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Stuart Vevers, The Man Who Catapulted Coach Back To Glory
Under the helm of British designer Stuart Vevers, Coach, the once-dormant all-American heritage brand, is reinstated with the glory of its heyday.
By Kames Narayanan
/3 May 2018
In 2013, news broke that British designer Stuart Vevers would take over the helm at Coach, America’s original house of leather, as the brand’s executive creative director. Already on his resume at the time of appointment were tenures at Mulberry and Loewe, both of which boast a reputation for their unparalleled prowess in leather craftsmanship and equally successful ready-to-wear counterparts. At the former, he reinvigorated the Bayswater tote with a leather cage around it and at the latter, redesigned the brand’s iconic Amazona bag.
There was little surprise then, when Vevers was appointed head honcho at Coach. It was a man of that calibre who bore the promise of reinventing a heritage behemoth whose tried ideas had gone sterile in the landscape of contemporary luxury.
“Coming on board Coach, I felt it was really important to think about how the next generation considers luxury today,” Vevers said. “One of the things I was drawn to in joining Coach was that I felt it had a kind of fresh technique on what luxury means. It was a warmer, friendlier take on luxury. I felt like the rules of luxury were breaking down. Today, a cool sneaker, backpack and sweatshirt can all be luxury items and Coach felt like a good place to explore that.”
In the brand’s longstanding history of more than seven decades, its offerings had, until Vevers’s appointment, stayed within the perimeter of leather goods and accessories. When Coach was first conceived out of a factory loft in Soho, Manhattan, in the 1940s, it specialised in handmade wallets and billfolds. Later, in the early 1960s, it diversified into leather handbags. Designer Bonnie Cashin’s carryalls, painted in vibrant hues, cemented Coach’s reputation as America’s quintessential house of leather.
Not only had Coach come to be known for its craftsmanship. With its prices kept affordable, it had found its firm footing in the accessible luxury space within the realm of American fashion. A Coach bag became a marker of milestones in the lives of American women. It was the graduation gift that every girl pined after and could full well afford. Under the leadership of Vevers’s predecessor Reed Krakoff, who played mastermind at Coach for 16 years, the brand saw exponential growth from a harbinger of American leather goods to an international accessories label.
By the time of his exit, the brand had hit a plateau, and rebranding plans were underway for the future of Coach. Vevers, then, was identified as the man for the job. In early 2014, Stuart Vevers staged his debut collection at New York fashion week’s fall calendar. The showing, set against a late 1970s suburban scene from pioneering colour photographer Joel Sternfeld’s photobook, American Prospects, earmarked the beginning of a new era at the 77-year-old house.
The British designer, despite being what most would consider an outsider, displayed a keen understanding of Americana, which remained at the heart of Coach. “I studied fashion in London but in the 23 years that I have been working for, I have only spent three of those years in the United Kingdom. Having also lived in Paris and Milan, I hope that I bring an experience that is a combination of all those things,” revealed Vevers.
Vevers’s debut at Coach offered his prepositions to building blocks of an archetypal American wardrobe. The classic jean jacket was presented with a removable shearling collar and the Apollo sweater referenced from the cult American movie The Shining played to the familiarity that is associated with the brand's birthplace. Accessibility remained a cornerstone, as Vevers’s coats and jackets were capped at around US$3,000 (approx. S$3,900), markedly lower than the price points of other luxury brands.
“When I first joined, I looked at Coach’s heritage and archive but very quickly looked away because I felt it was very important in that moment to look forward and be bold,” said Vevers.
And in the seasons after, Vevers has continued to build upon values deeply entrenched at Coach, while reinvigorating the brand with a youthful appeal. “At the heart of Coach is a respect and passion for craft. Our leather goods are still what we’re most known for and I think we will probably always be known for it. It’s that kind of balance between craftsmanship and heritage and something that feels energetic and youthful. For me, it’s an interesting combination,” shared Vevers.
Vevers has done serious work in reestablishing consumer desirability for Coach, but without taking himself too seriously. Coach’s ferocious T-Rex dubbed Rexy epitomises his modus operandi. Born in 2015 as a bag charm and later a motif on a sweater, the personable dinosaur has catapulted to sartorial fame. Today, an identifiable house icon, Rexy has warranted a limited edition capsule collection.
“It was a playful moment that felt fresh. It honestly was one of those moments when we were playing in the studio and we came across an idea that we thought was charming. But the response was so strong that Rexy in many ways has become a mascot for the new Coach,” said Vevers, on the birth of what can be considered a fashion icon in its own right.
Alongside Rexy, he has introduced several other cartoon caricatures like Sharky the shark and Uni the unicorn and reinstated playful patchwork as a recurring theme throughout the collections.
Seamlessly integrating his ideas of the old and new, Vevers continues to be led by the ideals of Americana. For Coach’s Spring ’18 collection, he drew from the works of legendary pop artist Keith Haring. Haring’s iconic graphic lines lent visual appeal to the brand’s repertoire of signature knits, sweatshirts and jackets, and appearing elsewhere as a subtle pattern on pastel slip dresses. While the clothes themselves veered into an unchartered territory of evening wear, Vevers harked back to the house’s roots on the accessories end. Rehashed from the archives, a Cashin favourite, dubbed the mailbox, from 1972 was granted a second lease of life.
“We were playing with a lot of new ideas and materials because I wanted to explore the idea of dressing up. To balance that, I felt that I wanted to explore for our leather goods something that was very authentically Coach. I felt like that, with a lot of new ideas within the collection, I wanted something that was very authentically grounded as Coach,” shared Vevers.
Under Vevers’s reins, Coach has charted an unlikely comeback in the business of luxury. Last year, the brand reported higher than expected quarterly profit, driving its shares up 11.4 per cent. For a designer who has performed exceedingly well in reinstating a heritage name with a modern day sensibility, Vevers remains aloof about the future of the house.
“I actually never look that far ahead. I think the thing that I love about fashion is that it is always changing, always moving. I generally don’t look far beyond the next collection that I am working on. Fashion is a reflection of our times, things are always changing around us and I want to respond to that,” said Vevers.
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