Barry Kieselstein-Cord is that rare artist in the design and fashion world who speaks his mind, bucks trends and decrees of direction, and whose firm has remained a potent force in the industry for more than thirty-five years.
Cord is an award winning artist, designer and photographer of the first magnitude. He is also an entrepreneur. Though he often sees the world through the eyes of the poet, his unique combination and skill-set allow him to imagine, create and deploy his concepts on a successful global basis. While he knows the power of a beautiful object, he also knows that it has no power at all unless it succeeds in the marketplace.
His unusual combination of artistic expression and commercial prowess have made him one of the world’s most successful and respected artist-designers—a winner of fashion’s version of the Oscar, the Council of Fashion Designers of America award, and a favorite of a mind-boggling array of tastemakers and celebrities, from Tom Hanks to Spike Lee, Oprah to Jerry Bruckheimer, Georg Soros to Sharon Stone, Steven Spielberg to Jay-Z to Vladimir Putin, Eric Clapton to Barak Obama, Madonna to Sir Elton John, Bruce Springsteen to Bob Pittman, Henry Kravis to Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld to Wayne Gretzky and more.
His work—personally created as art objects—has a sense of style ungoverned by the whims of fashion. In fact, to quote Women’s Wear Daily, “His pieces are collected as if they were works of art.” His bold, sculptural, and simultaneously sophisticated and unpretentious pieces are coveted because they are much more than jewelry and accessories; they are art. They have been acquired into the permanent collections of the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Louisiana but, more importantly, are valued by individual collectors who display them everyday day in the world’s greatest gallery in the world—its streets. According to The New York Times, “Kieselstein-Cord has established a following, in fact it has become a Legion.”
“I decided to be an artist when I was about eight—I announced it to anyone who would listen,” Cord has said. “My primary interest at that moment was North American Indian art. This was my first influence between the ages of eight and fourteen. I produced large-scale carvings and effigies and interpretations. At ten I started to bury objects and metal in the ground to observe color and patina changes. Between fourteen and twenty-two, my focus switched to painting and metalwork. I never looked back. From the earliest moments I can recall fascination with all past cultures and an intense attraction to art and architecture.”
Educated at Parsons School of Design, New York University, and the American Craft Institute, Cord first entered the creative world as an advertising art director and television producer. Before leaving the industry, he was awarded the advertising world’s top creative honors. During this period, he worked with Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Burt Stern and Hiro. He later worked with Albert Watson and Horst P. Horst.
Cord started his business in 1972; Georg Jensen introduced his jewelry to the world the following year. The collection’s unique combination of innovative finishes, bold themes and fine craftsmanship captured the world’s attention. In 1976, he introduced what would become the first of his status belt buckles and the fashion world flocked to his door. In 1979, he won the first of two Coty Awards—followed by fashion’s ultimate accolade, the CFDA award. But seeing his designs worn by the sexiest, most stylish and powerful women and men in the world triumphed all success in Cord’s eye.
By the 1980s, Cord was established as one of America’s most sought-after artist-designers, and his company, Kieselstein-Cord, based in Manhattan, began to grow until it also included handbags, luggage, home furnishings, eyewear and other fine accessories. In 1985, he opened the first of many in-store boutiques at Bergdorf Goodman. He was also a pioneer in protecting the rights of artists—standing up when his work was copied, or in fashion parlance, “knocked off” by counterfeiters. After a two-year battle and at great personal expense, he was responsible for establishing case law that today protects designers and artists around the world.
Today, over 25,000 designs later, Barry Kieselstein-Cord remains an astonishingly successful designer and imaginative entrepreneur, and true to his personal vision. His pieces—every one of which is signed, dated and copyrighted—are widely sought after as instant classics that also bring in high prices at auctions.
Though Cord’s close friends and associates say he works twenty-five hour days eight days a week, he also finds time to cut fields on his farm in NY’s Hudson Valley, repair fences and fix ancient tractors and boardwalks across marshes that surround his property. His farm is abundant with rare flora and fauna of which he often draws inspiration from. The farm is his renewable resource and provides never-ending sustainable creative encouragement to fill his mind’s eye, ultimately providing the catalyst for many new projects.
In the fall of 2012, Cord published his first photography collection, drawing from the archives of well over forty years’ photographic experience. The book, titled Awarded, debuted with his second photographic show in the last decade and met with critical acclaim. Cord is already working on a second book to be accompanied by a global show.
Cord is currently planning to launch a newly platformed company, one imbued with technological innovation and a fresh definition of what luxury means.