Kenneth Cole: “I would love to work in Cuba”

Kenneth Cole does not believe in barriers, neither for art nor for life. That’s why he started a successful fashion company more than 30 years ago and that’s why he has come to Cuba twice, convinced that opportunities are created with the will to search.

The New York designer’s most recent visit to the island took place in the last week of December. At the time he came accompanied by his family and he took advantage to talk with colleagues and Cuban students in Lab 26, a place for architecture and design in Havana’s Vedado district belonging to the Espacios project.

During his talk Cole defended the positions that have distinguished his career and commented about the potentials the current media context represents for fashion.

“Fashion is a way of communicating,” he said, “a way of expressing who we are, how we are. And thanks to television, Internet, the social media…it can reach any part of the world at any time.”

Kenneth Cole during his talk in Lab 26. Photo: Regino Sosa.
Kenneth Cole during his talk in Lab 26. Photo: Regino Sosa.

This has favored, in his opinion, the irruption of a new era, of an extraordinary moment for those in his line of work. But, while others are decanted because of frivolity and out-and-out elitism, Cole confesses he prefers the functional fashion and promotes the social commitment as a means to make his creations transcend.

A designer of women’s as well as men’s clothes and footwear, and also of watches, handbags and other accessories, he advices searching for a balance between art and the more pressing matters in today’s world.

“If one can join what can be expressed through the body with an idea, with a concept that reflects a major concern, then it is possible to create a more lasting, more presentable and significant work, with a more important message; because fashions change, dress standards change, but the concerns and social issues are maintained,” he commented.

With this thought, the artist, a graduate from Atlanta’s Emory University in 1976, has backed causes like the defense of the environment, the universal need for housing and the struggle against diseases. He is particularly known for his support to the AIDS treatment and research, an aspect in which he has become involved since the 1980s and for which in 2016 he was distinguished as UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador.

His understanding of the value of communication in fashion has even led him to involve his social interests in publicity campaigns, to turn these issues into part of the concept of his campaign.

However, Cole recognizes the changing nature of fashion and each person’s perception of it. That’s why he affirms that artists must be consistent with what they believe in order to reflect it in their work.

“As a designer my job is to know what the market wants, but not to give it as the market expects, but rather in the way I want, from my artistic perspective, with the message I’m interested in,” he affirmed in Lab 26.

Apropos the possibilities of working in Cuba, Kenneth Cole confirmed that he would love to be able to do it and thus contribute to relations between the two countries. He said he is “very impressed” with the island’s art and celebrated Cuban designers for their creativity and talent.

“Cuba is a world referent in art,” he said. “It’s incredible what you have been able to do despite the shortage of resources; what you have created and continue creating,” he said.

Cole came to Havana through the Copperbridge Foundation, which promotes dialogue through art. Before saying goodbye he commented that this is a first step, a way of initiating the link and of getting to know firsthand what is happening in Cuba, but he hopes there will be new opportunities for exchange.

TN: Cole’s quotes were translated from the Spanish.

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