NEW YORK — Before Tuesday’s screening of “The Battle for amfAR” and a discussion about his AIDS activism with Simon Doonan and Alan Cumming, Kenneth Cole recapped his career with Fern Mallis at 92Y.
Recalling his first job at the age of 16 selling peanuts at Shea Stadium, the designer said, “I learned that there is a direct correlation between how hard you work and how much you make. I was incessantly distracted, because I had two objectives [watching baseball and making money]. But I sold a lot of peanuts and today I work for peanuts.”
A few years later during what he thought would be a pit stop on his way to law school, Cole worked in his father’s shoe factory in what was then a very rough part of Brooklyn — “Williamsburg.” Hooked on business, he ditched the law school route and worked at Candie’s, the family business, before starting his own company in 1982. When Mallis noted Candie’s was known for its high wooden-sole shoes, Cole added, “Amongst other things, it had a few nicknames.” As for whether he and his brothers Evan and Neil (who now runs the Iconix Brand Group) were competitive, Cole said, “Only when we were awake.”
Cole’s wife Maria Cuomo Cole was in the crowd, as was her mother Matilda. Truth be told, the reviews that matter the most to him are those of his wife and his three daughters, Cole said. Nor was he impressed with People magazine naming him Sexiest Businessman of the Year in 1998. Unlike his brother-in-law Andrew Cuomo, who landed on this year’s Sexiest list, Cole said he didn’t feel the need to talk about it.
As for whether he ever worries about how his political views (which sometimes appear in his brand’s advertising) could affect sales, Cole said, “I know I’ve gone places, and done things and said things that most wise people wouldn’t. And most of it is almost counter intuitive. But I’ve always felt a need to speak to what’s on people’s minds and connect with them in as relevant a way as I know how.”
The challenge is to grab people’s attention. Cole said, “Today ADD is something we all live with and it’s not a medical condition. It’s socially imposed. It starts with social media and all this innovation we have in our lives. If you look at these kids, if they’re not speaking with five people at the same time online, they’re bored,” he said.
“The goal is how can you say something with the least amount of words.”