NEW YORK — Barry is back. After a four-year hiatus, Barry Kieselstein-Cord is returning to his namesake lifestyle brand, which he founded in 1972. “I can’t say I exited with an announcement,” Kieselstein-Cord said. “I just went to sleep. Now it’s like Rip Van Winkle waking up with fantastic ideas 20 years later.” Among those ideas: a full-service Web site for online sales and service, called the Kieselstein-Cord Exchange, and a new take on wearable technology. WWD sat down with the designer to talk about his impromptu sabbatical, his plans for Kieselstein-Cord and the future of design.
This story first appeared in the December 15, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: What prompted this break from design?
Barry Kieselstein-Cord: After four decades, I said to myself, “This is a great time to take some time.” It’s been nose to the grindstone since I started my business. I was always self-funded, and to be your own boss is a wonderful thing, but you assume all responsibility. I had directly and indirectly a couple hundred employees that I had to nurture and take care of. I decided to take a sabbatical to review my career and what I wanted to do going forward.
WWD: What did you do during this sabbatical?
B.K.C.: Meditation, exploration, reading, some travel…I spent a lot of time in Germany, some time in France and Italy. I delved into my past, I looked into my future, and I saw the future clearly resembled what I had predicted in the past: the advent of electronics and technology.
WWD: What did you notice in particular about technology that sparked your interest?
B.K.C.: I realized there was a deficit in design and a lack of innovation. Technology has finally met my perception of where I think things should go. What I see is a true lack of leadership, not in developing the technology but in application for consumer use in fashion, in medical. We’re going to see a big change — as big as the industrial revolution, where the most important people are actually going to be designers.
WWD: Are you impressed with any of the wearable tech available now?
B.K.C.: The Google Glass is a brilliant idea but designed wrong. First of all, it frightened people. It looked like Big Brother. They should have done it in several steps, where it was a soft introduction that looked regular and didn’t look like a cyborg. They used the wrong designer. That’s a perfect project for me… There is no real designer out there using [technology]. And if they are, what they are doing is, forgive me, ho-hum. It’s Designer 101 — stuff that I designed 25 years ago. It tickles me, in a way, that technology has finally reached the jumping-off point, but where are the designers who should be the ones in the lead? I don’t mean an endorsement by someone out of Hollywood or a sports arena. Where are the real designers?
WWD: Tell me about your new Web site, the Kieselstein-Cord Exchange.
B.K.C.: It’s in conjunction with a company called Dragonhead, and what this site does is, it will sell you new product, it will take consignment product that you have, it will repair, it will evaluate, it will replace. Preliminary to doing this, I went to my major retailers like Bergdorf’s and Neiman’s and said, “What do you think about a central place for all things K-C?” If a customer comes in and says, “I lost a pair of earrings, and I want to replace them,” it drives these people crazy. They don’t get a sale from it. I’ve created perhaps the only central buy-sell-trade-repair Web site for a major luxury brand.
WWD: What do you envision for this new iteration of the brand?
B.K.C.: I want someone else to run the business; I just want to run the creative end of it. I think that could be very productive….Picasso is my hero. Picasso went from being a realistic painter to the ultra-ultra abstract, and each step of the way, he had a great team presenting his work to an audience, and they could explain it. He didn’t have to explain it. For once in my career, I want somebody to have the front door, not me. I want to be in the middle of the brain center. I want the Tom Ford-Domenico de Sole setup. I don’t want Barry Cord as Domenico and Tom. I never really had a business partner, and to have stores all around the world and never have a business partner is a heck of an accomplishment.
WWD: Do you have a business plan in motion?
B.K.C.: I hope in the next six months to have found an investor and [to be] embracing that opportunity. I’m not interested in just an investor. I’m interested in a marriage. I will also be moving forward into the area of technology and employing that in my work. I’m ready to go out of the box, but, at the same time, I won’t really reveal it until I have an NDA. It’s going to change fashion enormously.
WWD: What differentiates Kieselstein-Cord from other lifestyle brands?
B.K.C.: I don’t think that I could point to a lot of people who have presidents of countries, dictators, business people, entertainers, movie stars, guy in the street, gal in the street — such a spectrum of people wearing my product. I’m shocked. I never particularly went out to meet my clientele. Yes, I’ve been to the White House under a couple of presidents, which was a thrill, I must admit. But below that level, they’re just people. Maybe the most fun person I ever met in the last five years was Spike Lee, who loves my stuff. Sean Penn got something from me about a year and a half ago. But those are normal people. When you see the most powerful people in the world wearing your stuff, then you wake up. And I’m not blowing my horn here. I never really put ego into it. Real artists are never satisfied with their work. And if they are, they get an ego that’s too large. I’ve always felt relatively humble. Yes, I was doing breakthrough work. Yes, I was changing the nature of an industry. Yes, I was moving ahead. But I never really felt that I was making a statement that everyone should pay attention to. Pushing the needle has always been my thing.
WWD: Is there anything you wouldn’t do?
B.K.C.: Anything in bad taste.