Donna Karan and Kenneth Cole: two iconic names in the New York fashion industry; a combined 70 years of experience between them; never collaborated! Until today, that is. (Let’s chalk it up to collaborations being a 2010s thing.)
Like most great ideas, this one started with a personal story: Three years ago, Karan purchased a pair of leather sandals with a plush rubber sole from Cole’s Gentle Souls line (which fuses performance technology with natural materials), and they instantly became her summer signature. “Everyone was constantly asking where I got my sandals,” she says. “They are seriously the most comfortable shoes in the entire world—they are beyond comfortable. I can’t even explain it!” That got her thinking about the leather sandals she was producing in Haiti through her label, Urban Zen, which sparked another thought: What if she could get these crazy-comfy, foamy soles into the hands of the artisans and create something totally new and modern?
She called up Cole, who has also been working in Haiti for nearly a decade, to discuss a potential partnership. (Another point of similarity between the two designers: Both immediately went to Haiti after its devastating 2010 earthquake and have aided health care, education, and cultural preservation initiatives ever since.) Cole and his team had been working with a group of artisans making shoes out of local materials, “but they were a little stiff and uncomfortable,” he admits. So Karan connected his team with Pascale Théard, a longtime Urban Zen partner and highly skilled local workshop owner. In January, Cole and Karan flew down to her shop in Port-au-Prince and finalized 10 designs, all of which merge Cole’s comfy soles with traditional Haitian leather-working. Continue reading