When I first ventured into menswear, it was fall 1991. My very first show was at Grand Central Terminal in New York, which is not exactly a private venue. I knew that the collection had to be exciting to look at, but it also had to answer questions or needs. At the time, whenever I had to wear a shirt, or anything that I wanted to tuck in, I would always tuck it into my underwear. I thought, maybe we can combine classic men’s briefs with shirts, sweatshirts, T-shirts. And I ended up with the unfortunate idea of bodysuits for men.
From a distance, it would look like a guy was wearing briefs and a shirt, when in fact it was a little onesie with snaps under the crotch. You have to think, with the male anatomy, are snaps at the crotch the most comfortable thing? I had never worn one of these bodysuits or thought about how, when a man sends his dress shirts to the dry cleaner, he would send his underwear attached. I had never thought about the discomfort of the snaps, the oddity of getting undressed in front of anyone, or going to the bathroom.
I was nervous at the idea of a men’s-only show. I thought it had to have sex appeal and impact. The show opened with five or six guys walking out with no pants. One of the guys, to put it bluntly, had very heavy body hair. It looked insane.
Soon after, I was at a store in Chicago, and there was a 60-year-old man with his 20-year-old boyfriend. He started picking all my bodysuits off the rack, and saying, “You should get this!” The next thing I knew, this young guy was coming out of the dressing room modeling them. “Oh, no!” I thought. “This is turning into trashy lingerie for men.”
I got back to New York and decided that I had to test-run them myself. I lasted about half an hour. The tugging, the digging, the snaps, the discomfort. They didn’t sell at all, and I realized that as a designer, even if you can’t wear something, you have to want to wear it. It was a clarifying moment that regardless of what I make—a woman’s shoe, a man’s jacket, a handbag, an evening dress—I have to be empathetic to the people who are buying it. Can you put yourself in their shoes?
Soon after that, I took a break from menswear for nine years. Whenever I am tempted to do something that’s totally insane for men, I decide that I’m going to try it on myself. And then I say, “Just remember the bodysuits.”
KORS’S CAREER ARC
1991: Ventures into menswear and debuts disastrous men's bodysuits on the runway.
1999: Becomes creative director of Céline, a French luxury house under Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
2004: Joins the reality-TV show Project Runway as a judge.
2010: Wins the Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Anna Wintour.
2012: Presents his fall-winter show at New York Fashion Week in early February.
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