Designer Kenneth Cole is in Toronto to kick off his new fall fashion line, telling ET Canada he’s more committed than ever when it comes to creating socially conscious couture.
“We merge and have infused a social discipline into everything we do as a business model,” the designer says. “I have said for thirty years that what you stand for is just as important as what you stand in, and to be aware is just as important as what you wear.”
A fierce social justice advocate, Cole has been involved with charities like amfAR since the 1980s. While in Toronto, Cole opened up for the first time about the scandal involving his AIDS charity amfAR and its close association with Harvey Weinstein.
“There was this dark cloud over all of us that no one was talking about and it was HIV/AIDS,” Cole says, recalling the 1980s. “And the president of the United States – Ronald Reagan – didn’t mention it until 1987 till 40,000 people had already died. I did an ad campaign in 1985 about how nobody was speaking about HIV/AIDS.”
Cole was invited to serve on amfAR’s board of directors. Currently, the charity’s non-executive chairman, Cole has found himself caught up in a financial scandal involving producer Harvey Weinstein. According to an expose published by The Huffington Post, Cole agreed to let Weinstein put amfAR-raised funds towards a theatre company where one of his plays was being produced. amfAR staff worried the transaction went against the charity’s protocol.
“amfAR, unfortunately, got drawn into this, which is really a terribly unfortunate circumstance,” he tells ET Canada, “because, to a degree, a shadow has been cast on amfAR, which could potentially affect our life-saving work.” Cole says he would not make the same decision regarding the funds today. “If I knew then what I knew today, I would not encourage some of the decisions that I’d made at that time, which has prompted a lot of this.”
The controversy over the use of amfAR funds broke in the wake of the numerous sexual assault and harassment charges against Weinstein. Cole says he was shocked about the allegations against Weinstein.
“Mr. Weinstein’s behaviour is – was – reprehensible. I didn’t know about it until everybody else did, oddly,” he adds. “It was very much a business relationship, it was transactional, and he helped us raise a lot of money.”