In the wake of the Asian market collapse, it has been the American luxury market’s dependence on liquidation — or outlet — stock that has truly exposed its overall weakness. And Michael Kors has been especially vulnerable. In recent financial statements the company said that as much as 45 per cent of its sales have been wholesale, a figure they are aiming to halve in forthcoming months. The company has also cut the amount of inventory it supplies to the big department stores that have been discounting it. After becoming dangerously ubiquitous, Michael Kors is having to claw back some exclusivity. Sales are good: but you want the right kind of sales.
No surprise the brand has been repositioning as a luxury proposition. Its charismatic founder has been doing in-store appointments to engage again with clients, and distilling its various labels to refocus the brand’s ambitions. Digital growth is all well and good, but as one of the few US brands still fronted by its namesake, the 57-year-old designer is still the brand’s biggest asset and unquestionably its greatest salesman.
His SS17 show, staged at Spring Studios before a live band and a performance by Rufus Wainwright, was dedicated to the “dames” — in sky-high heels, Tahitian florals and breezy blazer dressing. And it was a classy affair. Like many other designers this season, Kors had taken the theme of “high romance” as his starting point for SS17 and the show was intended to “lift the spirits.” A navy sweater was emblazoned with the word “love”, long-sleeved dresses were printed with tropical pinks and citrus oranges, and waists were belted. Thirteen pieces were available from the new collection immediately after the show, but Kors is pretty relaxed about the ready to buy model, insisting that his brand of transeasonal day-to-night wear is already sufficiently weather proofed to work within fashion’s existing framework. “We forget about seasons now,” he said. The only difference between summer and winter is that you won’t see swimsuits in our winter show.”
The show had a breezy confidence and clean appeal. As Wainwright launched into “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart,” the models recalled early Forties cinematic heroines like Barbara Stanwyck with their sculpted shoulder jackets and below-the-knee skirts. The accessories were clean, simple and branding free — an especially good “Mia” bag, a tricolour cross-body with a simple canvas strap was made available straight after the show. Kors was one of the first to pick up on the trend for smaller leather goods and has been nimble in adapting his accessories to the needs of his clients. Ditto the sleeves, which have been made longer following those customer conversations. His in-store appointments have been a good research opportunity, and Kors has paid attention.