Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Michael Kors: Timeless Legend or Ticking Time Bomb?

Note: Yes, I'm aware. This post is not written in my typical "blog voice". But I urge you to keep reading, so I can school you on MK... #ejooomacation

If asked to list some of the most well-known and impactful names in the world of fashion, many would point out Michael Kors as one of those influential designers who has made major contributions over the past several years in the industry. Some of Michael Kors’ many accomplishments include having one of his designs worn by Michelle Obama in her first term official portrait as First Lady and being referenced in the popular 2006 film, The Devil Wears Prada by Meryl Streep’s powerful editor-in-chief character, Miranda Priestly. While it can be argued that Michael Kors is loved by many and that his popularity and success has been increasing over the years, his methods of gaining this success can also be called into question. This piece will bring to light the ethical issues behind Kors’ success such as claims made by fellow designer Roberto Cavalli about Kors’ work being unoriginal, insensitivity exhibited through a magazine advertising campaign, and sharp remarks made on his part during his time as a judge on the popular television show, Project Runway.

First, in an article from the Fashion Times, writer Britteny Dee writes, “Michael Kors is one of the most widely recognized American fashion designers and is set to become the industry's next billionaire, but fellow designer Roberto Cavalli thinks that he is responsible for Kors' success”. The Italian fashion designer believes that Kors steals his designs and claims them as his own. In an interview with style.com Cavalli explains, “He's one of the biggest copy designers in the world….I just want to tell him to stop copying me! Stop! All the time I write those comments on Instagram. He copies everybody!”. He goes on to say, “Americans like Michael Kors! And you love so many other designers who do that - he's not American fashion. He is international fashion made in America. It's not fair…” It must also be mentioned however, that Cavalli has also accused other American fashion designers of stealing his work, but holds a particularly strong opinion against the originality of work by Michael Kors.

Moreover, Michael Kors has been the recipient of much heat from the media over his ‘Afriluxe’ fashion shoot for a magazine advertising campaign. The campaign displayed people with an ebony skin tone as “extras” in the photographs. The author of an article from Daily Mail, Lauren Paxman, point out that a month prior to the release of Kors’ advertising campaign, a similar Haiti-shot campaign by fellow American designer, Donna Karan, had sparked controversy for using two seemingly poverty-stricken black teenagers simply to set the scene. Paxman calls Kors’ judgment into question by making the point that with such a similar campaign by Donna Karan having caused controversy, Michael Kors must have anticipated a similarly negative reaction from the public. Despite being aware of the media stir caused by Donna Karan’s campaign, the firm decided publish the images unaltered. The images that make up the Michael Kors ‘Afriluxe’ campaign include an image that shows two seemingly financially well-off white people on a very luxurious safari while a black tour guide fades into the background (see image below). 

via thedailymail.co.uk
A writer for fashionista.com by the name of Dhani Mau, does make the argument that the fact that the safari guide in Kors' picture “happens to be the only black person in the ad”, he adds that this element of the campaign, “might be a point of contention, or it may simply be seen as realistic”. So, while it may be argued that the campaign is not directly racist and that worse offences have been committed in the name of fashion, it can be concluded that the shoot displays poor judgment and racial insensitivity on the part of the popular American designer. The author concludes the article by pointing out that perhaps the reactions to these photos will persuade the fashion industry as a whole to finally move on from using imperialism as inspiration in their advertising efforts.

Finally, during his time as a judge on the popular television show, Project Runway, Michael Kors quickly became known as an overly harsh judge as his criticisms of contestants’ designs were often downright inappropriate and insulting. According to an episode of 20/20 on the ABC television network, one of Michael Kors’ choice critiques was a description of an aspiring designer’s work in which he exclaims, “It looks like, kind of a bad prom dress”. Keeping up with his harsh critiques, Michael Kors was also quoted in the 20/20 segment saying, “She looks like an Amish cocktail waitress”. Other, more inappropriate comments referencing prostitution and disrespecting women were also mentioned in the segment. When confronted about his offensive word choice during the interview, Kors simply replied, “Well, you know what’s funny? I guess I have an imagination. Hopefully, they are going to get some constructive criticism from me”. Some may argue that his snarky quips were all for good fun and higher ratings as his comments did attract quite a few viewers for Project Runway. However, many would agree that when public figures put themselves out there like this, everything they say represents their image. And negative comments may contribute to a lower perception of figures making such controversial statements. 

To conclude, one can see that it could be said that the empire Michael Kors has created is monumental in shaping the fashion world as we know it today. However, with the ethical issues that have arisen in Michael Kors’ business practices such as accusations of copying designs by Roberto Cavalli, knowingly publishing an insensitive advertising campaign, and offering inappropriate critiques on a television show, some may begin to question if it is his customer’s best interest that Michael Kors has in mind as he manages his brand. Some may even wonder if Kors’ company is strong enough to pull through these issues or if a time will come when these controversies will no longer be tolerated by his loyal fans and force the billion dollar empire to suffer. 

So, what do you think? Do you have an opinion one way or the other? Or, can you not be arsed to care? Leave your comments below!

xoxo Aneela

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