Breakfast with the Boss: Mia Dell'Osso-Caputo, Creative Director and GVP of Merchandising of Men's at Kenneth Cole Productions

Engrossed in Kenneth Cole’s sophisticated-yet-classic urban lines and natural tones with pops of color, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Scholars took a seat at the table for the last “Breakfast with the Boss” of the summer, featuring Mia Dell’Osso-Caputo. In addition to hearing about Mia’s exciting day-to-day process as Creative Director and GVP of Men’s Merchandising, we had the opportunity to walk around the rooms that comprise the heart of Kenneth Cole’s creative design process, getting a hands-on feel for the fabrics and sketches. We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting finish to our 2015 “Breakfast with the Boss” series. Take a look!  

About Kenneth Cole Productions
Kenneth Cole Productions designs, sources and markets a variety of fashion footwear, handbags, apparel and accessories. The company’s three labels include Kenneth Cole Reaction, Kenneth Cole New York, and Kenneth Cole Black Label. Kenneth Cole’s designs have located a special niche within the industry as fashion-forward product that reflects a modern metropolitan lifestyle. Products range from the core basics that remain in our closets to trending and seasonal products, a combination that provides “freshness in assortments” while staying true to the urban customer’s fashion needs. The balance of sales from retail to wholesale throughout its three core lines increases the company’s opportunities in all distribution channels. 

Behind the Design
Mia engaged us with visuals in the form of sketches and concept boards to give us a sense of the origins of her design team. She explained the process of formulating concept and color, which begins with the design and merchandising teams coming up with concept boards internally, and building “brand rooms” which reflect themes and ideas. Next, these design boards are taken to the market and used as a pitch to sell the story in hopes of exciting buyers. Mia walked us through the “Concept in Color” boards that lay out the standout colors by month, as well as boards devoted to the class Kenneth Cole Blackout and Whiteout schemes. We also got to see overarching concept boards of the season, which are used as inspiration for the design team to pull from when detailing its apparel for the season.
Mia noted, “Our ‘Urban Uniform’ look takes the form of an interchangeable closet, where no one is buying head-to-toe anything. Yes, some people are wearing suits every day, but the majority of the country is building their closet savvier. You’re buying and investing in individual pieces, and figuring out that there are no boundaries…there are many ways to put them together. We’re very lucky that when we design clothes, we can say ‘Let’s try it!’ and just go for it. It’s a fun experience not to have any boundaries, and not to be tied to any traditional DNA.” Currently, the design team is working on incorporating technology into its everyday urban apparel, while also making the environmentally conscious shift towards “season-less clothing” a priority. 

Words of Wisdom

  • Teamwork. At Kenneth Cole, the whole team works together, from drawing board to final product. “It takes a team to build a line.” 
  • Persistence. “It’s not easy out there, especially when first starting out in the industry. You just have to stay positive—go at it!” 
  • Network. “Keeping those contacts is so important, because a lot of times the job posting doesn’t make it to the ad or to the agency. If I’m looking to fill a position, I call [the people I know]. That’s something that happens a lot in the industry, which is why that network is important to have.”
  • Good First Impression. “In that first moment of professional contact, you want to be just outgoing enough, look like a go-getter, but you don’t want to have so overpowering a personality that the interviewer can’t ask you any questions!” 

Q: May He- “Within your design team, how are the departments separated?”
A: “We work with design services on concepts and colors, and design services works on how to get the same message across to all licensees. [Our department] takes it and figures out how to make it menswear. The way the team is broken down is that we have designers by category—woven shirts, knits and sweaters, denim, and outerwear. Then we have a merchandising team, a production team, and a technical team. Everyone is mirrored by category—there’s a family to line-build with. If you’re here on knits and sweaters, you’re going to work closely with the merchandising and sourcing teams, so that along the way you become a unit and everyone knows what you’re doing. At Kenneth Cole, our work is from conception to production—we sketch it, then tech pack it, then fit it…your baby is your baby! I love that experience. If we want to put a trim on a garment, it’s not like we have to go to a trim department and ask. It’s purely in our hands, and we get to do it from beginning to end. It’s a different kind of work style, and I love working that way, but it’s not for everyone.”
Q: Caley Taylor (Kent State University)- “How are you able to differentiate between the 3 different labels and customers that fit those labels, while also keeping an overall Kenneth Cole aesthetic?”
A: “It’s a ‘Good, Better, Best’ strategy built by pricepoint. It’s one brand—there are only so many trends, and we’re Kenneth Cole in DNA no matter what price point. If it’s all about the jogger this season, we don’t say, ‘which brand should we put that in?’ but rather, we’ll put some in an opening price point at $60, and go all the way up to an $800 leather jogger for Black Label. It all has to go together. In our own house, in theory, I should be able to use all of the product from the three lines together and be able to make it look cool together.”
Q: Madeline Hanley- “Was there ever a time that you doubted yourself as a designer?”
A: “Seeing the samples come in, you’re always worried that it’s not going to come together, but ultimately it always does. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of types of product [throughout my career] and I’m at a place now where I feel confident in what I do. One thing you learn over the years is that you have to be an amazing seller of yourself. A true designer, when they’re passionate about what they’ve done, will be able to sell to internal teams as well as customers."

Thank you to Mia for ending our summer series on such a high note! 

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller