Kenneth Cole is not one to walk away from a fight. He built a footwear empire by tackling head-on consumer demand for style and social awareness. In the 1980s and ’90s, his provocative ad campaigns—with clever puns and cheeky swagger—cast a spotlight on issues like the AIDS crisis, homelessness, and gun violence at a time when few, if any, brands dared to align their name with such causes.
Today, at 65, Cole shows no signs of slowing, whether we’re talking collections—from his high-tech Techni-Cole gear to the just-launched bedding, bath, and beach line for spring—or the causes that are dear to him. Last October, he announced the formation of the Mental Health Coalition, an alliance of experts he’s brought together to change the way people talk about and address mental health. (The coalition will unveil an online platform and resource hub this May during Mental Health Awareness Month.)
After raising three daughters, Cole and his wife, Maria Cuomo Cole, split their time between a luxe New York co-op and a classic shingled colonial north of the city designed by Stanford White, adorned with verdant gardens and gracious porches outside, and a relaxed, understated elegance within.