Though Cole's clothes -- both men's and women's -- were recognizable thanks to their simple designs, clean yet stylish look, and functionality, there is more to wearing a Kenneth Cole item than just the feel. Cole is noted for his one-liner, pun-filled ads, sometimes mixing in messages that go beyond the fashion world. An ad from 1998 proclaimed, "Have a heart, give a sole," and encouraged buyers to donate a pair of their old shoes by reducing the prices of new pairs by 20%. In addition to donating to those in need of clothes, the "Wear a rubber sole" campaign urged men to use protection during sex.
Kenneth Cole's creativity and charity translated into a booming business, which has had no problem entering different realms of fashion. With his company now worth over $1 billion, he continues to concentrate on design, constantly producing clothes that make men look sharp and women, stunning.
kenneth cole enters fashion market
Before he was able to immerse himself in his major, however, Kenneth spent a summer back in New York, working with his father. Replacing one of his dad's top assistants, Kenneth discovered that fashion wasn't so bad after all. At the end of the summer, he decided to stay in New York, forgoing his studies at Emory for a new passion.
kenneth cole starts with shoes
In 1982, after having learnt all that was possible about fashion and shoes under the tutelage of his father, Kenneth branched out, forming his own company called Kenneth Cole, Inc. He stuck with women's shoes, and headed to Europe to design his collection. Business was initially slow, and it wasn't until a trade show at a Hilton hotel in Manhattan that Kenneth made his mark.
kenneth cole's first show
Unfortunately, being a small fish in a big sea, Cole didn't have the cash to rent out a large room for the show. In order to stand out, he had to do something different. Wishing to rent out a trailer instead, Cole received a permit (by changing his company's name to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. and claiming to be a film production company making a film called The Birth of a Shoe Company) and pulled up in front of the Hilton. During the two and a half-day trade show, Kenneth sold 40,000 pairs of shoes. His business was underway.
kenneth cole's controversial ads
Kenneth Cole continued to make a splash. In 1985, for his first major ad campaign, he decided to promote AIDS awareness and research -- the first figure in the fashion industry to do so. Coupling supermodels with children of all ethnicities, his ads read, "For the future of our children," and featured everyone barefoot. Though not a single shoe could be found in the campaign, it was a success.
Kenneth continued promoting his shoes with socially conscious ads, encouraging safe sex and donations to the homeless. He sent some of his profits to Mentoring USA, AmFar (the American Foundation for Aids Research) and Rock the Vote, an organization that encourages youth to cast their ballots.
kenneth cole marries maria cuomo
Cole met Maria Cuomo, daughter of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, in 1986. They married a year later and Kenneth, now with a foot in the political world, befriended many famous names, including the Kennedys and Clintons. In fact, Cole is one of Bill Clinton's golfing buddies.
In 1988, Kenneth licensed out his name, spreading the Kenneth Cole brand to sunglasses, jewelry and menswear. Cole, unlike Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, continues to remain in the background, letting his creative ads and clothes speak for themselves. Outside his hometown of New York, most recognize the Kenneth Cole name, but not the face.
kenneth cole goes public
In 1994, Kenneth Cole went public. In the years since, Kenneth Cole's stock has remained solid, a testament to Cole's ability to keep with the times. In fact, Kenneth Cole Productions has been included in Forbes' annual 200 Best Small Companies list on four separate occasions. His line of clothes now expands to full lines of women's wear and menswear, watches, bags, fragrances, and of course, shoes. After some encouragement from fellow executives, Cole upped his time in the spotlight and began appearing with his wife at several public events in and around New York. In 1998, he even posed for People after the magazine named him "Sexiest Businessman of the Year." Five years later, he released a much-anticipated anthology of his company, the book Footnotes: What You Stand For Is More Important Than What You Stand In.
kenneth cole's empire
With 80 stores and outlets across the country, 4,500 shops carrying his line, a catalog, and an online boutique, Kenneth Cole is captain of an empire that topped $515 million in revenues in 2004. Marketing under three brands (Kenneth Cole New York, Reaction Kenneth Cole and Unlisted), Cole continues to design clothes that are both stylish and comfortable for the working man and woman. Cole is well-placed to be dressing people for work and play for years to come, but of course, it will all be done his own creative way.