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?

Pascale Théard, Donna Karan, and Kenneth Cole

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

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