The fashion designer offers freewheeling wisdom on business travel, from packing lists to escape routes
Michael Kors can't hold a real conversation in French, Italian, or Spanish, but he can say "camel" in pretty much any language. That's the color, not the creature. A fashion designer famous for ingeniously rethinking women's classics, Kors is partial to a neutral palette and surpassingly devoted to the ease of cashmere and lightweight wool. He's equally opinionated in his approach to business travel, which is why Travel & Leisure caught up with him between trips to take stock.
MICHAEL KORS ON…
Airports: My love is Milan's Malpensa, so easy and small. Heathrow's great, too—excuse me, but if I can have caviar and salmon at the airport, I'm happy. Atlanta and Miami make me insane; it seems like I always have to transfer from Gate B to Gate Z. At New York's JFK, I feel as if I'm in the middle of a revolution. But Newark in New Jersey isn't bad, and there's a McDonald's.
His Strategy for a Comfortable Flight: I drink, I eat salty food, I chew Australian "No Jet Lag" pills as if they were TicTacs, I take sleeping pills. I do everything you're not supposed to do, and I don't drink 40 bottles of water. To me, being on a plane is a mini vacation even when I'm traveling for business, and vacations are all about being bad.
Carry-on Essentials: I can pack two weeks' worth of clothes in a tiny duffel, but the pile of accoutrements I take on the plane is shocking: at least 20 magazines, newspaper clippings, a biography, my Léron silk crepe eye mask and Orlan moisturizer, my Discman and CD's. I have so many props that people are afraid of me.
A Luggage Lesson: I carry a big Hermès doctor's bag or a nylon duffel and I roll everything I pack, even suits. None of my bags have shoulder straps; they absolutely ruin jackets. And I never check anything.
A Packing List for Two Weeks in Europe: Three pairs pants (gray flannel, jeans, khakis), one jacket (wear on the plane), three cashmere sweaters, five white T-shirts, a bathing suit, eight pairs of underwear, black driving loafers. I swear by laundry service.
Socklessness: If I put on socks I feel like a grown-up, so I never do, even in winter. To me, not wearing socks is one of the perks of being in fashion.
The Pack in Black: Everyone in the fashion world travels the same circuit—London, Paris, New York, Milan—so you run into the same people everywhere. They're all in the same restaurants, staying at the same hotel. Does it ever bother me?No. Fashion people are a breed apart; we feel comfortable around one another. Also, we're so busy and travel so much that we don't want to risk going somewhere untried, even when it comes to vacations. I'm no exception—I'm going to St. Bart's for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Americans vs. Brits at Trunk Shows: American women will come out of the fitting room, topless and in panty hose with no underwear, and say, "I need the size eight, I need the size eight; the six doesn't work." But they never, ever ask me the price—though I'm sure the minute they get in the fitting room they're looking for the tag. The English customer, no matter how wealthy, will say, "Well, how much is that?" But if you knock on the door to find out how things are going, you get, "Don't come in, don't come in."
Trade Show Fare: At Première Vision, a French textile fair, where you spend days going through two football fields' worth of fabric swatches, you can stop for a glass of Sauternes. You can have foie gras on a little bun or Belon oysters or Berthillon sorbet. There is a cheese stand. It's incredible. The fair is exhausting, a necessary evil, but the food makes it pleasurable.
Tried-and-True Hotels: Tokyo's Okura has absolutely peerless service; call for a shiatsu and the masseuse is in your room in 10 minutes. The Diana in Milan has amazing garden views, bathrooms the size of bedrooms, and linen duvet covers. In New Orleans, I love the Maison de Ville's Audubon Cottages.
Hotel Tipping: It's true that Americans overtip in Italy and France. But if you travel for business and stay at the same hotels, it pays to be known. If I've been in Paris or Milan for a few days and have requested several restaurant reservations and a car, I leave the concierge $100, maybe a bit more. Most other places, $75 will do. In my room, I always leave a few dollars for each day I was there. But you're never supposed to tip in Japan; it's an insult to most people.
Airport Purchases: Peck, a food shop at Milan's Malpensa, has incredible olive oil. At Narita, there's an electronics shop where I found the most beautiful stainless steel Walkman. At Charles DeGaulle, I buy caviar for the plane. Then I ask the flight attendant for bread and salad, and I feast. It's the perfect $150 indulgence.
Returning Home: I travel at least a third of the time—and everywhere, not just London and Hong Kong, but Toledo, Omaha, Little Rock. Though I love it, I'm relieved every time I see the Manhattan skyline again. Nothing else pushes my pulse like New York. *
If I Had an Hour in Paris…
I'd go to the Luxembourg Gardens, where you can see schoolgirls perfectly in a line just the way they are in Madeline. Or I'd go to the Café de Flore to watch Parisians and their dogs, and learn 201 ways to tie a scarf.
If I Had an Afternoon in Tokyo…
I'd get lost in Asakusa, an area of old shops and market stalls, which you enter through huge red gates. It all looks a bit honky-tonk, and I've seen people there selling $30,000 tortoiseshell glasses next to peanut vendors.
If I Had a Weekend in Rome…
I'd take off for Capri and stay at the Quisisana, where people swim wearing serious jewelry and the world passes by the bar. I'd rent a big old teak sailboat with yellow terry cushions and spend a day eating fresh sea urchin and staring at the sea and sky. The next day, I'd go to the Da Luigi beach club to sit on the rocks and eat spaghetti with clams.
Five Commandments for Perfect Packing
- Focus on seasonless clothes, in materials that don't wrinkle, such as lightweight wool.
- Keep it neutral, whether beige, navy, or gray.
- Roll, don't fold (this works with jackets when they're turned inside out).
- Bring different shoes; they can change any outfit.
- Remember, there's nothing wrong with a uniform: you're not Sharon Stone going to Cannes.