Kenneth Cole’s success has a rather unconventional beginning. In 1982, armed with desire and determination to be present at New York Market week, but with a very limited budget, Cole added the word “Production” to the company name, Kenneth Cole Inc. in order to obtain a City permit to film a full length movie titled The Birth of a Shoe Company. He filmed his presentation–open to the public–a few blocks away from the Hilton hotel, where the event was being held, and three days later, he had sold an astounding 40,000 pairs of shoes under the label Kenneth Cole Productions Inc.
Three decades later, Cole celebrates his astonishing journey with the release of his first book, This is a Kenneth Cole Production. Knowing that the designer is often credited with making black the go to color for fashion lovers, it’s hard to imagine the Rizzoli-published tome looking any different. In a unique twist, the book comes with a special sticker on its elegant black on black cover that enables readers to watch an exclusive message from Cole after downloading Junaio, a free mobile app, which gives readers access to other insider videos. The idea is for the book to be a “production” in itself.
Designed by Jacob Wildschioedtz, the coffee table monograph narrates the designer’s story since his early days working in his father’s shoe store. In addition, it contains letters addressed to Cole from well known, and respected, names: famed designer Diane Von Furstenberg, actor Robert Redford and even former United States President Bill Clinton.
The book features a collection of the designer’s progressive ads, which merge fashion with his uncompromising desire to spread socially conscious messages. While others may stray away from making the kind of advertising statements that have popularized Cole’s brand, the designer takes the task head on. He acknowledges that his chosen route of advertisement is not for everyone, but understands it’s what sets his brand apart. “Social commentary defines the brand, distinguishes it from others. It has a genuine point of difference,” says the powerhouse. For Kenneth Cole, being any other way seems to be out of the question. “I think community engagement needs to be part of the journey. It’s not the destination, but if you do that, the destination becomes so much more rewarding, both spiritually and socially”, says the designer.
Since 1987, Cole has been active with amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, which supports research, treatment, education, prevention and advocacy of AIDS related issues and HIV. All proceeds from the book will benefit amfAR. About this organization, which means so much to him, Cole said, “I found a voice, in a very important dialogue that few wanted to partake in, because of the devastation and the stigma. I joined the board in 1987 and became the chairman in 2004. I am amazingly fortunate to be a part of it. It has changed me in many meaningful ways.”
Cole’s journey seems far from over, and it wouldn’t be farfetched to expect thirty more years of chic fashion and bold statements. When asked to describe the journey that has led him to this monumental milestone Kenneth Cole’s words are simple, and seemingly the mantra he follows: “Look good, do good, feel good.” ■