Kenneth Cole (designer)

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Kenneth Cole
Cole on the red carpet at the Life Ball, Vienna, 2010
Born (1954-03-23) March 23, 1954 (age 69)
EducationEmory University (1976)
OccupationFashion designer
LabelKenneth Cole Productions
Maria Cuomo
(m. 1987)

Kenneth D. Cole (born March 23, 1954) is an American designer, social activist, business owner, and philanthropist. His global company, Kenneth Cole Productions, creates clothing and other products under the labels Kenneth Cole New York, Reaction Kenneth Cole, and Unlisted, as well as footwear under the label Gentle Souls.

Early life and education[edit]

Born to a Jewish family[1][2] in Brooklyn, New York, his father, Charles Cole, owned the El Greco shoe manufacturing company. Cole graduated from John L. Miller Great Neck North High School in 1972. Before learning the family business and starting his own company in 1982, Cole graduated from Emory College of Arts and Sciences of Emory University in 1976.[3][4]

Birth of a shoe company[edit]

Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. is an American fashion house founded in 1982 by Kenneth Cole. Wanting to preview his line of shoes at the New York Shoe Expo at the New York Hilton,[5] but unable to afford the purchase of a hotel room or showroom to display his items, Kenneth Cole inquired about parking a trailer two blocks from the Hilton Hotel. Upon discovering that permits for trailers were only granted to utility and production companies, Cole changed the name of his company from Kenneth Cole Incorporated to Kenneth Cole Productions, and applied for a permit to film the full-length film, "The Birth of a Shoe Company". In two and a half days, Kenneth Cole Productions sold forty thousand pairs of shoes, while chronicling the beginning of the company on film.[4]

In 1994, Kenneth Cole went public, and has been included on Forbes annual list of 200 Best Small Companies four times.[6]

Kenneth Cole Productions sells clothing and accessories under the following labels: Kenneth Cole New York, Kenneth Cole Reaction, Unlisted and Gentle Souls. The company’s products are also distributed through department stores, specialty stores, company-owned retail stores and its e-commerce website and digital global flagship,

The company has a wide variety of strategic partnerships for the production of men’s apparel, fragrances, watches, jewelry, eyewear, and several other categories.

Kenneth Cole and the company have expressed a commitment to helping communities in need by supporting public health, civil liberties and sustainability.

Support of progressive social causes[edit]

Since 1985, Kenneth Cole has been openly involved in publicly supporting AIDS awareness and research. He is considered the first in the fashion industry to do so.[6] He uses fashion as a medium to promote socially conscious ads to help fight various issues, from AIDS to homelessness. He has donated proceeds to such organizations as Mentoring USA, amfAR and Rock the Vote.[6] Since 2005, Cole has served as chairman for amfAR. In November 2017, sixty people including prominent AIDS activists signed a demand that Cole step down from his position after a federal investigation for fraud and money laundering was opened.[7] In February 2018, Cole stepped down as Chairman after serving more than 30 years on amfAR's board and 14 years as Chairman, amid the controversial Harvey Weinstein deal.[8]

In 2001, The Kenneth Cole Foundation, in association with Cole's alma mater, Emory University, created The Kenneth Cole Fellows in Community Building and Social Change Program at Emory University.[3]

Kenneth Cole's socially conscious advertising for the causes that he champions has created controversies. One such example was his campaign for World AIDS Day in 2005. He designed T-shirts for the campaign which were sold at such stores as Barneys New York, Scoop, and Louis Boston. The messages on the shirts stated either, "We All Have AIDS" or "I Have AIDS." Cole created the shirts in hopes that those with or without AIDS would wear the shirts, to help diminish the stigma attached to the disease. Cole stated, "There is a legend of the Danish king, Christian X, who, during World War II, when Hitler insisted all Jews publicly wear a yellow Star of David, would wear the star himself, hence making it difficult to differentiate who was Jewish. This is kind of like that, hopefully."[9]

In August 2006, it was announced that Kenneth Cole Productions would stop selling fur in all of their garments for the Fall 2007 Fashion Season.[10]

In October 2007, Cole guest-starred in the Ugly Betty episode Betty's Wait Problem.[11][12]

In the summer of 2007, Kenneth Cole Productions also began their "Awearness" Campaign, which will produce a line of T-shirts to benefit the charities that the company supports, and proceeds will go to the Awearness Fund.[13] The campaign is further promoted by a book "Awearness: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference" featuring celebrities assisting various causes.[14]

On May 1, 2009, Kenneth Cole delivered Northeastern University's keynote address at the Commencement ceremony.[15]

In 2020, Kenneth Cole founded the Mental Health Coalition, a group of the organizations, brands, and individual who have joined forces to end the stigma surrounding mental health and to change the way people talk about, and care for, mental illness.


In 1998, People Magazine voted Cole as "Sexiest Businessman of the Year."[6]

On May 14, 2009, The Legal Aid Society of New York City honored Kenneth Cole with its inaugural Theodore Roosevelt Corporate Award at the Waldorf Astoria during its Servant of Justice Award Dinner. Proceeds will go to benefit struggling New Yorkers who live in poverty. [1]

In November 2011, Cole was honored by the Ride of Fame and a double decker tour bus was dedicated to him in New York City.[16]

In 2016, Cole received the UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador award.

In 2017, Cole received the CFDA Swarovski Award for Positive Change.

In 2011 and 2019, Footwear News named Cole Icon for Social Impact.

In 2020, Cole received Person of the Year Award from the American Apparel and Footwear Association as well as the Visionary Change Maker Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Child Mind.

In 2022, Cole received the Suicide Prevention Champion Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Child Mind.


On February 3, 2011, Kenneth Cole posted an update on Twitter that referenced the 2011 Egyptian protests. The tweet, which indicated that Cole himself wrote the entry, said: "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at (website address) -KC".[17] After outrage and much parody on the microblogging site and on the web in general, Cole deleted the entry and posted a personal apology on Facebook.[18]

In April 2012, the designer started a campaign portraying the national debate over education as one that pits "Teachers’ Rights vs. Students' Rights".[19] On the West Side Highway southbound entering New York City, a billboard punned to southbound commuters, ”Shouldn’t Everyone Be Well Red?”[20] On Salon, David Sirota wrote:

"Cole’s campaign is thinly veiled ideological propaganda, and it comes with myriad problems, not the least of which is the simple fact that almost nobody believes “underperforming teachers” should be protected. That includes the nation’s biggest teachers’ unions, which have been outspoken in backing “accountability” reforms for teacher tenure. So right off the bat, Cole is constructing a straw man, one that has served over the years to pretend that public employee unions in general and teachers’ unions specifically are about nothing more than making sure bad employees get to keep their jobs."[21]

In response to the negative outcry, his company announced on Twitter, "We misrepresented the issue—one too complex for a billboard—and are taking it down."[22]

Personal life[edit]

Maria Cuomo Cole in 2016

In 1986, Cole met Maria Cuomo, and they married a year later. Maria Cuomo Cole is the daughter of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and sister of former New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and former CNN journalist Chris Cuomo.[6] One of his daughters, Amanda, hosted the Mets Kids Clubhouse for SportsNet New York cable TV network.[23]

Cole and his wife Maria purchased a $14.5 million co-op in 2008 on Sutton Place in New York City. At one time, fashion designer Bill Blass lived in this same building.[24] As of 2018, he and his wife reside on an 11.35 acre estate in Purchase, NY.[25][26] Together they have three daughters: Emily, Amanda and Catie.


  • Cole, Kenneth, Footnotes: What You Stand for is More Important Than what You Stand in, New York: Simon and Schuster (September 30, 2003)
  • Cole, Kenneth, Awearness: Inspiring Stories about How to Make a Difference, New York : DK Melcher Media (November 3, 2008). ISBN 978-1595910462
  • Cole, Kenneth, This Is A Kenneth Cole Production, New York: Rizzoli (September 25, 2013)


  1. ^ Jewish Virtual Library - Jewish Biographies -Fashion Icons: "Kenneth Cole" retrieved September 7, 2015
  2. ^ "Interfaith Family: "Book Shines Light on the Private Life of Jewish Stars" By Alexandra J. Wall". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Gleason, Jan, "Kenneth Cole Foundation donates $600K", Emory Report, November 12, 2001
  4. ^ a b "Kenneth Cole" Archived March 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine 2006. New York Magazine. Accessed online March 10, 2008
  5. ^[bare URL PDF]
  6. ^ a b c d e "Kenneth Cole" Archived March 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed online March 16, 2008
  7. ^ "AIDS activists take aim at amfAR chair Kenneth Cole for Weinstein deal". NBC News. November 14, 2017.
  8. ^ Chi, Paul (February 8, 2018). "Kenneth Cole Resigns as amfAR Chairman Amid Controversy Over Harvey Weinstein Deal". Variety. Archived from the original on July 15, 2022. Retrieved July 28, 2023.
  9. ^ Wilson, Eric (December 1, 2005). "Front Row; From Kenneth Cole, A New Solidarity". The New York Times. p. 8. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
  10. ^ "Kenneth Cole Gives the Boot to Cruelty, Pledges to Go Fur-Free". August 18, 2006. Archived from the original on January 5, 2007. Retrieved March 26, 2008.
  11. ^ "Kenneth Cole to Guest Star on "Ugly Betty"" August 7, 2007. Accessed online March 16, 2008
  12. ^ "Full cast and crew for Ugly Betty: Betty's Wait Problem". IMDb. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  13. ^ Espinosa, Renata (March 19, 2008). "Awareness of the Issues through Kenneth Cole's "Awearness"". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on March 22, 2008. Retrieved March 28, 2008.
  14. ^ Kenneth Cole, ed. (2008). Awearness: Inspiring Stories about How to Make a Difference (paperback). ISBN 978-1595910462.
  15. ^ "Fashion designer to speak at graduation" The Huntington News. April 9, 2009.
  16. ^ Kenneth Cole Honored By Gray Line New York's Ride Of Fame. Getty Images. November 29, 2011.
  17. ^ "Egypt protests – Thursday 3 February". The Guardian. February 3, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  18. ^ "Kenneth Cole apologizes for tweet using Egypt protests to promote fashion line – 4 February, 2011". Los Angeles Times. February 4, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  19. ^ Kenneth Cole gets schooled – Education. Retrieved on May 5, 2012.
  20. ^ Cromidas, Rachel. (April 27, 2012) Latest skeptic of teachers unions is clothing label’s city billboard Archived May 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. GothamSchools. Retrieved on May 5, 2012.
  21. ^ "Kenneth Cole gets schooled". April 30, 2012.
  22. ^ Kenneth Cole [@kennethcole] (April 30, 2012). "@TeacherSabrina We misrepresented the issue - one too complex for a billboard - and are taking it down" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  23. ^ "New York Post-THE RUMBLE AN OFF-THE-BALL LOOK AT YOUR FAVORITE SPORTS CELEBRITIES" January 6, 2008 Accessed online March 16, 2008
  24. ^ Ohrstrom, Lysandra (2008) "The New York Observer-Kenneth Cole, Maria Cuomo Buy $14.5 M. Sutton Place Co-Op" Archived March 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine March 5, 2008 Accessed online March 11, 2008
  25. ^ Matsuda, Akiko. "What's for sale in the Northeast's richest ZIP code". lohud. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  26. ^ "Emily Cole, Matthew Dover". The New York Times. August 12, 2018. Retrieved August 14, 2018.