The man saving the U.S. fashion brand Coach
US heritage brand Coach has been around since 1941. Over the years it’s built up a solid reputation for quality leather goods. It’s known as a reliable, functional and stylish brand hanging off the arms of the prim and polished Upper East Side’s elite, but cool? Nah. Hip? Nope. Not until, that is, Stuart Vevers took over as executive creative director in 2014.
Vevers has since injected the brand with a fresh, young, urban feel demanding the attention of fashion’s most critical thinkers. He also staged the first men’s fashion show in the brand’s history, at London Collections Men, marking his entrance into fashion’s cool club. The runway show was staged around a purpose-built skate park, with flashes of tiger stripes and psychedelic surf prints mixed with utilitarian workwear slouching down the runway. Lewis Hamilton, Tinie Tempah, BBC Radio 1 DJ (and London hipster) Nick Grimshaw were sat front row and seen with the designer in a London pub that night, at the brand’s afterparty. Could it be that Coach is now achingly hip?
Forty-two-year-old Vevers already has an impressive CV. After graduating from the University of Westminster in 1996, his first job was at Calvin Klein, then Bottega Veneta. Givenchy followed and then Louis Vuitton, where he worked with Marc Jacobs. In 2005 he joined Mulberry as creative director, catapulting the British leather brand into ‘It’ bag status (the iconic Emmy bag was his design), before being appointed creative director of Loewe in June 2013. Vevers then left Loewe to join Coach. We sat down with the designer in London to find out how he’s elevating the brand to the upper echelons of cool.
What was the premise when you took over at Coach? Did you have freedom to do what you wanted?
I was excited by the challenge. I felt a desire for change at Coach and that really appealed to me. Coach is the leather house of America and to lead its next chapter is an honour.
You’ve certainly made Coach cool, and given the brand a new credible lease of life for the more fashion-focused customers. How do you make a heritage leather goods brand cool?
What’s ‘cool’ is obviously something that’s subjective. But for me it’s about a sense of freedom. A confidence in your style. A rebellious spirit.
How do you retain the brand’s heritage going forward?
I want to re-establish what makes Coach unique. I see my role as exploring and reinforcing what makes Coach special and reinventing the brand for today’s audience. It’s about an ease and an effortless that’s very much inspired by cool Americana. With an optimistic lightness of spirit that plays to confidence and freedom.
How have your stints at Mulberry and Loewe prepared you for the gig at Coach?
I bring some amazing experiences from traditional European luxury brands that have shaped me as a designer. I have had the privilege to work at amazing houses. I joined Coach because I wanted to do luxury in a new way. To push myself and to learn.
How would you describe the new Coach man?
The Coach man is solid. He wants his clothing and accessories to work for him, to function and last. At the same time he wants his style to express his individuality.
What was the inspiration behind the SS16 collection?
I was very influenced by surf culture 1960s California, mixed with the more traditional codes of the Kennedys and other American icons. Mixed with that was a dose of the counter-culture emerging back then — psychedelics and the rise of skateboarding.
Why did you decide to show the menswear collection at London Collections Men, instead on in the US?
I wanted to change the context for our new direction. There was something exciting about what was happening at London Men, and that appealed to me.
You’ve said that you want to focus more on the international customer rather than just the US customer; how do you think the Middle East will get on with the menswear collection? What do you think will do well over here?
The slides and T-shirts are very Middle East-friendly as they are suited for warmer climates, but offer sophisticated versions of the styles with personality and considered design. Coach is of course known for its leather goods, and with 75 years of heritage, I find that the Middle Eastern customer has a real appreciation for quality, luxury and know-how that can only come from this sort
Some of the pieces will be sold in women’s sizes and there seems to be a recent trend of blurring genders when it comes to clothes (I’m thinking of Alessandro Michele at Gucci). How do you personally feel about menswear becoming more feminine?
I think modern fashion is less about what is feminine and what is masculine, and more about the confidence to choose what best expresses one’s taste and identity.
How would you sum up the new Coach menswear line?
The Kennedy Boys meets the Beastie Boys meets the Beach Boys.