Kenneth Cole Returns To The Runway With A Social Media Bang

If there was any show to properly close the first official night of NYFW, Kenneth Cole’s return to the runway after a seven-year hiatus was it. Cole made anything but a quiet re-entrance — as the thunderous applause from a celebrity-filled front row showed.

Set in the cavernous cube of Chelsea Muse below W. 27th street, the night was a dual publicity event. Fashion show, yes, but also a way to rep Cole’s second love: amFAR, the Foundation for Aids Research, for whom he is Chairman of the board (and was honored at the foundation’s annual New York gala the night before). Before the show, the Chelsea space’s cement walls were lit up with a projection urging attendees to tweet at @KennethCole with the hashtag #KCRunway; for each tweet, the company would donate $1 to amFAR.

A smart approach, considering the long wait most attendees endure while celebrities finish interviews and take their seats. Among those were Cole’s fellow amFAR gala host Heidi Klum, plus Cuba Gooding Jr., Brooke Shields, Mario Cantone, and Rachel Dratch, admitting this was her first fashion show ever: “I don’t really know many designers, but I’m really enjoying this leather jacket.” Someone who did, however, was Armie Hammer, wearing his own very well-tailored Kenneth Cole suit. “This isn’t just for the evening! It’s mine!” he laughed. “I’ve known Kenneth for years. And he’s great. He puts designer clothes into the hands of people that want them. It’s not like Gucci where you end up paying $12,000 for a suit. You get a really nice suit for a great price, with a great name behind it.”

Another proud supporter was the show’s stylist, Joe Zee, who called the collection his baby. “He always presents great clothes, but also a message behind the clothes,” remarked the Elle editor, “And I think that’s such a great thing, to tie in to what’s happening in real life.” Ever the champion of less is more (see: his show, All On The Line), he did assert that taking a break from runway doesn’t cut down relevance. “Just because it’s not on a runway doesn’t mean it doesn’t have substance. When it’s on the runway, well, it’s a different type of thing. Here it has a little bit more editorial point of view.” Winking, Zee also told us to keep phones ready and “expect to see the message in a very obvious way on the runway.”

Which, of course, we did. When the lights dimmed, the projected walls lit up with a typographical monologue.

“Choose your weapon: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Foursquare, Kennethcole.com,” it began. “Since we were last on the runway, so much has changed. Everyone today is a designer, blogger, hauler, influencer. Fashion is now consumed in different ways. Even before a look leaves the runway, we shoot it, post it share it pin it, blog it, tweet it. We don’t care if people love it. We just want them to ‘like’ it. But whatever our view, how we see the world depends on how we look… virtually.”

Murmurs through the crowd showed both agreement and, perhaps, offense. But before too many feathers were ruffled, out came the clothes. It began in black and white with plentiful leather accents. Lots of layers on top: crisp shirts and organza blouses for women, tight ribbed sweaters for men, both held down by felt vests, full-neck metal collars, and elbow-length gauntlet gloves that wouldn’t have looked out of place at a blacksmiths — if blacksmiths wore mirrored aviators. The many jackets, both long and short, came with twists: ruffled, coated, or leather-slashed wool in double and single breasts. The leather was supple and pleated, so even the full-length overcoats seemed light and easily wearable. Ease is Cole’s best attribute, and the at times wacky accents didn’t take away from what was ultimately a very purposeful collection.

Monochromatic looks in last fall’s best hues — ruby, emerald, olive, and plum — came last as did chainmail sweaters and acid green snake-embossed leather, which appeared in a covetable thick-heeled bootie form. Other shoes included high-top sneakers (not wedged, thank you) and work boots. All walking friendly — a New Yorker’s footwear.

The show closed to catcalls, a warm welcome from a room full of friends. But one last laugh was left — as the models did the finale walk, each pulled out a cell phone, Instagramming and tweeting us. A lot has changed since Cole was last on the runway, but he’s just as on top of it as ever.

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