Glam god Kenneth Cole balances Obama optimism and Prop 8 anger
Proposition 8 frustrates Kenneth Cole.
"We were so close. They’re just a bunch of idiots," Cole said of those who voted to strip Californians of their same-sex marriage rights.
For more than 20 years, the Brooklyn-raised fashion designer has been working diligently on LGBT issues. In 1985, Cole unleashed savvy advertising campaigns that worked as sounding boards for topical issues — all before President Reagan publicly recognized the AIDS crisis.
"No one was talking about it because if you did, it meant [presumably] you were at risk," Cole explains. "It was very transformative for me. Like there was a greater purpose in what I was doing."
In 1987, Cole joined amfAR’s Board of Directors. He designs and donates the majority of amfAR’s advertising (first appearing in 1996), and he donates a sizable portion of his company’s retail sales on World AIDS Day. In 2000, Cole received amfAR’s Award of Courage.
After Prop 8 passed, Cole called San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
"He was crushed," Cole says. "He’d never seen people so motivated to take away other people’s rights."
Cole’s confident that Obama’s victory will bolster same-sex marriage rights. "I think [Prop 8] will get reversed because it should. Logic will prevail," he says.
It might seem difficult to see how someone as socially conscious as Cole could even think about fashion in times like these. But he balks at the idea that a conflict even exists between honoring them both.
"It’s about balancing our resources," he explains, saying that it is his day job that allows him to affect change in the world.
"I use my corporate resources. I use my creative and physical resources," he explains.
He says working for social change has elevated his relationships with his customers and he has no fear about offending anyone’s sensibilities if they disagree with him politically, saying that the two worlds support one another without diminishing either.
As for the fashion forecast, Cole sees it as inextricably linked to what’s going on in the social consciousness.
"Right now I’m a believer in practical, sensible, reasonable clothes. Pieces that look good and feel good," he says.
Cole believes that fashion is an excellent indicator of people’s emotions, and since we’re in a post-election boom, he predicts very tailored looks, "People are feeling good about themselves," he says.
On Saturday, Cole visits Dallas as the keynote speaker for the 27th annual Black Tie Dinner.
Although Cole gets numerous invitations to speak at events throughout the year, he has no trouble discerning which ones to attend. As to what he will say at Black Tie, well, that’s the one thing he won’t talk about. "I can’t tell you that," he says. "Then you won’t come."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 21, 2008.