Do the Write Thing

In the fall of 1982, Kenneth Cole wanted to sell his first line of shoes in style: out of a trailer truck on 56th Street and Sixth Avenue in New York. Only utilities and film production companies can get a permit for that, he was told. So he changed his company name from Kenneth Cole Inc. to Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., got the permit (to film, he said, a movie called Birth of a Shoe Company) and sold 40,000 pairs of shoes in three and a half days.

At his Rockefeller Center store last Tuesday, Cole reminisced about that stunt and others from the past 20 years as he introduced his new coffee-table book, Footnotes: What You Stand For Is More Important Than What You Stand In. “In this business you’re not supposed to reflect. You have to look where you’re going,” Cole, in a black suit coat, black shoes and faded blue jeans, told a crowd of well-wishers that included his brother-in-law, Andrew Cuomo. And yet the book looks back exhaustively, and many of its 200-plus pages are devoted to Cole’s cause-focused advertising—handled in the early years by Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, now done in-house. It highlights his AIDS-awareness ads in particular (“Wear a rubber … sole”) and revisits his post-9/11 work, which was criticized by some as opportunistic (“We attempted to project a tone of irony and resilience,” he says now of the “God dress America!” billboard). If nothing else, the book reveals Cole’s endless fondness for puns in headlines like “Have a heart, give a sole” and “Regardless of the right to bear arms, we in no way condone the right to bare feet.”

“Puns go on forever,” Cole told Shoptalk as he scurried off to sign books. “The more you do them, the more you realize that just as you can manipulate shapes and silhouettes [in fashion], you can manipulate the language.”