Multitalented amfAR Chairman Kenneth Cole is Unstoppable, Making The World Think Twice

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Tomorrow, Kenneth Cole, the Chairman of amfAR will be on a plane headed to Mumbai with Sharon Stone and Kesha; but on Saturday he was at Bloomingdales in the Aventura Mall, so I took the opportunity to sit down with this quotable genius who you most probably recognize for his designs in the fashion world.  I associate Kenneth with his philanthropic endeavors and billboards I have seen across the country that really promote thought and conversation.

Not too many people can really make me think and look twice; Cole has.

You use talent like Matisyahu in your campaigns. Why him? Because he literally is walking in different shoes being Orthodox and people are curious?

For that campaign we used people from all walks of life. We also used Transgender Nina Poon with her partner. The objective was to preview people with the courage to be who they are and celebrate their difference rather than disguise it. The reality is physiologically were 98 percent the same, but we differentiate our selves and I focus on that.


Where did your political interest spark? Always been existent or just came with the package of being married to a Cuomo?

Politics are probably what brought Maria Cuomo and I together, but I have always been interested. I did my first AIDS awareness campaign because no one else would. It was critical at the time and needed to be spoken. President Reagen only mentioned it once and I knew it was a unique opportunity to talk about something that needed to be said and it had a very powerful impact on the brand and the company.

I mean you speak out about real situations that others in your ‘shoes’ would be fearful of sharing their thoughts over. What was the most controversial quote you ever launched?

Everything is context, it’s not what u say, but to who u say it and how its interpreted. I try to put thoughts forward that provoke thought and engage dialogue and conversation and allow people to interpret it in different way that encourages further dialogue and thought. I have always believed that Americans have had A.D.D before social media, and we inherited it. I’ve always thought that I tried to tackle it as much as possible.

With social media I can speak when I want. I’ve never used my platform to sell clothes. That is the result: to be relevant.

gay quote egypt

In 1982, you essentially created a pop up, in a trailer outside of a shoe show because you couldn’t afford to keep up with the jones’, then documented it. What are your thoughts on the ‘pop up’ trend today? I mean it seems you were one step ahead of the game.

That’s an interesting way to look at it. It’s interesting. I think the key is to try to bring your message to your audience. Today, there are creative ways of doing it. There are platforms that promote that behavior. There are now ways to creatively bring that to people. If its done well, its I’m a big advocate

How did you become so passionate about the AIDS cause? How do I get one of those shirts you sold at Barneys?? “I Have AIDS” “We All Have AIDS”

That was a PR initiative. I did a campaign with the goal. In 2004, I became the Chairman of amfAR. I wanted to create centralization of all of the AIDS organizations. I needed to keep us together not separate. The particular agenda was stigma.

I needed to align everyone: medically, socially. Some are infected, were all affected.

Mark Seliger photographed it, and we did a PR campaign. The goal was to have people appear prior to the campaign . People were shot around before the shirts launched to get people talking.

controversial shirt

It is interesting, because no one wanted to wear the shirt,, not even the passionate advocates. Then I questioned myself, it shows that stigma prevails.

I just did a film, I produced it with the same production company I started when I did the pop up shoe truck and documented it. The film is called  “The Battle of amfAR,” and HBO partnered with us. It premiered at Sundance and Rio, and you can see it now. I’m also on the Board of Sundance.

The film is a story of two extraordinary women: an artist and a scientist. Dr. Mathilde Krim and the Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor. It is the story of how they merged their AIDS organizations to create amfAR. amfAR married them and now that they are gone, I wanted the story told. A lot of archival footage was used.

Kenneth Cole and Rizzoli just launched his book, titled “THIS IS A KENNETH COLE PRODUCTION,” where all profits go to amfAR. If you buy this book, download the app called Junaio where you can take a virtual tour into Kenneth’s world and hear his story told first hand. 


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