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The Maker and His Muse: Michael Kors and Taylor Hill

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As a 15-year-old model-in-the-making, Taylor Hill took in her first fashion show from the back row at Michael Kors. Three years later, Mario Testino is shooting her for the designer’s line. Hill and Kors discuss the beauty of living the American dream.

MICHAEL EXPLAINS!

Tell us about your interest in Taylor…
The most interesting people are not one-dimensional. When I look at Taylor, she is the bombshell next door. She is sexy but sporty. She’s full of optimism. She’s nice to work with, and she is obviously very beautiful. She’s excited to travel, and she loves the whole [fashion] experience. I never feel that she’s blasé about things. That whole combination makes her very much a Michael Kors girl.

Does she remind you of anyone?
This sounds like a contradiction, but she kind of reminds me of a sporty, all-American version of Sophia Loren. If Sophia grew up riding horses in Colorado, she might be Taylor.

You shot a show teaser with Taylor called “Kors Commute.” What did she bring to the table?
She’s lit. I love her enthusiasm. I found out things that I had never known before. The first fashion show she went to was a Michael Kors show with her mom! She said she had a “pinch me” moment a few years later, when suddenly, she’s in the campaign and walking down the runway.

How cool! How long does it take to put those videos together?
Unfortunately, everything that’s good always looks like it comes together quickly—like we just turned on our phones and said, “Let’s film this thing.” But I am not exactly shy, and someone like Taylor is not shy. So we have more footage than we need!

We all need a little joy these days. What’s doing it for you?
I am here to admit that I am addicted to La La Land. I have seen the movie three times and if I could sing and dance, I could jump on screen with Emma [Stone], because I know every word to the songs. We listen to the soundtrack endlessly. The movie is full of charm, romance, and a lot of things that people are really lacking and craving right now.

A lot of designers have been showing in La La Land this season. Would you ever consider doing that?
My mom lives in La La Land, so she would be happy. I have spent a lot of time in Los Angeles. I love it out there. But for the time being, we are happy showing in New York.

You’ve been working with Mario Testino for quite some time. Why do you work so well together?
We have been collaborating with Mario for well over a decade, and I think Mario understands joy and light. He really understands how to project that on the page. Together, we have this back-and-forth, simpatico storytelling…it’s kind of like a tennis match that always ends perfectly.

Any other models who are rocking your world these days?
There is such a great array of girls right now. I love Selena Forrest. She has personality. She’s got edge and bite. She has a lot of energy, which I always think is important. I love Mica Argañaraz. She is the ultimate elegant tomboy. Everything she puts on always knocks me out. And, of course, Carolyn Murphy. She is truly just like the best American wine—she gets more fabulous every year.

Who did you cast in your first ad campaign?
Iman was my first muse and in my first show. She was also in my first ad campaign with a model named Joan Severance, who later became an actress. When you put the right clothes on the right model, it all comes to life. But listen—for my first show I think we had six pairs of shoes, total, and we rotated them backstage. All the models were barefoot waiting for the next pair of shoes.

Who are some of your nonmodel muses?
When I think of Michelle Obama, I think of elegance, intelligence, style, and all with the public eye on her the whole time. And I think the same of people like Blake Lively: She’s a great mom, obviously beautiful, but also very stylish. She dresses herself, no stylist. Of course, she’s a great actress and fun to be with, and a wicked cook. Women who do a lot of different things and do it really well—those are the women who really inspire me.

TAYLOR TELLS ALL!

The first fashion show you ever saw was Michael Kors. Tell us more!
It was really exciting! I was 15 and I was the test model for Maybelline. I was at Lincoln Center and my agent said that I didn’t have any other shows to do that day. They said I could go backstage to any show I wanted, and they sent me the list and the only designer whose name I knew was Michael Kors. We sat in the back. I remember my mom said, “Oh, look at that girl. One day it will be you.” And I was like, “No, it won’t.”

What was it like to finally walk his runway?
I was in awe. I had shot the campaign with Mario Testino in Las Vegas before the show. It was a really surreal experience because Michael Kors himself was there on the photo shoot. When we did the fitting, I already knew him. He is such a friendly person, and he makes it a point to get to know the girls. It was really fun and exciting, and there was a really great energy. It felt like an invitation into a bigger part of the Michael Kors brand.

What was it like working with Mario Testino?
It was one of my first shoots ever. Mario Testino is so kind. He shoots really quickly because he already has this vision. He understands Michael really well. They have worked together for a really long time and when you are with them, you can feel that. He’s really great at capturing what Michael wants, and as a model, it really helps, because sometimes it can be intimidating to work with such amazing people. You know, I was 19 at the time. I was like, “What am I doing here?”

What was your knowledge of Michael before you worked for him?
I’m from Colorado, so growing up, we didn’t have a good sense of what fashion even was. When I thought of modeling, I honestly thought it was like America’s Next Top Model. When I was scouted, everyone on my gymnastics team was like, “Are you going to audition for America’s Next Top Model when you’re 16?” I recognized the name from my local mall. It was fancy, and the store smelled good. I was a 13-year-old and I couldn’t afford the jeans, so I was like, “Wow, this is fashion.” And it is! The biggest top models in the world walk the show. Mario Testino does the campaigns. I didn’t even have a grasp of what it meant to be a brand that big. I just knew it because it was there in my mall.

What surprised you about Michael when you first met him?
He’s an actual person. I was meeting the man that is behind such a global, huge empire. I mean, even I knew who he was when I was living in Colorado. He was one of the first big designers I ever really worked for, besides Versace. My first runway show was Versace and I met Donatella, and that was kind of the beginning of the whole grasp of realizing these are real people who do this. So I just kind of freaked out a little bit. I was like, “What the heck is going on? Michael Kors is a person! I’m meeting him! He’s really nice!”

Do you have a favorite memory with Michael?
We work a lot with [creative director] Paul Cavaco; they’ve been working together for so long. Mario, Paul, and Michael are just such hilarious people. When I’m in a fitting before the photo shoot the stories that I hear…I could be there for hours. Usually fittings last 45 minutes to two hours, and we will be there for three or four hours just talking. They show me their old photos of these crazy things they used to do and the people they worked with. As a young woman in the industry, you look up to those people, like Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell. They knew them when they were my age and doing what I’m doing, and it’s so crazy to hear the stories from the people who started their careers. These are the people who made those women.

What’s it like being Michael’s muse?
It’s really exciting. Before, I was on the outside looking in, being like, “Oh, I wonder what it’s like walking in his show. I wonder what it’s like to be around him.” And here I am and I’m like, “What?” He really understands my appreciation for it as an American girl.

How did you get ready for Fashion Week?
It kind of sneaks up on you-—all of a sudden, it’s Christmas, and the next thing you know, you’re doing shows again and you’re like, “Where’d the time go?” It’s more of a mental game. You have to make sure you stay rested and aware of what you’re doing because it can become very lonely.

What are you looking forward to this year?
The idea that anything can happen, which has kind of been the whole theme of my entire career. I’m just going with it, and it’s been kind of great. It’s been a really wild ride. It’s a crazy business!

 

It’s really exciting. Before, I was on the outside looking in, being like, “Oh, I wonder what it’s like walking in his show. I wonder what it’s like to be around him.” And here I am and I’m like, “What?” He really understands my appreciation for it as an American girl.

How did you get ready for Fashion Week?

It kind of sneaks up on you-—all of a sudden, it’s Christmas, and the next thing you know, you’re doing shows again and you’re like, “Where’d the time go?” It’s more of a mental game. You have to make sure you stay rested and aware of what you’re doing because it can become very lonely.

What are you looking forward to this year?

The idea that anything can happen, which has kind of been the whole theme of my entire career. I’m just going with it, and it’s been kind of great. It’s been a really wild ride. It’s a crazy business! ß

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