It doesn’t take long to see that optimism runs in designer Michael Kors’ veins. His larger-than-life personality and sunny outlook are as well known as his signature totes and gold watches, and have contributed in no small part to making him one of the most successful designers on the planet. Kors’ rise from star-struck Long Island boy to reality-TV star and designer to the people has been told a million times.
What’s less known is that he’s also devoted to a series of philanthropic endeavours, chief among them his mission to combat hunger. Even before hitting the jackpot and becoming a billionaire, he was already a supporter of the New York charity God’s Love We Deliver, which provides meals to the needy in the Big Apple.
The designer, who as a young man used to go to the charity’s office to peel vegetables, has recently made possible a new six-storey headquarters in downtown New York, where the group is better equipped to cope with the demands of those who lack access to proper meals, even in one of the wealthiest cities on Earth.
Recently named a UN World Food Programme Global Ambassador Against Hunger, Kors has harnessed the power of social media and his celebrity connections to deliver 10 million meals so far to children around the world. His Watch Hunger Stop campaign has become a viral phenomenon, with people snapping “selfless selfies” in the Watch Hunger Stop T-shirt (the brand donates 100 meals for every selfie posted, while each sale of its 100 Series watch enables 100 kids to receive a meal).
To spread the word even further, Kors enlisted the talents of his friend Kate Hudson. Late last year, the pair, who met seven years ago and have been close ever since, introduced two limited-edition styles of the Bradshaw watch as part of the campaign, and sat down for a chat before a gala dinner to celebrate God’s Love We Deliver.
Curled up on a couch in a blue dress from the designer’s spring/summer 2016 collection, Hudson looks like the perfect foil to the outgoing Kors, seated next to her in a suite of a swanky Manhattan hotel. As they interact and make fun of each other, it’s clear that Kors’ optimism can be quite contagious.
“He’s an optimist and I’m an optimist,” says Hudson. “Some people have an optimistic gene; their brain is wired towards optimism, but it’s very rare. Optimism is actually something we learn; we’re not predisposed to be optimistic. I think that the more that we can put that out there, the more that people will be fascinated and interested to know how to create the optimistic mind. It’s what you would call a psychologically sound existence.”
Kors couldn’t agree more. “You’re blessed, so how can you not give back?” he says. “But I also think realistically that I’m an optimist in general. I think when people put the right clothes on or the right shoes on, the right bag, the right glasses, you see them change. I have seen women walk into our shop, put something on and suddenly feel great and be like, ‘I look good.’ You know, it’s this immediate change.
“And I like seeing results. I’m result-oriented. So the simple truth is that what’s so amazing in this instance is that this is an immediate change in a child’s life, in an adult’s life, and then into the future in their community. So it’s very much the kind of thing that goes back to God’s Love We Deliver, where I saw this immediate shift, back in the ’80s when we felt helpless with Aids, we felt like there was nothing we could do to help. We could donate money but we didn’t know what to do. And then suddenly I started delivering food. I’m not the best cook, so I chopped vegetables. When you would do this and then the delivery, you were like, ‘Wow!’”
Kors definitely walks the talk. The designer still goes to the headquarters of God’s Love We Deliver to help prepare food, and also requires his staff in New York to volunteer for the charity. “No matter how busy you are, you will feel better about yourself, quite frankly, when you give back. It’s an incredible joyous feeling to be able to help,” he says. “And you don’t have to be famous, you don’t have to be rich.”
Riches and fame, however, are what propelled Kors’ drive to combat hunger. “At the end of the day, what are we looking for? We’re looking for zero hunger,” says Kors. “I mean, the food is out there, but we have to continue to make as much noise as possible so that people know they can help, they can get involved. Seeing that 10-million number, we thought about the digital T-shirts for today’s world. And no one’s better than Kate at social media. Her Instagram pictures are the best. The best!”
Discovering that one out of nine children around the world is undernourished was a wake-up call for Hudson. “The stats are just mind-blowing, yet it’s such a tangible, simple thing that we can do to make a difference, and it’s really nice to be able to see a result,” she says.
“Michael’s a people person. He likes to connect with people and I’m very similar. It would be irresponsible to say that you can relate to someone who’s suffering in Syria as a refugee, but there’s something relatable about the human condition, the most primal aspect of what we are, which is being a mother, wanting the best for your children and being able to relate when it comes to that love.
“I think there’s something about being able to provide the basics, and connect to these families through feeding them. It sort of starts to create a very nice sort of, ‘How do we bridge the gap, how can we connect?’”
Although Kors and Hudson are genuinely invested in this project, they also bring a much-needed light-heartedness to their partnership. It’s obviously a serious issue and one to which they’re fully committed, but in the end they’re aware that doing good – and having fun while doing it – is paramount.
When asked about how their relationship came about and has blossomed over the years, they both say that it’s down to having a good time and laughing with – and at – each other. “To laugh is the greatest joy in the world,” says Kors.
“It’s really healing,” adds Hudson. “They’ve done so much research on laughter and tears; tears of joy versus tears of sadness. And it’s literally healing. What it fires in your brain is all the places of healing and your body restores itself.”
There’s no better life lesson, especially when it comes from two players in industries that often take themselves too seriously and have forgotten about the simple pleasure of having a good old time.