Ken Cole's classic footwear and moderately-priced clothing line made him a household name, but his philanthropic endeavors may ultimately be his legacy. His wife is Maria Cuomo Cole, the daughter of former governor Mario Cuomo.
Charlie Cole, Kenneth's father, founded the shoe company El Greco, which hit it big with Candie's, the wood-bottomed slip-on heels that became ubiquitous during the disco era. Raised in Great Neck, Ken turned to the family business after college, but tension between father and son led Ken to quit in 1982. With $200,000 in savings, he went out on his own with a line of women's shoes. Cole made a splash in short order: When he couldn't get access to a trade show in Midtown—and after a permit to park a trailer on the street in front of the show was denied—he filed for a film permit, claiming the trailer was part of a production called "The Birth of a Shoe Company." He ended up selling 40,000 pairs of shoes in two days, and the name he used to wrangle the film permit, Kenneth Cole Productions, has been with him ever since. Over the past two decades, he's produced clothes, leather goods, eyeglasses and accessories under brands like Kenneth Cole New York, Reaction Kenneth Cole, and Unlisted. The company went public in 1994 but Cole has remained both CEO and creative director.
Although Cole has certainly done very well for himself, he's never achieved the same level of respect or fame as, say, Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren, primarily because he never branched out into high-end fashion. But he's established himself as one of the most socially-conscious members of the industry. One of the first of his peers to address the AIDS crisis, Cole has been on the board of AmFAR since 1987. A pioneer of cause-related marketing, he has produced campaigns that highlight AIDS, homelessness, and gun control, alternately amusing and angering. These days Cole runs the Kenneth Cole Foundation, a nonprofit that funds community service programs at colleges across the country. [Image via Getty]