Stuart Vevers’ spring/summer 2018 collection for Coach 1941 is a love letter dedicated to New York and the spirit of her people.
I first spoke to Stuart Vevers two summers ago in Coach’s old showroom located a few blocks away from New York’s Hudson Yards, a gleaming cluster of skyscrapers rising from midtown Manhattan. Fresh from Coach 1941’s debut runway show, a beaming and visibly relaxed Vevers was busy fielding questions from fashion journalists about the momentous catwalk production, which was presented atop the High Line with the company’s yet-to-be completed headquarters towering in the background. “It’s a reality: A beautiful leather coat with a t-shirt; the high-and-low mix that somehow feels youthful and contemporary… Fashion is more and more about the story each individual item tells,” Vevers explained back then of the selection of patchwork leather jackets and floral tea dresses that spelt out his plans for the brand. “I do what I can, what I believe in, and I’m staying true to that.”
Much has happened since then. For starters, the Coach 1941 show is now an important stop on the New York Fashion Week schedule. The company has also moved into its new premises, where a sprawling floor-to-ceiling glass display of archival bag designs at the lobby is the first declaration of how far Coach has come. In 2016, the brand marked its 75th anniversary in equally high-profile ways: A book release, a fragrance launch and a string of collaborations (including one with Disney’s Mickey Mouse), culminating in a pre-fall runway show and a star-studded party. A year later, its parent company acquired Kate Spade for US$2.4 billion and changed its name to Tapestry, Inc. to better represent the weave of brands that now come under its umbrella.
Through it all, Vevers continues to drive Coach’s growth by remaining steadfast in his vision for the American leather goods brand. “When I started at Coach four years ago, I used its heritage and archives to give me a sense of what being at the brand meant and to give me a sense of direction so that I can look boldly forward,” the British-born designer said. And look forward he did.Vevers’ ongoing evolution of the brand is a reimagining of classic Americana— nostalgic, romantic but ultimately modern, playful and wearable.
For spring/summer 2018, Vevers decided to honour New York, a city inexplicably linked to Coach’s history. “I wanted to celebrate New York’s diversity and creativity,” Vevers explained post-show. “I think the city’s the coolest in the world, and I really wanted to celebrate the people who have inspired me over the years and continue to do so today.”
Shrouded in near darkness, the set of the Coach 1941 show was constructed to mimic a typical New York street. Covered completely in glitter, it glistened with the promise of a bustling metropolis whose grid-like streets pulsate with an irresistible magnetism. The effect extended to the clothes as well: Models circled the make-believe dwelling in sequinned slip dresses and shiny silk skirts, some peeking from under sheer gossamer layers or burnished leather jackets. “Evening wear is something new for us. I like the idea of the Coach girl dressing up this season,” Vevers said. “We’ve also started to explore what we can do with denim.” The latter came delicately embroidered or decorated with quilt-like patchwork accents.
The main highlight of the show, however, was the appearance of Keith Haring’s graphic illustrations as a leitmotif in the collection. The late artist is one of Vevers’ heroes, and the designer found a strong connection between the “democratic” nature of Haring’s graffi ti art and Coach’s values of aff ordable luxury for all. “His art was about being inclusive. It had a warmth and playfulness to it, and I feel that is very close to what Coach stands for,” Vevers elaborated. He then applied Haring’s signature squiggles liberally on snug sweaters, shearling jackets and t-shirts, plus a host of other accessories that will surely appeal to fashion and art aficionados alike.
In another move aligned with fashion’s growing appetite for logos, Vevers also resurrected Coach’s monogram and introduced it on a series of embellished bags. “I’ve always liked it, but I was waiting for the right time to bring it back,” he recalled. “In fact, I didn’t really know it was going to work until I started dressing everything and putting it all together.” Besides demonstrating Vevers’ ability to instill his works at Coach with relevancy and elements of excitement and surprise, it made for a cool statement against the jagged skyline of New York, a bustling paradox of a city that wakes up to something new on every corner of the street each day.■
From top: The glittery set multiplied the dynamism of the collection. Coach’s monogram is given a new lease of life with all sorts of heavy-duty decoration and embellishments. The slip dresses exuded sensuality and girlishness at the same time.
Clockwise from top left: Pastel colours flooded the catwalk. Vevers brought back the Mailbox bag, first designed by Bonnie Cashin. Denim was contrasted with leopard. Backstage at the show. Coach’s expertise in leather turned up on a tough-looking jacket.
PHOTOGRAPHY: SHOWBIT; COURTESY OF COACH