V for Vevers
Esquire’s editors check into the coolest fashion house that has been redefining luxury of late and speak to its Creative Director, Stuart Vevers.
A glance at the list of previous employers of Stuart Vevers—the soft-spoken but loudly acclaimed British Creative Director of American luxury brand, Coach—is a bit like flicking through the front bank of ads in a magazine like this one. Since starting out in 1996, he has worked for Calvin Klein, Bottega Veneta, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry and Loewe. (He has lived and worked in London, New York, Milan, Paris and Madrid: no wonder he needs so many bags.)
It was with Mulberry that Vevers’ name began to be known outside fashion circles. He was instrumental in the transformation of the label’s fortunes in the mid-Noughties, when it was making the “It” bags of the moment. Vevers’ tenure at Loewe was equally fruitful and admired, so it was no surprise when, in 2013, he was poached by Coach to inject some contemporary vitality into an established label in need of a shot of design adrenaline. Over the past three years, he’s done just that.
“I guess I’ve always wanted Coach to approach the idea of luxury in a different way, in an American way,” Vevers says. “I’ve spent a lot of my career in traditional European luxury. With Coach, I was like, ‘What makes America different? What can make Coach different?’ And I think it’s that it should be cool; y’know, American style is about being cool. That was a really important starting point for me. I just wanted everything that we did to have that feeling.”
Last year, Vevers—a Yorkshireman from a “straight-forward, working-class family”—returned to the UK for the opening of Coach’s new flagship store on London’s Regent Street. Its opening dovetailed neatly with the brand’s 75th anniversary—another reason for Vevers to celebrate.
Coach Flagship store at 5th Avenue, New York.
“The Regent Street store, with our new store on Fifth Avenue, is much bigger than anything else that we have in the world. What’s really exciting is I get to present a full assortment [of product],” Vevers says. “We also have lots of unique services and special capsule collections that we’ve done for Regent Street. We have some customised varsity jackets and a few biker jackets.”
And does Vevers have a secret recipe for producing a collection? “A lot of it has to be instinct. It’s about asking questions, doing research, trying to get your head into the DNA of the company but, at some point, you just have to go with your gut, go with something that feels right.”
Which explains Rexy, the brand’s new Tyrannosaurus rex mascot that adorns many of this season’s key pieces. “It has nothing to do with Coach’s story,” Vevers laughs. “It’s honestly just a random image that I found really appealing!” - Teo van de Broeke
Call it serendipitous but Rexy’s popularity shows no signs of abating. It has even prompted the brand to launch a capsule collection based entirely on her (yes, Rexy is female). And that’s not all. Walk into Coach House on Fifth Avenue in New York and you’ll be immediately welcomed by a giant, 12ft Rexy sculpture made out of 400 Coach leather bags.
The brand’s new global flagship—at a sprawling 20,000sqft —is the biggest in the world. Its design is a collaboration between Vevers and Bill Sofield of New York-based Studio Sofield.
“This has been a story 75 years in the making,” Coach CEO Victor Luis is quoted as saying by Architectural Digest . “It’s a truly American story, founded on American values of inclusivity, optimism and hard work meeting opportunity to make dreams come true.” His message was especially poignant at the time, as the hordes of protesters, news crews and police that thronged the nearby Trump Tower were visible through the store’s windows.
Craftmanship bar at Coach House
Founded in 1941 as a humble, family-run workshop in a loft on 34th Street in Manhattan, Coach’s new store certainly feels like an American dream come true. And the store definitely reflects that spirit. In the foyer, a mechanised conveyor belt is installed with Coach products on the ceiling. Inside, the look is cool as it is industrial, with a wide, blackened steel-and-concrete staircase and a retro, glass-enclosed elevator that take you to the second and third floor.
Hot neon-pink signage marks the craftsmanship station on the second floor, which offers monogramming services with kitschy emojis (think unicorns, donuts, the Statue of Liberty). Beyond that, a large, contemporary sculpture in wood—traced from an iconic rock in Central Park—accents the menswear section. Upstairs, unique areas include a station where you can create your own Coach Rogue handbag. No doubt Coach’s heritage as a leather manufacturer is heavily accented throughout the store. It is the company’s new philosophy of modern luxury and a re-imagination of the New York attitude that separates it from its counterparts on the avenue.
And though Coach is primarily known for—and still makes the vast majority of its revenue from—leather goods, Vevers’ youthful and modern clothing has contributed a decent amount to its real estate.
“I want Coach to stand at the forefront of what the next generation defines as luxury going forward because the idea of luxury is shifting dramatically. Today, a sneaker, a playful backpack or a sweatshirt can be a luxury item. Luxury no longer has to be formal or an investment. I’m not interested in a stiff briefcase or a formal, uptight cocktail dress. It doesn’t feel right to me, for today,” Vevers is quoted as telling Forbes . - Ian Loh
Esquire US Alfonso Fernández Navas wears a leather biker jacket hand-painted by Gary Baseman for Coach 1941. Photograph by Ben Goldstein.
Fear not: the Coach that defined a quiet, traditional luxury still exists. But Vevers has injected a boldness that has made the brand an example of how to reimagine a house with a strong heritage without losing its soul.
Vevers oversees all of Coach’s production and merchandising, including its legendary leather goods, but it’s in clothing that he is really shifting the company into higher gear. Coach 1941 has a decidedly youthful feel.
“The new codes of luxury are being defined by the next generation, which wants to spend their money on a sneaker, a T-shirt or a fun handbag,” he says. “And I think a lot of this has been driven by the taste and the boldness of Asian style. This new generation doesn’t see status in a stiff attaché case, a classic court shoe or tailoring. They want something that reflects their lives and personalities.”
Coach 1941 Spring/Summer 2017 collection
For his Spring ’17 collection, Vevers tapped legendary Los Angeles artist Gary Baseman to graffiti a broad range of products—including leather jackets, totes and T-shirts—just hours before the collection hit the runway. Baseman’s designs sold as original art and will continue to sell in print form on T-shirts. Motifs riff on American ideals gleaned from realms as diverse as surf culture and the American West. Vevers also played with Americana, subverting preppy loafers with studs. It’s classic, but not as we know it.
“Words like classic are not so relevant today,” says Vevers. “I’ve used them before in my career but, after the last recession, I felt like people hung on to these ideals as a kind of reassurance that didn’t mean much in the end. The best brands today are making great fashion that is strengthened by their heritage, but not dictated by it.” - Nick Sullivan