Tuesday 29th December

| BY 10 Magazine

Ten Interviews: Stuart Vevers of Coach


Stuart Vevers is on the phone from his New York office. His assistant’s mobile. The phones in the Coach offices have just gone down. It’s 9am. He’s talking about Coach’s wholesale expansion, and being stocked on both the Porters: Mr and Net-a-, as well as a pop-up in Selfridges that’s planned for September. He’s excited about the idea of reaching more customers, of reaching new customers. The response to the news has been good. Great, even. As he puts it himself, “I think it’s always been a strength with Coach that it’s not an intimidating brand; people feel comfortable with it. It’s a different approach, a more… I don’t know whether you would say democratic [one], and I think that comes from Coach being an American luxury brand. But yeah, it’s really exciting to know that you know more people are going have more access to the collection.”

NATALIE DEMBINSKA: “You’ve just held your first proper men’s runway show, during London men’s collections – were you nervous?”

STUART VEVERS: “I mean, always a little bit. But I don’t think it would be right if you didn’t feel a bit nervous. You spend so long working on the collection and putting the collection together, and there’s some sense of you wanting to share it, you know. That you feel ready, too. There’s an excitement to it. It’s kind of nervous excitement, I would say.”

ND: “Which is the best kind.”

SV: “Yeah. I always think that if something doesn’t make you feel a little nervous, then, you know… ”

ND: “It’s not right? It should always make you feel a bit nervous. Why did you choose to show in London, rather than New York? Especially this season, since they’re now introducing a menswear week?”

SV: “I guess it was… it was very deliberate in the sense that I wanted… A lot of what I’ve been doing at Coach has been about giving the brand a real reset and a fashion reset and there’s something about taking a brand out of its… ”

ND: “Home?”

SV: “Out of context. I think it really helps to set a new tone, set a new direction, so it was very deliberate in that sense. Coach is very well known in New York and in America, it’s a much-loved brand, so to take it to a different city and put it in a new context was really deliberate. Also, at the time, there was no specific New York men’s fashion week, so that also helped, in a way, to make that decision. But the first reason was really the most important. And there’s something about London that felt like a good balance. We obviously considered the other European cities. London, it’s… I have a lot of connections there and it’s this really great balance. I felt that something exciting was happening at London men’s, so I wanted to be part of that.”

ND: “Because it is so young and so new, it hasn’t been defined or boxed into a corner yet with a particular aesthetic.”

SV: “Yeah. There’s still a great mix. So you’ve got the energy of the new brands and new designers, but you’ve also got the very established and old-school tailoring world, and you’ve also got some big brands such as Burberry. There’s a really good mix there to be part of. I think people are intrigued, there’s a certain intrigue in London and that’s why Coach is there.”

ND: “Do you plan to bring the womenswear to London as well?”

SV: “Not at the moment. I think that New York has a really well-established fashion week and it’s been new for Coach, so it was a different context. The other thing about London men’s is it was a really well attended, internationally as well, and Coach is a very international business, so that was definitely a positive.”

ND: “Tell me about your influences, because in the press release you mentioned the Beastie Boys, the young Kennedy boys and Gus Van Sant. What links them all together for you?”

SV: “Coach is obviously an all-American brand and there was something really appealing about exploring the ideas of American style. It was really intriguing to me. I think a lot of the references came from when I was growing up in Doncaster and I was experiencing America through film and music, and now that I’m at Coach I’m often referencing the things that I grew up with, things that I have a certain nostalgia for.”

ND: “Because all your references are usually quite dark, they’re not sunny American references, they’re more like a Gregg Araki film or a True Romance – there’s a darker undertone to them. How do you marry them with the Coach aesthetic, which in a way, is slightly preppy?”

SV: “I guess there are references there if you’re interested, but you can take the collection and the pieces at face value at the same time, and I think that’s really important. I think it’s interesting to have to tell the story of where the idea came from and I think people are often intrigued by those ideas. I mean, going back to the first season, with our reference to The Shining, some people got it and some people saw a really cute rocket on a sweater and I like that. You don’t have to always understand the reference, but when some people did I think they found it even more intriguing.”

ND: “There’s always a sense of humour in everything you do. How do you keep that there? How do you maintain it?”

SV: “I just think… One of the reasons I got into fashion was because I think it’s a great opportunity to have fun. I try to make the process as fun as possible. I really believe that if people come to work and they’re excited about coming to work, you’re going to get better work, better results, so I’m really all about making the process fun and enjoyable, and it’s something that comes through in the collections, and I like that. It’s all about bringing a bit of joy to the proceedings. Coach is just a great brand for that.”

ND: “Three seasons into your tenure, how are you feeling? Are you enjoying it?”

SV: “It’s been super exciting. What really appealed to me was that Coach is really unique in the luxury market, and I really want to celebrate that. So it’s all about embracing an American style and all those things, all those pieces that I think we recognise as American style that we all love to wear. It’s about celebrating everything, from the T-shirt to workwear to the sweatshirt, and using those inspirations with more luxe pieces. And it really is about making a point that this is an American luxury house, and that’s very different from a European luxury house and I really wanted to embrace that. It’s about that sense of ease and that effortless feeling in the way that the looks are put together, but also how you feel when you walk into a store. It’s great. I mean, so far I’m thrilled at the response and, yeah, onwards, plenty more to do.”

ND: “It’s more of a lifestyle brand, isn’t it? How is that different from what you’ve done before? Do you approach it in the same way you would a luxury brand? Is it daunting because of what that ‘lifestyle’ implies?”

SV: “I guess it’s kind of a fairly loose term, isn’t it? And in this case it really means broadening beyond a leather goods house, a leather goods brand. I guess, probably for a long time to come, that’s what Coach will always be known as – a leather goods brand. But it’s about putting that in the context of a complete look, and that means you can begin to build a clearer identity for the guy and the girl with a head-to-toe look. When I was first approached by Coach, that was what we were initially discussing – a full image for the brand. So that was definitely what appealed to me in many ways, because in some ways, especially for the ready-to-wear, there was a real clean slate.”

ND: “Basically, you had to create a whole new image.”

SV: “One of the most exciting things with that first collection was there were a lot of comments – you know, people responding, saying, ‘Of course it makes sense for Coach to be a ready-to-wear brand’ and ‘Of course this is what it should look like.’ So those, by far, were my favourite comments, because that felt like a real achievement, for people to accept Coach in a fashion context immediately.”

ND: “And to accept the aesthetic that you created.”

SV: “I think what’s really exciting about that season for me, when I was showing it to some people internally, was that they really felt like it pushed in a new direction for Coach, and when we presented it to people they really welcomed it, they were like, ‘We get it, this makes sense’, and what that meant was that it built momentum outside of the company, but also inside the company. People were saying good things about it, and it means that you can really build on that. It means that you can go into your second season… It gives you confidence to push that aesthetic forward, so it was a great first season. I was really thrilled.”

ND: “Also, you introduced the idea of collaborations. You had Gary Baseman with the small little figures and scary monsters. Do you plan on doing anything more like that?”

SV: “We’ve just done our second collaboration with Peanuts, and both times the response has been phenomenal. We’ve had lines in front of the stores in Tokyo. Some of my favourite pieces are gone within, like, 24 hours. I’m really thrilled. Because again, on the one hand, I was talking about Coach in a new fashion context and the girl and plenty of New York City attitude, and then I was introducing the concept of Peanuts, so people were a bit like… ”

ND: “What are you doing?”

SV: “But I just think Peanuts is really cool and to me that was the connection. Snoopy specifically is the coolest. And I felt it was a really interesting way to create some emotion around the leather goods. It was a really interesting way to connect with the archive. With the fashion presentation I deliberately avoided too many archive references, I wanted it to feel new. And this Peanuts project is a great way to get some authentic Coach signatures out there.”

ND: “And everybody loves Peanuts, so… ”

SV: “That’s what I said when I first introduced the idea – if we do this right, it could be really strong and at the same time really cool. We have a 5ft-tall Snoopy in the store right now and we’ve sold out. It’s brilliant.”

ND: “Do you have any plans for any other collaborations along those lines?”

SV: “I’m really into this collaboration. I feel like it pushes you and it pushes you outside your boundaries, gives you a moment to kind of focus on ideas and creativity outside of your regular collections. And I think it gives you faith to go further. I’m looking into loads of different things at the moment, so there will definitely be lots more – some fun things, but also really unexpected things.”

ND: “How does living in New York influence your design? Has it influenced it in any way?”

SV: “Definitely. I think it really set a tone for what, for me, the Coach girl stood for. The very first season, it was a super-harsh winter in New York and so I arrived in October to start work and we were presenting a full collection in February and I love walking… ”

ND: “You couldn’t walk?”

SV: “I walked to work. Coach is on 34th Street, and I was determined to walk through the biggest winter storms and the thing that I kind of took away from those walks was that everyone in New York, in the winter, which was the season that I was designing for the following year, had heavy boots or sneakers, and there was something about that kind of a grounded sense of functionality that I felt was really important for Coach at that moment. So we kind of developed this – what we call an urban hiker – and it was this shoe that made you feel feminine and kind of cool.”

ND: “And could withstand the snow.”

SV: “Yes. It reminded me of that sense of an urban hiker that was… It was getting you through the streets. It looked good and it felt cool, but it was working for you. And I think there’s always been a certain functionality about Coach pieces – they’ve got to work for you. That kind of grounded the collection in some ways and I always think… One of the first things that I work on is the shoe, and I think it really sets the tone of who the girl is, and since that season our heels have never gotten particularly high, and if they are, they’re always a wedge – and it has really grounded the Coach girl. She’s always on the move. She can run off at a moment’s notice.”

ND: “She has things to do and has to be able to do them.”

SV: “I think it sets the tone of who she is. And New York, going back to your question – that comes from New York City. People dress up and have fun, people express their individuality, which is something I really wanted to bring to the collection, this sense of it not being a… Each look was about great pieces put together in a personal way. I’ve not put it together in the traditional sense of what a collection should be. It’s more a mix of great pieces, great items.

ND: “How you would actually see somebody wearing them, in a way?”

SV: “Every piece has to go through that filter. And another filter we put it through is why can you only get this piece from Coach? And that goes from a jacket to a dress to a pair of shoes. Every piece has to feel like… I think because ready-to-wear in the fall is head-to-toe looks, which is a new proposition from Coach, every piece can only come from Coach. There has to be something that makes it. It’s not just about beautifully made luxe pieces or a luxury take on basics. It has to have a point of view and a difference.”

Text by Natalie Dembinska, taken from Issue 55 of 10 Magazine, on newsstands now…

Photograph by Jason Lloyd-Evans, taken backstage at Coach AW15