Footwear, philanthropy, social media, and fashion are just a few of KENNETH COLE’s playthings. Even at 60, the designer is in no mood to quit the field. Photograph by ANAND GOGOI
Kenneth Cole jumps deftly across the rails of a balcony, reaching, via stepladder, the roof of the porch of The Lodhi New Delhi, where models are ready in his Spring 2014 looks. The designer, who celebrated his 60th birthday this March, looks rugged and sprightly in a jacket and dark trousers. But seeing the girls, he nods himself a no, and bounds back, only to emerge moments later in white jeans and zippered bomber. “Much better,” he says, looking even younger. This sums up the American designer’s collection. It makes you want to dress younger, sportier; that’s the mood it exudes.
But it’s not restricted to his clothes. Sporting is a term that you’d easily use for Cole himself. It was in New York in 1982 that he found himself unable to afford a room at the New York Hilton during Market Week, an annual selling event for fashion brands, to showcase his shoes. He got a trailer for the job, but couldn’t get a permit to use it for showcasing and selling. He then changed the name of his company from Kenneth Cole Inc. to Kenneth Cole Productions, applying for a permit to make a feature film. This he did, filming The Birth of a Shoe Company, and selling over 40,000 pairs of shoes in less than three days.
With such a legendary start, Cole established himself as a premium American brand of footwear, and today treats New York as his personal wellspring of ideas and influences. With these he mixes his masterful sportif touches, like sneaker-esque shoes, zippers, and slick, new-age fabrics. This is the basis of the Kenneth Cole Collection, his high-end line, which he launched in 2012 to rave reviews. Since then, each successive collection has had a distinctly active feel.