Over my 20-plus years as a journalist, I’ve had the great pleasure of interviewing heads of state, major celebrities and everyday people doing extraordinary things.
All journalists have their favorites — people they love to interview — Michael Kors is mine.
You know him as the iconic American fashion designer.
I know him as something more — a kind, funny, generous human.
For decades, Michael has been devoted to fighting hunger around the world.
Through his partnership with the UN World Food Programme, he’s personally donated 24 million meals to those in need.
And then, there’s the organization closer to home — God’s Love We Deliver, which prepares and delivers meals to New Yorkers who are ill and unable to feed themselves.
Over the years, he’s donated millions to God’s Love and donated his time.
I spoke to Michael yesterday morning, just hours before dressing up (in what else? Michael Kors) for the high-wattage God’s Love We Deliver Golden Heart Awards, which Michael chairs.
I sat and watched in awe as he casually raised his hand to donate $100,000 during the live auction.
Because this is a man who talks the talk and walks the walk.
We talked philanthropy, fashion and traveling the world again.
ALINA CHO: Fighting hunger is your philanthropic passion, and it has been for as long as I've known you. Why is this so important to you?
MICHAEL KORS: You know what’s funny. People ask, "What's your favorite thing about being a designer?" I always say that, when someone puts the right thing on, there's this concrete change. Whoever they are and wherever they may live, there's this quick concrete change in how they view themselves and how they feel about themselves. A lot of people are amazed that a designer is such a pragmatic person, but I am. I love my fantasy, but I like my fantasy rooted in reality. I love seeing results. I'm results oriented.
ALINA CHO: Right.
MICHAEL KORS: Back in the ‘80s, there was this sense, during the AIDS pandemic that — at the time, there were no treatments, there were no medicines. You really didn't know what to do. Then I heard about God's Love We Deliver; they were tiny at the time. Alina, they were in the basement of a church.
ALINA CHO: Gosh.
MICHAEL KORS: Talk about grass roots. It seemed at the time like a bell went off and I thought to myself, "Okay, well, I'm not a doctor, I'm not a scientist, I'm not a politician, but we can actually make a very concrete change in someone's life, by bringing nutrition to them."
ALINA CHO: We can feed them.
MICHAEL KORS: We feed them. Then I think for me, as my business evolved and my life evolved, I started traveling more and more and more. You saw that all around the world, we had an issue with hunger. Many times, it is with children and young people. I kept thinking, "Well, is there enough food? Is it that there's a food shortage? Explain this to me." Then when I started doing research, it became glaringly apparent that the [UN] World Food Programme, they were able to deliver meals anywhere on the planet, during the most difficult of times. And in fact, the food existed.
ALINA CHO: Well, this is the thing. You always point out to me, that the food is there.
MICHAEL KORS: We have the food. Zero hunger is actually —
ALINA CHO: Achievable.
MICHAEL KORS: It's more than achievable.
ALINA CHO: Right.
MICHAEL KORS: If you live in what feels like a more affluent city or country or town, you don't realize that you probably have a neighbor, literally next door, who is in need of nutritious food. And during the pandemic, we certainly learned about us all being in it together.
ALINA CHO: I was just going to bring that up, because it became glaringly apparent, during the pandemic, that the number of food insecure people grew, sadly.
MICHAEL KORS: It's worse than ever. Also, for us with the World Food Programme, the school meals program, the big thing that we learned, very quickly, was that often, the only food that young people get in many parts of the world, even here in New York City, will be their school meal.
ALINA CHO: Yes.
MICHAEL KORS: We also were shocked to hear that in many places in the world, the only reason why a girl would be sent to school at all, she'd be kept home otherwise, except for the fact that her family cannot afford to feed her, so they send her to school for the meals. Well, of course, when schools shut down, what happens?
ALINA CHO: Exactly. Exactly.
MICHAEL KORS: Food insecurity becomes even more of an issue. During the midst of the pandemic, the World Food Programme never stopped.
ALINA CHO: I was just going to ask about that.
MICHAEL KORS: No, they kept going. Now, at this point, Alina, we've delivered more than 24 million school meals.
ALINA CHO: Wow. You’ve had this Watch Hunger Stop campaign, which is now in its ninth year, where all of the profits from sales of certain items go toward the World Food Programme.
And on your website, you invite people to make a small donation.
MICHAEL KORS: When you have the number of customers and followers and fans around the world [that we have], this is something that you do not have to be Bill Gates to get involved.
ALINA CHO: You've always said, for the price of a Starbucks coffee, you can make a difference.
MICHAEL KORS: Skip a coffee. $5 is a whole month’s worth of meals. The impact is huge.
ALINA CHO: Let's talk about fashion and your most recent show. Tavern On The Green, live performance by the star of the upcoming West Side Story, the biggest models, the biggest celebrities.
How did it feel to put on a show again?
MICHAEL KORS: Oh my gosh. I am always convinced that we all need each other. We need a sense of community, an IRL situation. Since Broadway has reopened, I've been back a few times and just the energy and the excitement in the theater. People are so thrilled to be able to safely gather.
ALINA CHO: Of course. Fashion week, as you well know, especially in September, is often called “Back to School.” And boy, did that have new meaning this season.
MICHAEL KORS: More than ever.
ALINA CHO: Meanwhile, let’s talk fashion for a second, it does seem to be the season of the bra top.
What's going on?
MICHAEL KORS: During lockdown, a lot of people said, "Oh, I'm not even getting dressed. I'm in slippers, I'm in sweatpants. I haven't put on anything with a waistband."
ALINA CHO: Yep.
MICHAEL KORS: Suddenly, when we started to reemerge, I think it became this craving of being able to strut your stuff. I started seeing it in Los Angeles.
ALINA CHO: Show a little skin.
MICHAEL KORS: It was more than a little skin. It was a lot of skin, and I think the thing that's really wonderful and exciting is, we've certainly had many cycles of bareness in fashion in the past. But in the past, I think bareness was set up that, if you didn't look a certain way, you weren't a member of the club, and it made you feel bad about yourself. Well, now I think that we have a whole different perspective.
It is not about, oh, you have to be a size zero, and you have to be 25 years old. This is about, I feel comfortable in my own skin, and I'm happy to express myself.
ALINA CHO: You just celebrated 40 years in business. Michael, that’s really something.
MICHAEL KORS: Honestly, if I really stop and absorb it, my mind is blown. But in fashion, we're always thinking about what's next.
ALINA CHO: Right. You don't look back.
MICHAEL KORS: That being said, I think normally, I would've been in such a rush, [I wouldn’t have enjoyed it]. With the pandemic, I think, just like everything else, the slowing up of things, I think, just makes you more appreciative.
ALINA CHO: I want to talk about traveling again.
MICHAEL KORS: Oh!
ALINA CHO: You and I both share this love of this special island in Italy called Capri, and you were able to go back.
MICHAEL KORS: Going back. Now, I've been twice.
ALINA CHO: I know you have!
MICHAEL KORS: I have been twice, and I have to say, I think when you have a destination that you love so much, it really is a part of your heart and your soul and the people you know there are — they’re friends.
ALINA CHO: You've been going to Capri for how long? 20 years? 30 years?
MICHAEL KORS: 30 years. When we got back to Capri, the first time we went back in the late spring, seeing the people in the shops, in the restaurants, in the hotel, these are people who are really a part of my life. And wondering, while we were all locked down and we couldn't travel, were they okay? Were their families okay? Were their businesses okay? You do have this incredible sense of affirmation.
ALINA CHO: Relief.
MICHAEL KORS: Relief and affirmation that, okay, wait a minute, we got to this step, to this point. So yes, I literally kissed the ground the first time we got back.
ALINA CHO: I just got back from Paris.
MICHAEL KORS: We have not been to Paris, yet.
ALINA CHO: Oh, you haven't?
MICHAEL KORS: We're going next month!