Advertisement Covers CROI 2016


Kenneth Cole's 8 Quotable Moments About HIV at CROI 2016

February 23, 2016

If HIV researchers were asked to guess who was likely to be the keynote speaker at the opening session of the largest annual HIV science meeting in the U.S., odds are the fashion magnate Kenneth Cole would not be high on their list. Yet, as CROI 2016 commenced in Boston on Feb. 22, it was Cole who took the stage to accept the meeting's first-ever Special Recognition Award for his 20-plus years' worth of efforts in HIV education and advocacy -- as well as his current chairmanship of the board of trustees at amfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research.

Alternately charming and awkward, at times amusing and sometimes subdued, Cole's 30-minute acceptance speech offered a history of his emergence as an HIV activist, amfAR's public HIV-awareness campaigns, and the manner in which the organization's mission and tactics have changed over the years both to meet the evolving threat of HIV and to explain that threat effectively to a world of people with other issues on their minds.

Here, transcribed, are eight of Cole's most quotable moments from his speech, given in front of a lecture hall packed with hundreds of HIV researchers, scientists and advocates.

Kenneth Cole speaking in the Hynes Convention Center at CROI 2016

Kenneth Cole speaking in the Hynes Convention Center at CROI 2016

Opening comment:

"First, a quick disclaimer: I'm not a scientist or public health professional. I don't give speeches often. And I have a day job. Actually, I design and sell stuff I'm not sure that many people in this room wear. That may be a bigger challenge than curing AIDS."

On the importance of fashion:

"Living in a generally superficial world, how we appear on any given day is all people often get to know about us, making our wardrobe choices a very powerful form of self-expression, even if [they are] as elaborate and provocative as a white lab coat. But I love that we have the ability to reintroduce ourselves to the world every day on our own terms unedited. It is a reflection of how we feel, how we see ourselves, how we want to be seen. And in that regard I feel it's important. That said, if you or a loved one are not well, it will in all likelihood not matter very much. And if that's the case for the greater community, it'll matter a whole lot less."


On fashion vs. science:

"Fashion is very individual and interpretative, and defined by its context. What one considers fashion another may not, and what one sees as cool today may be very different tomorrow, and very different in one part of the world from another. Science, however, isn't interpretive; it's absolute. And it's often built upon a theory that, when proven, becomes a fact that everyone accepts as such -- except for religious fundamentalists in election years."

On his decision to become an HIV advocate in the 1980s:

"The silence was deafening. Stigma had arguably become more lethal than the virus itself, and to some degree, I'd make the case, it still is. The infected communities at the time, as everyone knows, were gay men, IV drug users and Haitians. Being a single, male designer, I knew that if I spoke out everyone would just assume I was Haitian."

On the launch of his first major HIV advertising campaign in 1996:

"When I look back at my journey, this moment in time was as personally defining and transformative as any. It had changed me -- the man, the brand, as well as the business, none of which would ever be the same again. I had journeyed down a road with no sense of where it would take me, but I can tell you that what we were doing suddenly seemed important and relevant."

On amfAR's mission:

"The organization [amfAR] was rooted in its commitment to creative research as well as insightful advocacy for research. I came to believe early on that science can't exist in a vacuum, especially science that challenges prevailing wisdom."

On how far we "am":

"I used to say all the time -- and people often cringed -- that we have come far, but we 'am far' from where we need to be. But thanks to everyone in this room and the great research collaboration that is happening today, we am not as far as most believed we would be even recently."

Cole's favorite story:

"In closing, I will share with you a favorite story of mine. It's a story about an old scientist who was driving down the highway one night, had just left his lab. And he had a call from his wife, and she says: 'You gotta get home quickly; I just heard that there's a lunatic on the same road you're on, driving in the wrong direction.' And he replied cautiously, not wanting to scare her: 'Honey, it's worse than that -- there are hundreds of them.'

"The lesson being is: Even if you're going against traffic, you may not be going in the wrong direction. So buckle your seat belt, keep your foot on the gas and don't let the cure out of your sights."

Myles Helfand is the editorial director of and

Follow Myles on Twitter: @MylesatTheBody.

Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Related Stories

Vaginal Ring Reduces HIV: Making Sense of the Initial Results
CROI 2016 Preview: New Research on HIV Cure, Remission, Treatment and Prevention

This article was provided by TheBodyPRO. It is a part of the publication The 23rd Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

No comments have been made.

Add Your Comment:
(Please note: Your name and comment will be public, and may even show up in
Internet search results. Be careful when providing personal information! Before
adding your comment, please read's Comment Policy.)

Your Name:

Your Location:

(ex: San Francisco, CA)

Your Comment:

Characters remaining:

Please note: Knowledge about HIV changes rapidly. Note the date of this summary's publication, and before treating patients or employing any therapies described in these materials, verify all information independently. If you are a patient, please consult a doctor or other medical professional before acting on any of the information presented in this summary. For a complete listing of our most recent conference coverage, click here.


The content on this page is free of advertiser influence and was produced by our editorial team. See our content and advertising policies.