Kenneth Cole, the incredibly multi-dimensional designer--he is the chairman of The American Foundation for AIDS Research, as well as the creator of Awearness, The Kenneth Cole Foundation--is set to open his new store on Wednesday at Santa Monica Place. He talks to the Huffington Post about social causes, his upbringing, and why he loves designing shoes.
LF: Were you raised in a politically-driven household?
KC: I had one parent who was a republican and one who was a democrat, so politics were not often discussed at the dinner table in the interest of harmony. I don't know if I even consider myself a very political person. I have always had strong beliefs on important social issues. Politics have politicized social issues, but I don't know if social issues are in fact political. If anything, they are more human issues than they are political issues.
LF: Why The American Foundation for AIDS Research? Do you have a personal connection with the disease?
KC: I did my first AIDS awareness campaign in 1985. It just seemed as if there was an opportunity to say something that was very important at a time when very few were. I had lost someone very close to me, an associate, at or around that time. It seemed inherently simplistic that with my limited resources, I maybe could help communicate and address the notion of stigma and at the same time talk about the elements of how people could protect themselves. This way, we could possibly make a very meaningful and profound difference at a time when everyone was very concerned. I joined the board of amfAR in 1987 and I feel that the foundation has made a very significant difference in the fight against AIDS.
LF: Your Awearness Fund is a non-profit entity that raises awareness and increases prevention of HIV/AIDS. How has it evolved into what it is today?
KC: Awareness started out as promoting volunteerism and encouraging, promoting, and supporting an individual's need to volunteer. It has since evolved into a mechanism that encompasses the company's relationship with HIV/AIDS, which is a public health issue--and not just one here in this country, but a global one. This is an issue that we find our opportunities to help inspire, when given the chance.
LF: If you could pick one social cause to change, what would it be?
KC: I am in a very fortunate place where I can play a meaningful role in the effort to commit creative and innovative resources to find a cure for AIDS. I hope to bring the necessary resources in order to be able to engage and energize the research, in order to find a cure for the disease.
LF: What was your initial design inspiration?
KC: I am intrigued by the notion of what's "not there." Nobody really needs any more of what it is. I recognize that my job as a designer is, in one regard, to give people what they want, and try to understand what they want by the choices that they are currently making, but I prefer to give it to them in a way that aren't expecting. Nobody needs more of what's there, and nobody needs more of what they have.
LF: You began designing shoes but have since expanded your empire to clothing and accessories. Is there one aspect you prefer designing over another?
KC: I love footwear because shoes, more than anything, affect how you feel. I love the notion that I can play a role in one's well-being at any point in time. Should a person make that choice to commit their well-being to a specific brand, and should that brand be mine, I am flattered and I hope I live up to the expectation. I love designing what people wear above, but specifically below the ankles.
LF: Your newest store is opening on Wednesday at Santa Monica Place. What is it like for you to open your 20th store in California, and how is this different from when you opened your first store in Manhattan in 1985? What can Los Angeles shoppers expect from this new outpost?
KC: When we open a store we look to evolve our relationship with the community and the customer. This store is a little brighter, with a little more energy, and we are going to try to communicate the heritage and the energy of the brand at the new location. This is our first store in Southern California in a little while, so I'm looking forward to it. This is a fun part of the experience of what I do.
Kenneth Cole's newest store opens Wednesday, November 10 at Santa Monica Place. Taio Cruz will give a live performance that evening to celebrate the opening. Check out event details for more information.