Coach cre­ative chief STU­ART VEV­ERS dives into Amer­i­cana and pop ref­er­ences to bring the fun back to the brand, writes STEPHANIE IP

#Legend - - INTERVIEW -

WHEN STU­ART VEV­ERS joined Coach as cre­ative di­rec­tor in 2013 af­ter Reed Krakoff’s 16-year stint, he was given the mon­u­men­tal task of rein­vig­o­rat­ing the slug­gish leather goods brand. Vev­ers rel­ished the chal­lenge. He thrived on it. Be­fore join­ing Coach, Vev­ers had spent five years at Loewe, re­vi­tal­is­ing the Madrid maker of leather goods. Be­fore that, he had spells at Bot­tega Veneta, Louis Vuit­ton and Mul­berry where he honed his ex­per­tise in cre­at­ing ac­ces­sories and leather goods, de­sign­ing de­sir­able bags that flew off the shelves.

Coach was the per­fect fit for Vev­ers. He knew leather like the back of his hand and loved what the Amer­i­can com­pany rep­re­sented. “One of the things that I was ex­cited about was that, ul­ti­mately, Coach is Amer­ica’s house of leather. There’s no other brand that comes close to Coach in terms of its story and her­itage,” Vev­ers says.

Coach goods are Amer­i­can lux­u­ries of a sort that Vev­ers em­braces. In the 1980s, Coach prod­ucts were what or­di­nary Amer­i­cans as­pired to own, be­fore the cult of ex­trav­a­gance sent prices rock­et­ing up and so ex­cluded them from ownership. But Vev­ers sees the ap­peal of the cult dis­si­pat­ing. “What I love about Coach is that it’s very in­clu­sive,” he says.” To­day, lux­ury can be friendly. It used to mean a cer­tain for­mal­ity and in­vest­ment qual­ity. But Amer­i­can

stylists have al­ways had a very dif­fer­ent an­gle from the tra­di­tional Euro­pean lux­ury. I like that, to­day, a lux­ury piece can be a pair of sneak­ers, a play­ful back­pack and a sweat­shirt.”

Most of all, Vev­ers wished to bring fash­ion to Coach. He re­calls his in­ter­views with Coach man­agers three or more years ago, when he pitched the idea of bring­ing a ready-towear col­lec­tion to Coach and show­ing that col­lec­tion dur­ing New York Fash­ion Week.

“My goal is to make Coach, first and fore­most, a fash­ion house with a strong leather goods her­itage,” he says.

Coach took small steps. It be­gan with small pre­sen­ta­tions in 2013, be­fore launch­ing its fully fledged ready-to-wear col­lec­tion in the au­tumn of 2015 – a nerve-rack­ing pe­riod. “Of course, there is al­ways pres­sure on the first col­lec­tion,” Vev­ers says. “You’re show­ing your am­bi­tion for the first time and you’re ask­ing peo­ple to give you feed­back.” For­tu­nately for Vev­ers and his brand, the re­sponse to Coach 1941 was largely pos­i­tive. “Af­ter that, I was given the con­fi­dence to boldly take the di­rec­tion for­ward,” he says. “It also gave Coach the con­fi­dence in me. They’re, like, ‘Maybe this guy knows what he’s do­ing.’”

Vev­ers was born and brought up in the town of Don­caster in north­ern Eng­land, and went to art school in the city of Carlisle, in the north­west­ern cor­ner of the coun­try. When he was 19 he moved to Lon­don in pur­suit of a de­gree in fash­ion. Even be­fore then, his fond­ness for clas­sic Amer­i­cana ran deep.

The teenaged Vev­ers re­put­edly had a poster for the film My Own Pri­vate Idaho in his bed­room. Later he paid an­nual vis­its to the United States. He and a friend, trav­el­ling by train, would ex­plore the coun­try. His vi­sion of the US was painted in large mea­sure by his ad­ven­tures there, by Amer­i­can movies and mu­sic, such as the out­put of the Beastie Boys. “A lot of Amer­i­can ref­er­ences that I grew up with, like most peo­ple, I saw the­mon films or through mu­sic,” Vev­ers says.

“Coach is about cel­e­brat­ing the ev­ery­day. It’s very down-to-earth. That’s why we ref­er­ence things like the sub­way at the Lane Craw­ford pop-up. That’s why we’ve had shows in a scrap yard, in a gas sta­tion and shop cam­paigns on sub­ur­ban streets” STU­ART VEV­ERS

“I’m still very in­spired by Amer­ica when I travel and ex­pe­ri­ence. Things that an Amer­i­can would find ev­ery­day, I still find ex­otic, and I’m ex­cited by the ev­ery­day.”

In the past five sea­sons of Coach 1941 women’s and later men’s shows, Vev­ers has taken in­spi­ra­tion from sources that range from films such as Bad­lands – a 1970s movie, di­rected by Ter­rence Mal­ick, about two young out­laws on the run in the Amer­i­can West – to tele­vi­sion shows such as Lit­tle House on the Prairie; from the mu­sic of Bruce Spring­steen to hip-hop bands.

The Coach 1941 spring 2017 col­lec­tion had a touch of Elvis Pres­ley, with rocker-chic biker jack­ets and shear­ling pieces con­trasted with sheerer, lighter, lace-trimmed dresses. For the 75th an­niver­sary of the brand, Vev­ers built a cap­sule col­lec­tion around the Coach mas­cot, Rexy the di­nosaur. For the pre­sen­ta­tion of the au­tumn 2017 women’s col­lec­tion, a makeshift prairie house was built at the end of the run­way and tum­ble­weed strewn all over the cat­walk. On the men’s run­way, we saw var­sity jack­ets, biker jack­ets and parkas bear­ing slo­gans, the Nasa logo and even a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Fisher-Price duck, Dr Doo­dle.

“Coach is about cel­e­brat­ing the ev­ery­day. It’s a very down-to-earth, hon­est and au­then­tic house,” Vev­ers says. “That’s why we ref­er­ence things like the sub­way at the Lane Craw­ford pop-up. That’s why we’ve had shows in a scrap yard, in a gas sta­tion. We’ve had shop cam­paigns on the sub­ur­ban street.”

This fresh take has some won­der­ing whether its old de­sign codes are still rel­e­vant to Coach. “I’d say it’s a mix­ture,” Vev­ers says. “There’s still some­thing in Coach’s her­itage that I re­ally love and want to con­tinue to ex­plore but it’s im­por­tant to plug those pieces and new con­tent. The gloves, the leather, the turn lock: they’re all well-es­tab­lished

Coach icons from the 1940s and 1960s. The new at­ti­tude is, ‘How do I make those things rel­e­vant to to­day?’ ”

Vev­ers looked to the legendary Bon­nie Cashin for in­spi­ra­tion. Cashin was Coach’s first de­signer. In 1941, the com­pany was called Gail Leather Prod­ucts, mak­ing wal­lets and bill­folds. It be­came Coach in the early 1960s, when the own­ers, Miles Cahn and his wife Lil­lian, hired Cashin, then a well-known de­signer of sports­wear, to de­sign a com­pletely new line of bags for them.

Cashin was a rebel. She over­threw the fri­vol­i­ties of the 1950s and re­placed them with the real and the prag­matic. Her bags were ac­ces­sories with a pur­pose. They had pock­ets to hold tick­ets and lists. She used hard­ware, in­clud­ing in­dus­trial-strength zips, turn locks and brass clasps. Vev­ers says he had al­ways ad­mired Cashin. “But it wasn’t un­til I joined Coach that I stud­ied her time here and saw what she cre­ated,” he says. “She def­i­nitely be­came a real hero for me. I of­ten re­fer to Bon­nie Cashin as Coach’s guardian an­gel.”

Cashin is still stand­ing guard. “In many ways, Bon­nie Cashin’s pe­riod, her body of work, showed me that what I re­ally needed to do was look for­ward and take Coach into the next level, write its next chap­ter – be­cause Bon­nie Cashin was looking for­ward,” Vev­ers says. “You see it from the day she ar­rived to the day she left. It was about tak­ing risks, be­ing bold and be­ing cre­ative.”

Vev­ers gave his rein­vig­o­ra­tion pro­gramme a sur­prise boost when Coach an­nounced late last year that Se­lena Gomez would be­come the face of the brand, and re­vealed that Gomez would col­lab­o­rate in de­sign­ing its prod­ucts. It is a golden part­ner­ship, al­low­ing Coach to tap the pop star’s in­flu­ence over her 125 mil­lion or more fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram.

“I be­lieve that one of the rea­sons why she has con­nected to so many peo­ple is that she’s open, hon­est and au­then­tic,” Vev­ers says. “Those are the val­ues that I as­pire to, and con­nect well with Coach. That’s why our re­la­tion­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion is natural.” Vev­ers be­lieves open­ness and in­clu­siv­ity are im­por­tant to the mod­ern gen­er­a­tion. “What truly makes Se­lena a Coach girl is that she cares, she’s warm, she’s in­clu­sive,” he says. “She doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have a fash­ion back­ground but she’s ob­vi­ously very cre­ative, clearly, with her mu­sic, her im­age and her videos. She comes to the ta­ble with a lot of ideas and she un­der­stands the cre­ative process well.”

Gomez vis­ited the Coach stu­dio sev­eral times in the process of de­sign­ing her first hand­bag, the Se­lena Grace, which will be launched this month. “We just, kind of, played and had fun,” Vev­ers says. “It was about how we could cre­ate things that re­ally were for her. I’m of­ten think­ing about who the Coach girl is and it’s al­ways good to have some­one spe­cific in mind. I try to do it with each col­lec­tion, to have a muse or a cin­e­matic ref­er­ence. So it’s great to be sit­ting with your muse and com­ing up with ideas to­gether.”

Gomez and Vev­ers are both vi­sion­ar­ies that are full of am­bi­tion, yet they re­main two of the most grounded cre­ative peo­ple you’re ever likely to meet. Vev­ers has a motto. “I used to have it in the stu­dio where we worked,” he says. “We had a big poster on the wall: ‘Work hard and be nice to peo­ple.’”

From far left: women’s run­way col­lec­tion; Stu­art Vev­ers; men’s Gotham Tote with space mo­tif

Clock­wise from above: Coach 1941 col­lec­tion; back­pack from the Space cap­sule col­lec­tion; from the Coach 1941 run­way show; Dinky bag

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