WWD.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/kenneth-cole-receives-first-aids-activism-award-506861/

NEW YORK — Two decades of social activism earned Kenneth Cole the first gold medal for HIV/AIDS awareness in the arts, presented by the National Arts Club in association with Living Beyond Belief.

Hundreds gathered for a benefit at New York’s National Arts Club Friday night to honor Cole, including his in-laws, Mario and Matilda Cuomo; Andrew Rosen; Alan Cumming; Alexandra Pelosi; Chrishaunda Lee, and NAC president Aldon James.

Cole, who said he had not been planning to speak, thanked the group for his double Butterfly Awards and for its work for the cause they share. “If we can’t eliminate this disease, I hope we can at least eliminate the stigma of it,” the designer said.

“This company has afforded me resources that are extraordinary,” continued Cole. “Because of the hard work of my colleagues, I am able to do what I do. It’s not a political issue, but a human and public health issue. We have made this part of our corporate culture, and this honor belongs to all of my colleagues at the company.”

Cole’s daughter Emily, a freshman at Columbia University, stole the night with a speech filled with many examples of her dad’s wordplay over the years. “He taught us that being aware is more important than what you wear,” she said.

In fact, her dad’s verbal acuity has become a Kenneth Cole trademark. Twenty years ago, when condom ads were illegal, Cole ran an ad with an airbrushed picture of a condom wrapper with the caption, “Our shoes aren’t the only thing we encourage you to wear.” That year, the designer also joined the board of directors of amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, of which he now is chairman.

Toasting Cole, Cumming, who made the rounds of several front rows during the New York shows, may have been counting on the fashion crowd missing the dinner at the end of fashion week when he took a playful jab at the industry. “We all know that fashion people aren’t the most politically aware,” Cumming said. “Duh.”

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.