When Michael Kors isn’t running his multi-milliondollar fashion empire or airkissing equally bronzed celebrities, the superstar American designer is often engaged in the not-unambitious task of alleviating hunger. His association with the cause has deep roots, having started in the 1980s with his support for a New York-based non-profit, God’s Love We Deliver, that brings meals to people living with life-threatening diseases.
These days, though, the designer is aiming to expand his efforts significantly, teaming up with the United Nations World Food Programme (and Halle Berry) to tackle starvation worldwide. Their first co-venture: launching a limited-edition Kors timepiece to finance food programs for children in need.
During a trip to Toronto this month, Kors spoke with Globe Style about his Watch Hunger Stop campaign and a host of other subjects, from the eco-implications of fast fashion and his encounters with some of Amercia’s most stylish first ladies to what really went on during those tapings of Project Runway, which he quit in late 2012.
How did you get involved with the World Food Programme?
I’m not a politician or a scientist and I can’t cure disease or end war, but hunger is a solvable global dilemma. So, I looked into the UN’s World Food Programme thinking that we could take what we’ve done in New York [with God’s Love We Deliver] and do it globally.
You personally asked Halle Berry to help promote this initiative. Why her?
When people ask me who the Michael Kors woman is, I say she’s a glamorous juggler, the woman who makes it all seem easy. And that is Halle Berry. [She is] talented, successful in her career and always looks fabulous. But she is also a great parent and very compassionate. It was a no-brainer.
Why did you decide to design a watch as the first project?
I have never made anything for philanthropic reasons prior to this because, as a consumer, I was always a little skeptical about where the money goes with [items designed for this purpose]. But as soon as we partnered with the WFP, I thought that we should have something concrete. The [$25 donated from each new] 100 Series watch, a part of the Watch Hunger Stop campaign, represents the 100 school meals that each watch buys. Without those meals available, kids won’t be able to go to school and the cycle of poverty will continue.
How is your social consciousness reflected in your clothing collections?
We’re consistently prodding the textile and yarn industries to focus on sustainability – and we’re getting there slowly. Unfortunately, we now have a generation of young women who grew up with the idea of disposable fashion. To buy something that you only wear once or twice and then throw away is the least green thing you can do. We don’t need closets full of clothes and bags, especially since many women end up reaching for the same bag or the same black pants. I try to design those pieces that you will wear all the time.
What is the one item that every woman will need this fall?
An amazing jacket or coat. They’re the ultimate look changers. You can be wearing anything from jeans to yoga pants, but putting on a great coat adds polish.
Is there one thing you personally can’t live without?
The colour black. If you said to me I can only wear bright colours or patterns, I’d probably stay in the house.
What’s the best piece of fashion advice you’ve ever received?
My grandfather, who was a great lover of fashion, believed you should buy the best quality and buy less.
What has been your greatest professional accomplishment?
When I first started designing, I was doing a trunk show at Bergdorf Goodman and Jackie Kennedy bought a few pieces. That was thrilling for me because she had such innate style. That was the ultimate accolade.
Speaking of first ladies, did you know that Michelle Obama would be wearing one of your sleeveless dresses for her first official portrait?
No. We had been contacted to make her a dress that was similar to another one of our designs that she had. But they asked us to switch up the colour and make some other small changes. I had no idea what I was doing it for. And it’s interesting to see how the world is changing. I never grew up with the idea that a first lady would be wearing a sleeveless jersey dress without a jacket. When I saw the portrait, I thought: This really is a new era. And of course everyone suddenly wanted her arms.
What kind of behind-thescenes drama from Project Runway can you share with us?
Quite frankly, we’re all goofballs, but we never came off that way. Once, we were eating Cheez Doodles and, since everyone always jokes that [fellow judge] Nina [Garcia] and I are the most tanned people in the world, I said that we should use Cheez Doodle dust as a bronzing highlighter. So we smeared it all over our faces.
This interview has been edited and condensed.