Kenneth Cole: Upgraded
In 1982, a very brave and very broke Kenneth Cole parked a truck outside of the Hilton Hotel during market week in New York hoping to sell the line of shoes he created (and spent all his money on) in Europe. The risk was worth the reward as Cole sold forty thousand pairs of shoes. Nearly three decades later, he is still providing stylish footwear for men and women. He also has three labels offering a variety of sportswear, outerwear and accessories at moderate price points. In 1994, Kenneth Cole went public though he still controls 45% of the company which includes: Kenneth Cole New York, Kenneth Cole Reaction, and Unlisted. Coming up on the thirtieth anniversary of the company, Cole wanted to reintroduce himself to the “Kenneth Cole woman” hoping to engage the higher end consumer with his new collection.
The debut of Kenneth Cole Collection took place on Tuesday evening at Cedar Lake (theatre) in Chelsea -- perfect neighborhood, perfect venue for the launch of Cole’s higher-end collection. Inside, Mr. Cole chatted with In Style’s, Hal Rubenstein while being pulled aside for constant photo-ops and Q&A sessions. The clothes were displayed hanging on a single line of low-mounted black piping stretching across the middle of the ceiling and leading back to a wall of modular shelving, which housed several mannequins and accessories.
The space was dark with an almost club-like atmosphere, but lit appropriately where needed – on the product. Black quilted leather benches arranged on either side of the room were separated by a few tables of Cole’s fabulous shoes, handbags, sunglasses and jewelry. Cater waiters clad and clandestine in black, moved around as discreetly as Ninjas with trays of water, champagne and tiny bites.
Along opposite walls, five giant rectangular screens were mounted -- each of which played a video of models wearing pieces from the line. The models also spoke. Speakers that looked like large glass light shades were dropped overhead providing an interactive experience and serving as the models’ voice boxes. They said things like, “Wear your voice. Join the movement. Be part of the collection.” Other interesting comments like: “Some are concerned. Some are pathetic. But, who gives a shit?” and, perhaps the most evocative of the quotes; “Some are modest, some are not.” (Which seemed simple enough until the model proceeded to open her coat to reveal nothing but her panties), were definite indicators that Cole was pushing the envelope to reach a bolder and edgier clientele.
The collection promised to be more directional and “on trend” though, not trendy. Cole hit the mark with modern, asymmetric cuts, leather, pony hair and peplums which popped up on jackets as well as pants. The rich and color palette ranging from; saturated dark cobalt, burgundy and teal, to mustard and chocolate, drove home the new message of sophistication. Black dominated and never looked flat as Cole mixed up the textures using shiny patent as well as fuzzy angora and sheer lacey looks. Sleek is the best word to sum up the women’s line. Pencil skirts, narrow pants and fitted jackets tailored up to create sexy silhouettes with a lot of shape to the waist.
On the men’s side, pants were slim and tapered as were the jackets, even the outerwear pieces. The details were just enough to look cool and edgy, but not overdone where it could have been tempting. One of the best looks was a pair of black tight-fitting leather pants and a black coat worn over a black crew neck sweater with a tiny touch of pointelle detail at the center neckline. So simple and so chic, but even more perfect that the sweater was layered over a collared shirt with a skinny black leather tie peeking out.
And the shoes… divine. That’s to be expected from a man who knows shoes as well as Cole, but unexpected were the modern wing tips in a variety of colors including that fabulous deep cobalt. The collection excelled in the men’s outerwear category. Utility jackets lined with fake fur, built in “vesties,” updated bombers and patent pea coats all looked fresh.
The sweater knits were a home run on both sides (men’s and women’s) and even if the yarn wasn’t Italy’s finest, the innovative styling more than made up for that. Some of the fabrics and the make (if you peek inside and are picky about construction) may not have implied luxury, but overall the line was well styled, cohesive and contemporary—a great label for Cole to add to his established and successful brand.