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Kenneth Cole Celebrates 40 Years of Purpose-driven Fashion

The designer is focusing these days on mental health initiatives.

Kenneth Cole with his wife Maria Cuomo ColeMADISON VOELKEL/BFA.COM

Kenneth Cole prefers to think of it as “the 20th anniversary of our 20th anniversary.” But it was actually 40 years ago that the designer and activist launched his brand. And on Tuesday night during New York Fashion Week, he celebrated the milestone with a party on the rooftop of his office in Chelsea.

Although Cole has become known for his footwear and menswear, over the past four decades, it’s always been more than just fashion to him. He has also used his position to shine a light on issues and social causes that impact society such as AIDS, the war in Ukraine and, most recently, mental health.

”It’s been an amazing journey,” he said Tuesday night. “This is such a great platform for personal inspiration, and also for engagement on all aspects of what makes you get up in the morning, and how to make an impact, hopefully, in people’s lives, as well as their work.”

So to what does he attribute his longevity? “You’ve got to be agile and pivot every 15 minutes, and you’ve got to figure out how to stay relevant — that’s what this business requires.”

For Cole, he believes that the fashion industry — and every company — needs to understand “not just the content, but the context and why people do what they do, why they consume, what they do, why they were, what they were, what inspires them? What motivates them? That’s what we do all the time. It’s always the next normal and the one after that.”

But Cole said he doesn’t plan to spend much time looking back. Instead, he’s got his eyes set on the future.

“I think that it’s good to reflect for a moment in time — but not for very long — and then move forward. The industry doesn’t allow you to be indulgent and spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror. Everything is moving so fast. So we’ll get right back on the road, and, hopefully, 40 years becomes a platform for all we still want to do.”

Specifically, that includes an impending relaunch of womenswear for spring 2024 and also continuing to “figure out how to connect with people where they are.”

To celebrate the anniversary, he launched a campaign earlier this year centered around the tag line “40 Years of Purpose.” He has been donating a percentage of sales on certain items since last fall to mental health causes, and has been collaborating with different creators all this year on special products to mark the milestone. That includes Faust, Little Words Project, J-Frost, Dude With Sign and others.

Shaun Ross was among those who attended the event.MADISON VOELKEL/BFA.COM

Coming up on Dec. 2, the actual day the company was founded, 100 percent of the net proceeds from his website will be donated to the Kenneth Cole Foundation to address mental health issues. The company will also launch its last and largest collaboration of the year that day — a line that is designed to benefit emotional health and well-being.

The party featured a live acoustic performance.MADISON VOELKEL/BFA.COM

Helping Cole celebrate was his wife, Mario Cuomo Cole, as well as his siblings, Macy’s chief executive officer Jeff Gennette and head merchant Sam Archibald, and influencers Allison Holker, Rachel Recchia, Afiya Bennett, Tyroe Muhafidin and Shaun Ross.

Cole summed up his thoughts of his anniversary this way: “Every day, you have to wake up and look in the mirror, be conscious and aware and say, ‘Is what I’m doing still right?’ Even though it may have been right yesterday, it may not be today. That influences what you wear, what you stand for and what you stand in.”


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