After working at Donna Karan and Barneys New York in New York City, Jeffrey Kalinsky moved to Atlanta in 1990 to open a Bob Ellis shoe store with his father. He eventually opened two namesake boutiques in Atlanta and New York, respectively, but Kalinsky is perhaps best known for Jeffrey Fashion Cares Atlanta, an annual benefit founded to raise awareness for those living with HIV/AIDS and members of the LGBT community. The event has raised more than $11 million in its 21-year history, an anniversary Kalinsky feted on Monday at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta (a New York version of the event celebrated its 10th edition earlier this year). In honor of the anniversary, Kalinsky spoke to TIME about philanthropy, his favorite emerging designers and the quintessential Jeffrey woman.
Why did you start Jeffrey Fashion Cares?
When I moved to Atlanta in 1990, AIDS was greatly affecting the creative community. It truly was a devasting period. I realized I could charge money for a show and donate the proceeds to an AIDS-related charity and do something good with my fashion background. The big idea around the whole thing has always been to do an event on a shoestring budget so as much money could go to charities as possible.
You’ve seen plenty of trends and designers come and go in your more than 20-year history. Who are some of the emerging designers that have your attention now?
Erdem, Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane—that whole crop of English designers, I am loving. Most people acknowledge that London is the breeding ground right now for everything that’s new. Paris is the capital of fashion, of course, but it seems all the emerging designers are coming out of London, and that’s what I want to bring to my stores, especially as an independent retailer.
And what classic brand or fashion house do you still love?
I think what Raf Simons is doing at Dior is amazing . I’ve been buying his men’s clothing for 14 years now and then I bought him when he was creative director at Jil Sander. I’ve been mesmerized by how he’s brought an aesthetic that’s modern, clean and minimal—though I hate to use that word because I don’t think there’s anything minimal about his work—to Dior. As a result, women are getting to wear classic Dior silhouettes and designs, but in a modern interpretation, and I love that.
Who is the Jeffrey woman?
Smart. Not trendy. Someone who’s not interested in dressing for anyone else but herself.
After nearly 25 years in the industry, what keeps you around?
I’ve always been intrigued by the journey—seeing the way people dress evolve, change and how popular culture plays into fashion and fashion plays into popular culture. I’ve always loved fashion for the ability to present yourself in your own way. And to that end, when we invest in designers at our stores, we’re really keen on design, not merchandising. You can buy merchandise from a lot of places, but I really like to support people who are talented and offer a unique point of view.