The evolution started three years ago when, out of left field, Brit designer darling Stuart Vevers was ushered in as executive creative director. With him came the introduction of ready-to-wear – not just a few complementary pieces or a capsule line, as some leather goods houses do, but a full collection covering head-to-toe, presented to industry insiders during New York Fashion Week, as fashion houses do.
Soon, those cute logo knit sweaters and printed coats with a side of vintage Americana started showing up on It starlets – Chloe Sevigny, Zoe Kravitz, Lena Dunham – on their grocery runs (read: as part of their everyday wardrobe). The buzz was – and continues to be – unmistakable: Here’s a cool designer label. What some might not expect: that the brand in question is the 75-year-old Coach.
This season, the heritage house once best known for functional and timelessly stylish bags unveils the most daring move in its quest to reinvent itself as a fashion empire. For the first time since Vevers’ debut in F/W ’14, it held its first runway show at the High Line in New York City – nothing to the everyday consumer, but a big deal for the brand. The total number of looks on show: 49 – the most ever; the size of the collections has growing steadily across the previous seasons. And here’s what customers will be able to take away: Unlike before, when only a handful of pieces from the ready-to-wear was sold here, practically everything showcased on the runway will be available at the brand’s Wisma Atria flagship, all bearing the label “Coach 1941”.
“What we’ve been presenting within (our Fashion Week collections) feel more pushed creatively and (are) a more elevated offering from Coach. We’ve just never given it a distinct title,” says Vevers. “We felt that the time was right for (a luxury line) given the interest we’ve had.”
Compared to the brand’s core offerings, which remain under the Coach New York tag, this runway collection will be priced higher, starting from $165 for jewellery to $3,500 for outerwear. While only into its fourth season, it bears other hallmarks of a full-fledged, trendy high-end label too.
For one, it has a signature look. From the get-go, Vevers’ vision of the modern Coach has been a union of luxury, utility and a whole lot of Americana attitude. It explains the fun, seasonal interpretations of classic Western-style coats, from last season’s shearling jackets to Spring’s take on the moto and bomber: patchwork, colour-block, vest styles. One can also count on the cartoon logo knit – the motif of the moment is an irreverent, toy-like T-rex.
Regardless of the theme (suburbia last Spring, biker chic in Fall), the feel is youthful, vibrant and carefree, without ever falling into rebel category. This season’s inspiration: “A magpie girl who goes on road trips, picking up Western things, but who also might steal from her granny’s closet on the Upper East Side,” says Vevers. The result: a medley of light, hippie-tinged A-line dresses and pleated skirts in a potpourri of prairie florals. The aesthetic recalls ’90s grunge, but a much prettier version of it. Meanwhile, patchwork miniskirts and all-suede suits channel Starsky & Hutch-meets-Kate Jackson – badass yet elegant. True to the brand’s roots as an American lifestyle label, everything is fuss-free, easy to pull off and works for everyday living.
With the label’s established renown as a leather goods maker, it’s only natural that bags have not been left out of this new, higher-end line. Says Vevers: “Ready-to-wear is an important driver of the storytelling and what we do, but what we’re really building is our offering of leather goods with a more distinct product.”
Turning to the archives, he brought back two iconic styles – the Saddle satchel and the Dinky cross-body – updating them in sumptuous printed leathers and with intricate embellishments. The Tea Rose Saddle, for example, comes with hand-stitched floral applique. That level of detailing on a classic, somewhat rustic, style is what sets a Coach 1941 bag apart. Says Vevers: “I’m not interested in making a lesser version of European luxury. I want to make a different version of luxury.”