Stuart Vevers having fun turning Coach from bags to fashion brand

Briton has given American brand a new identity and a fresh purpose as a maker of clothes with a humorous take on his adopted culture

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 July, 2017, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 6:01pm

The subway may not be New York’s most chic landmark, but that’s precisely why Coach’s creative director Stuart Vevers loves it. After choosing it as the backdrop for the fashion brand’s autumn 2017 advertising campaign, he took his homage one step further for a project with Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The Art of Expression installation, which opened recently at the retailer’s store in Hong Kong’s IFC Mall, transports visitors to the Big Apple with its life-sized recreation of part of a subway station, decked out with mosaic walls and rose-gold graffiti.

Stuart Vevers modernises Coach by focusing on its American roots

Once inside, customers can browse a selection of exclusive men’s and women’s styles from the catwalks alongside Coach bags including the best-selling Dinky, based on a design from the 1970s. A Coach craftsman is on hand to customise purchases with whatever tickles your fancy, from roses and monograms to different leather straps.

The initiative is one of many that Vevers has spearheaded since he joined the American brand in 2013. The British designer, whose CV boasts stints with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta and Loewe, was brought on board to give Coach a fresh look and feel.

“It was about a bold change, a brand-new direction. When I first started we were in the early stages of introducing new collections like the ready-to-wear. Since then, my confidence has grown and the confidence of the whole company has grown. Today Coach is first and foremost a fashion house, not just a leather goods house, and that’s something I am proud and excited about that. I’ve been working towards that since the day I joined,” he says.

Coach’s new identity under Vevers can best be described as cool, contemporary and fun – exemplified by new campaign face, millennial popstar Selena Gomez. With a proven track record as an accessories designer, it came as no surprise that he replaced the brand’s ubiquitous jacquard double C logo bags with beautifully crafted collections that celebrated the brand’s heritage while drawing on playful elements of Americana and pop culture.

One collection, for example, featured buttery leather handbags embossed with drawings of comic strip characters such as Snoopy and the Peanuts cast. For the brand’s 75th anniversary, they featured Rexy the dinosaur, the brand’s mascot, which has now been immortalised as a 3.6 metre sculpture formed from more than 400 Coach bags at the brand’s New York flagship store.

While accessories may be the bread and butter of most brands (Coach included), Vevers didn’t limit his creative vision to just one category. Early on he launched the brand’s first ready-to-wear collection, Coach 1941, for women, and later men.

The collections explore facets of American culture and counter culture, both past and present, as seen through Vevers’ eyes as a Briton living in the US. His references have run the gamut from hip-hop bands such as the Beastie Boys and TV shows such as Little House on The Prairie to street art. These are then juxtaposed with a dose of humour to create a look that is playful, fresh and most importantly au courant.

“The clothing collections gave me a chance to tell a story, to create a character from head to toe. Even though we are most known for leather goods, when we design a collection we usually start with clothing. We have to understand proportion and silhouette, in order to know what shoe and bag is going to work.

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“Ready-to-wear for me has to be a real business and feel authentic. It doesn’t just frame the leather goods – it’s important because I see people wear it on the street. A shearling coat or varsity jacket can be a Coach reference today just as much as a handbag. Those are the references that many of our new clients recognise,” says Vevers.

The men’s and women’s collection have gone from strength to strength and continue to be praised by critics and customers. The autumn 2017 collection for women channels tomboys and prairie girls in the city with looks including floral puffer and down jackets and breezy dresses decorated with sequin roses and lace, alongside popular favourites such as shearling coats and tough-girl biker jackets.

For men, varsity jackets, sweatshirts, biker jackets and parkas are covered in embroidered patches or prints featuring slogans, Nasa logos and even ice-cream cones.

Thanks to their unique style, the collections have also brought in a new generation of customers, including the elusive millennials, who are very much considered the holy grail for any fashion brand.

Vevers says: “A lot of the old references of luxury, as embodied by European houses, are not relevant to the new generation. Luxury in many ways used to mean a certain formality – either in style or attitude – and was often considered an investment that was everlasting. Now it’s about a more spontaneous celebration.

“These new references of fashion and luxury match Coach’s point of view. What’s exciting about American luxury is that it has a certain ease of it, and that’s how people are dressing today.”