ATLANTA — Robert Redford and Kenneth Cole had a little fun with each other while discussing some serious issues at the second annual Kenneth Cole Leadership Forum here last week.

Cole explained his interest in social and political issues in a somewhat self-effacing way: "Nobody needs what I’m selling. There’s not a person in America who needs another tie. We all have plenty of white shirts…and surely nobody needs another pair of black shoes. So I’ve got to make this meaningful, because it isn’t, in and of itself."

He then introduced Redford, the forum’s keynote speaker, as "a man who believes that to be aware is more important than what you wear. He even believes that what you stand for is more important than what you stand in. However, we have learned that if we go alone we’ll never be able to change the world. But with Robert Redford’s help, we can all be an accessory."

Redford, wearing a blue suit and open-collar dress shirt, responded that he was "all worried about talking to you guys with a major figure in the fashion industry, but I’m dressed better than he is," nodding at Cole, who was dressed in corduroy pants and a sweater vest.

They both became serious, however, about the forum’s topic at hand: "The Public Trust: Building Community in an Age of Uncertainty." Redford was asked to comment on President Bush’s State of the Union speech the night before. "What a sham and a shame the position on the environment was," he said, adding that the abuse, and disregard for the value of the environment have grown to major proportions. "And to have it continually treated like it’s a threat to economic growth or economic stability is criminal. It’s not just offensive, it’s criminal."

Cole said he did not intend to include any reference to the war on Iraq in future ad campaigns.

"In a time of war, I think it is important for the country to be unified," he said. "We will keep our opinion to ourselves."

Cole told WWD that his next campaign, to be revealed at his fashion show Friday in New York, will take a different, lighter approach. He said, "It’s more of a zen outlook on life and our business — light, candid thoughts about the times.

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