with brightly coloured things like lemons.

Architectural Digest/YouTubeHe says he has a ‘bowl obsession’ that carries through the whole home.

Source: Architectural Digest

The designer has an affinity for black clothing …

Architectural Digest/YouTubeHe’s got black jackets in many different fabrics.

Source: Architectural Digest

… and he’s often caught wearing aviator sunglasses. He showed Architectural Digest his drawers and drawers of sunglasses, which he said most people tell him all look the same. “I know the difference,” he said. “It makes me happy.”

Architectural Digest/YouTubeKors said each pair is slightly different.

Source: Architectural Digest

The apartment features the ultimate New York City luxury element: outdoor space. Kors says he’s got a green thumb but admits he has a lot of help when it comes to his garden.

Architectural Digest/YouTubeThe view from Kors and LePere’s terrace.

Source: Architectural Digest

Kors keeps his roots close to him in subtle ways. He has a painting hanging in his dining room that nods to his professional growth — “It’s a 1981,” he said, “the year I started my business.”

Architectural Digest/YouTubeGuests see this when they walk inside from the terrace.

Source: Architectural Digest

Since those early days in the ’80s, Kors has been building up friendships with some of the industry’s most iconic leaders. And even though it’s now decades later, he’s got a level-headed mindset when it comes to his industry: Fashion is “the right thing at the right time,” he told Vogue.

George De Sota/Staff/Getty ImagesEditor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar Glenda Bailey (left) Michael Kors in 2002.

Source: Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.