When an accessory becomes popular—really, massively, globally popular—its dominance can seem preordained. But in the same way that a much-hyped film can end up being a cinematic flop, a successful launch is never assured. Becoming popular is one thing; staying that way is the real challenge. It requires a precise mix of contradictions: old yet new, edgy yet familiar, pragmatic yet unique. This elusive alchemy is something that Michael Kors has mastered.
A few years ago, any woman with even the slightest interest in fashion wore an oversized boyfriend Michael Kors watch. In the summer, at a posh party Kors threw in London, England, I had the chance to ask him how he achieves balance in his designs.
“My job is to design products that are like your best friend,” Kors replied. “We have so many things, but we always have our favourites. I try to achieve a balance between indulgence, fashion, glamour, practicality and pragmatism. If a product is only pragmatic, it’s not fun. If it’s pure frivolity, you might wear it once but you won’t grab it again.”
So how does the Sofie—the latest addition to his Android Wear smartwatch lineup—achieve this balance? It has a familiar, if slightly slimmer, silhouette, but Kors knows his customers also want innovative, socially driven features like texting, improved activity trackers and voice control. Using the MK My Social app, users can also customize the watch face by pulling pictures from their Instagram feed. And with Google Assistant, the Sofie really does feel like a best friend. For those wary of making the switch to a full smartwatch, Kors is also launching a hybrid Sofie (and the Grayson, her male counterpart) that provides alerts, basic tracking and pusher buttons to change your music or take a selfie.
The Sofie (which also works on iOS) is techy but easily customizable, so it feels personal. It’s ironic, but the more specific an experience is, the more universal it sometimes feels. Kors understands that this ironic dichotomy also extends to the fashion world. That likely explains why he uses the idea of friendship to describe what he creates. Chances are your best friends are as specific and complex as you are. For Kors, that takes an uncanny level of foresight and even empathy.
“I’m not here to make what you tell me you want,” he says, although he does admit to loving the feedback he gets from social media. “I’m here to make what you don’t know you even want.”