Kors was born Karl Anderson Jr. on Long Island, New York, the son of Joan Hamburger, a former model, and her first husband, Karl Anderson Sr., a college student. His mother remarried Bill Kors when he was five, and his surname was changed to Kors. His mother told him that he could choose a new first name as well; subsequently he renamed himself Michael David Kors. He grew up in Merrick, New York and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, New York. Kors' mother is Jewish and his father was of Swedish descent. Kors married his partner, Lance Le Pere, on August 16, 2011, in Southampton, New York.
Kors' affinity for fashion started when he was very young. His mother thought his affinity might have been caused in part by his exposure to the apparel industry through her modeling career. Michael, at the age of five, even redesigned his mother's wedding dress for her second marriage. As a teen, Kors began designing clothes and selling them out of his parents' basement, which he renamed the Iron Butterfly. Kors also took acting lessons when he was young, but stopped when he was 14 when he decided to focus on becoming a fashion designer.
In 1977, he enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. However, he dropped out after only nine months and took a job at a boutique called Lothar's across from Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan, where he started as a salesperson and went on to become both the designer and visual display head for the store. Shortly after, Dawn Mello, the fashion director at Bergdorf's, discovered Kors. She asked if he would show his collection to Bergdorf Goodman's buyers and that was just the beginning.
In 1981, Kors launched his Michael Kors women's label at Bergdorf Goodman. In 1990, the company launched KORS Michael Kors as a licensee. A Chapter 11 filing in 1993, caused by the closure of the licensing partner for KORS Michael Kors, forced him to put the KORS line on hold. He managed to get back on his feet by 1997 and launched a lower priced line and at the same time was named the first women’s ready-to-wear designer for French house Celine. In his tenure at Celine, Kors turned the fashion house around with successful accessories and a critically acclaimed ready-to-wear line. Kors left Celine in October 2003 to concentrate on his own brand. Kors launched his menswear line in 2002.
The MICHAEL Michael Kors line was launched in 2004, joining the original Michael Kors Collection label. The MICHAEL Michael Kors line includes women's handbags and shoes as well as women's ready-to-wear apparel. As of the end of the first fiscal quarter in 2016, Kors has over 770 Lifestyle stores around the world. Currently, Kors has Collection boutiques in New York, Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, Chicago, Miami and Southampton. In the U.S, his women's runway collection, labeled Michael Kors Collection, is sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and numerous specialty stores. Michael Kors Collection is also carried at the brand's stores in London, Paris, Cannes, Milan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul. The year 2016 marked the 35th anniversary of Kors' business.
Among the celebrities who have worn Kors' designs are Olivia Wilde, Dakota Johnson, Blake Lively, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift, Kate Middleton, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Hillary Clinton, Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, Heidi Klum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Michelle Obama wore a black sleeveless dress from the designer for her first term official portrait as First Lady and later sported Kors again at the 2015 State of the Union address. Viola Davis wore a custom Michael Kors Collection gown when accepting a Golden Globe for best supporting actress in a motion picture for her role in Fences. Kate Hudson and Olivia Wilde both wore gowns by the designer to the 2016 Golden Globes, and Emily Blunt, nominated for her role in Into The Woods, wore a white custom gown by the designer in 2015. Joan Allen wore his gown when she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Contender. As creative director of Celine, Kors designed many outfits for actresses to wear on screen, including Gwyneth Paltrow in Possession; and Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair. One of his gowns was worn by Alicia Keys for her performance at Barack Obama's inaugural ball on January 21, 2013.
The ad campaigns for Kors, shot by Mario Testino, often reflect the jet-set sportswear that his fans like. Previous campaigns include the model Carmen Kass on a safari in Africa and relaxing on a yacht. More recent campaigns feature models Joan Smalls and Freja Beha-Erichsen living the jet set lifestyle.
Kors was a judge on the Emmy-nominated reality television program Project Runway, which aired on Bravo for five seasons; subsequent seasons aired on Lifetime. On December 18, 2012, it was announced that Kors would be leaving Project Runway, to be replaced by fellow designer Zac Posen.
In January 2014, Forbes reported that Kors now has a personal fortune in excess of $1billion, making him the latest fashion industry billionaire. Michael Kors Holdings had already “minted two billionaires”: Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll.2016: The World Food Programme honored Kors with the McGovern-Dole Leadership award, presented by former vice president Joe Biden.
2015: Named a Global Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme.
2015: God’s Love We Deliver dedicated the Michael Kors Building at the non-profit’s new SoHo headquarters in honor of Kors’ ongoing support.
2013: Selected for The Time 100, the magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He also made the New York Observer's list of the 100 Most Influential New Yorkers, under the fashion category, and was named to Out magazine’s 2014 Power 50 List.
2013: Honored with the 2013 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion by The Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
2013: Kors presented Hillary Rodham Clinton with the first-ever Michael Kors Award for Outstanding Community service.
2012: Honored with the Golden Heart Lifetime Achievement Award by God's Love We Deliver, a non-profit organization that distributes fresh meals to people living with HIV/AIDS and other diagnoses, which he has been involved with for over 20 years.
2010: Received the Oliver R. Grace Award for Distinguished Service in Advancing Cancer Research, an annual honor bestowed by the Cancer Research Institute, a U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing immune system-based treatments for cancer.
2010: Kors was the youngest recipient ever of the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and received the Fragrance Foundation’s FiFi Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In January 2009, the estate of the artist-designer Tony Duquette sued Kors for trademark infringement after Kors allegedly used Duquette's name and images in promoting Kors' 2009 resortwear collection.
In July 2013, he became the second luxury brand, after Tiffany & Co, to sue Costco for falsely claiming in advertisements that they sold his product.
Kors was referenced in the film The Devil Wears Prada by Meryl Streep's character, Miranda Priestly. In the scene, Priestly sweeps into her office and gives a list of instructions to her personal assistant (Emily Blunt). Priestly says, "RSVP 'yes' to Michael Kors' party and I want the driver to drop me off at 9:30 and pick me up at 9:45 sharp".
Kors is also mentioned in Big Sean's song "Dance" by Nicki Minaj. Drake also mentions Michael Kors in his song "From Time", and rapper Pusha T in his song "Numbers on the Boards". Additionally, Kors guest starred as himself in a Fashion Week themed episode of the hit teen show Gossip Girl; the same show that repeatedly showcases several pieces from his collections.