Cole creates the same classy styles

When most relationships celebrate their 20th Anniversary, even the most contemporary gift-giver follows in the tradition of giving bone china and platinum to his or her spouse to represent their love.

However, Kenneth Cole is not most gift givers. After 20 years of prosperity and ingenuity, Kenneth Cole celebrates by delivering a special collection of clothing, shoes and handbags that remind customers of what the company was founded on: simplicity, style and function.

"His clothes are urban and suburban," said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale's, to Harper's Bazaar. "They aren't too avant-garde. They fill a certain void."

As timeless as a Rolex watch and as classic as the Herm? s Birkin Bag, Cole's Anniversary collection is a throwback to the idea of rekindling the days of old, when men draped in finely tailored suits and women donning heels and knee-length skirts to work were not seen as an outcry against "casual Friday." It proves that classics do stand the test of time, and looking trendy is more about knowing what works for you and not just throwing yourself into the latest fad.

The new line is saturated with shades of black, white and silver, which not only cater to stylishness, but are also in step with fall and fashion's digression into a Mod moment. Cole utilizes basic shapes and silhouettes to create a classic line that, teamed with his innovation, speaks to the consumer. The shoes give off a strong 50s air, with knee-high white boots and cap-toed sandals for women and well-polished boots and square-toed dress shoes for men.

"They love it," says Reem Rabieh, the new store manager for Georgetown's Kenneth Cole store. "Especially the ladies. They're nuts about it, lets just put it that way.

It's a great line.

It's good stuff. And for men there's a collection called 're-mix' that they just rant and rave about."

Kenneth Cole's location in Georgetown has occupied the same diminutive space since 1997. However, the store's strong presence in the District did not affect how much of the Anniversary collection it received.

"Being that I manage a small store I can only hold what I can hold," said Rabieh. "I was only given [a small number of] men's Anniversary styles and I don't have any women's yet, but I'm hoping for that to come in. "

Catalog-shopping also affects the amount the store carries.

"We just don't cater to our customers through the store. We also cater through our catalog, through the internet. So there's always a way [to get an item] even if I don't have the product in my store," said Rabieh.

However, Rabieh says that the Anniversary collection is not that different than those that came before it.

"I know [consumers] were expecting a whole synopsis of what happened 20 years [ago] and what's different and new and honestly it's all the same."

If it is the same, it is only because Cole created this line to satisfy customers and not to his own personal agenda.

"I used to think I'm a designer and I'm supposed to anticipate and then communicate what people should wear," said Cole, 49, in a recent article published in GQ. "But people know what they want. My job is to get a sense of that and to give it to them - however, not quite as they expect it."

What wasn't expected was for this Emory University graduate who dreamed of going to law school to follow in his father's footsteps: literally.

El Greco, his father's Brooklyn-based shoe factory, was where Cole received his first lessons in shoe design. Cole's father's factory is credited with bringing Candie's footwear - the wood-heeled sandals made famous in the '70s - to the United States.

"We were probably responsible for crippling half a generation with those shoes," Cole jokingly told Harper's Bazaar.

Now, Cole has his own brand of shoes to reconfigure women as he sees fit.

"Footwear affects how you look and feel," said Cole. "It has a lasting impact on your day."

It can also have a lasting impact on your wallet. Cole's shoes, which usually stay below a $200 price tag, still manage to look cutting edge and are considered just as prevailing as many upwardly priced competitors' designer footwear.

Cole's company went public in 1994 and last year had net revenues of more than $433 million and profits of about $26 million, according to the Washington Post.

However, Cole will tell you that his company's purpose and personal agenda is not all about selling and seeing profit.

"Nobody needs what I have to sell," Cole told Bazaar. "There are no consumers with empty closets."

Therefore, Cole has taken it upon himself to use his position of power to accomplish something more significant to justify his company's existence.

He is vice chairman of the board of directors of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and has crafted a brand that also addresses issues in politics.

"There are many people who feel politics has no place in fashion, that social perspective has no place in fashion and so my voice is a little louder," Cole said, in a Washington Post article.

Cole's involvement with politics can be tied to his marriage in 1987 to former New York Governor Mario Cuomo's daughter, Maria Cuomo.

Since then, Cole's advertisements throughout the years have contained a few recurring themes, one of them being politics.

Cole's take on politics is palpable in a book which coincides with his 20th Anniversary collection. "Footnotes: What You Stand For Is More Important Than What You Stand In," published by Simon & Schuster, chronicles the company's history for the past two decades and revisits some of the company's famous one-liner advertisements that touch on issues of homelessness, AIDS awareness and gun control.

Although Rabieh has not read the entire book, the premise, she says is clear.

"It kind of takes you down the years," said Rabieh. "He has this great time line [in it]. It speaks to his product and line and himself."

Celebrating a 20th Anniversary implies that a relationship has reached a point of reflection. A time when one can look back at the years that have past and smile at all that went wrong and right. It can also imply a passing of time that could very well mean the end is near. Yet somehow, that does not seem to apply to Kenneth Cole.

"He's out there for everybody and not just for himself," said Rabieh. "Most designers are so into themselves and so selfish about their product - but not Kenneth Cole"

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