Kenneth Cole Pulls NYC Billboard Critical of Teachers

King of puns makes more enemies

Some say Kenneth Cole will never learn. I'm more of the opinion that he has absorbed some lessons—like how to court controversy and coverage while (mostly) avoiding real carnage—all too well. The designer's company says it will remove a Manhattan billboard criticizing public schoolteachers and their unions following outrage from educators and union supporters. The sign shows a model in a scarlet jacket and slacks next to the headline, "Shouldn't everyone be well red?" (Puns are a source of endless fascination for Cole.) The ad is signed by Ken himself, so I guess he aced penmanship back in the day. This attempt to fuse overpriced fashions with hot-button topics is an ill-fitting stretch, reminiscent of Cole's Egypt-gate Twitter message last year. When the billboard (and related Web copy such as "Do underperforming teachers deserve to be protected?") proved incendiary enough to spark threats of a boycott, Cole relented. "We misrepresented the issue—one too complex for a billboard—and are taking it down," the company says. David Sirota, writing in Salon, says Cole is in "a zeitgeist industry that is all about lashing branded chic to the popular fad of the moment," and that his political causes are tied to his "profit-making objectives" for the company. That's probably true. And yet, apart from the economic objective, it could just be that Cole is, in the parlance of the schoolyard, a jerk-face poopy-head. A bully in ugly hipster threads. A Rush Limbaugh of the runway who gets off on manipulating the media machine. Spouting about social issues makes him feel, you know, important. Serious analysis and even failing grades from pundits just encourage him, because all spoiled brats crave attention. Still, I couldn't resist giving him a dressing down myself. Class dismissed.