While staging a destination show isn’t new for fashion houses these days, Coach picked Shanghai for reasons beyond it being a fresh and exciting backdrop. The brand actively pursued collaborations with the city’s leading creatives, who infused its pre-fall 2019 collection with a spirit that reflects contemporary Chinese youth culture, rather than simply incorporating traditional elements in a superficial nod to the host city’s heritage.
Titled “Coach Lights Up Shanghai”, the brand’s first ever runway show in China at the West Bund Art Center in Shanghai showcased a collection of chunky acid-hued shearling coats, patchwork accessories, metallic handkerchief dresses and leather separates, reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s glam-rock aesthetic in the ’70s.
Four China-based contemporary artists were also invited to reinterpret Coach’s dinosaur mascot, Rexy, in various mediums. From street artist Guang Yu’s graffiti print to sculptor Sui Jianguo’s distorted photo print, illustrator Zhu Jingyi’s ink drawing to music collective Yeti Out’s motif, the reimagined creations were worked into the clothes and accessories.
Bright lights, big cities—Stuart Vevers tells us how the collection brought out the uniqueness and vibrancy of Shanghai and New York in the best way possible.
Apart from it being the brand’s 15 th year in China, it is also your fifth year at the helm of the brand. How does this collection mark your journey with Coach?
Five years is an important milestone. As a leather goods house, I was determined for Coach to embrace fashion as a whole and make its presence felt with ready-to-wear at Fashion Week from the start. It was my way of saying “look, things have changed; it’s a new day.” Shearling, nostalgic prairie dresses and Rexy are some of the things I’ve established as part of the Coach wardrobe. But I think it’s important to continue to evolve and move forward and to always say something new. This collection saw more graphics, a stronger point of view on colours, and a more put-together styling for the show. There was a continuation from our spring/summer 2019 collection of ruffles and bows, but we elevated them this time round by making them in rich silks.
How has the Chinese market influenced the fashion world?
I think one of the biggest drivers of the “casual style” in fashion these days has been directly influenced by Chinese youth. This generation has broken down the wall of luxury and streetwear. Luxury used to only refer to formal, investment pieces but can now also suggest a humble t-shirt or a playful backpack.
How do you think showing in Shanghai will add to the Coach story, and how does your exploration of Americana fit into the Asian narrative?
Mixing New York’s distinct attitude and the rich culture of modern Shanghai was one of the things that I was most proud of. Another was being able to give a platform and voice to new talents and faces— it was a way to connect authentically with the show venue. For me, it wasn’t about obvious themes but rather the uniqueness of two cities and its people coming together.
Did the casting of models play an essential role in this show?
While we flew in our favourite Coach girls and boys, we made sure to save some spots for local casting. I got to meet them, and it ended up being a very strong part of the casting. In fact, we decided to open the show with two local models, Huang Siyuan and Mengge Yi, whom I instantly felt brought out the essence of the brand. It was great meeting new faces with incredible personal style.
How did the collaboration with the artists come about?
When I came to Shanghai five months earlier, the thought of collaborating with contemporary China-based artists was merely an idea, but I had a strong feeling about it. Once I left, I immediately started researching and got the ball rolling. I deliberately chose to work with creatives who had varying styles, and had them reinterpret Rexy. While my team and I worked on the collection in New York, the artists worked on their versions in China. There was a lot of back and forth but it was vital for me to make sure that they were comfortable with how we were putting their work across. I finally got to meet them in person this time round—thanking them for their efforts and seeing them happy with the final results was truly amazing.
Is there one look that sums up the pre-fall 2019 collection for you?
Look one. I really love its overall colour play, the vibrancy of those oxblood leather pants, and the open-knit mohair sweater. It’s a little abstract, but the sweater was inspired by my trip to Shanghai. I had the idea of contemporary art in my head, and love that it looks and feels very much like a modern abstract painting.
Clockwise from top left: Coach pre-fall 2019. Models having fun backstage. The ruffles seen at the brand’s spring/summer 2019 show reappeared in rich silk for pre-fall. Models backstage wearing designs from the artists collaborations. Signature Dreamer 21 bag with Rexy by Zhu Jingyi, $750, Coach. House signatures like shearling and prairie dresses featured strongly in this collection too
Clockwise from top left: Convertible belt bag with Rexy by Yeti Out, $425; Signature Rexyt-shirt by Guang Yu, $215, Coach. A model backstage sporting the Signature Riley Top Handle 22 with Rexy by Guang Yu.