Coach 1941 Spring 2017 Menswear
Stuart Vevers is one of those designers as concerned with the bottom line as with the hemline, as preoccupied with the commercial afterlife of a product as the exact angle for its runway debut. Those designers are rare—although, increasingly, less so, given the demands of IPOs, CEOs, and, increasingly, a press corps that devours financial information as rabidly as new lines. Coach has been through some rocky times of late, but the company’s latest financial results are rosy (sales in the latest quarter spiked up 13 percent on the year), and revenue stands at $4.24 billion annually. Before his Spring 2017 menswear show, Vevers clutched a lukewarm latte and jabbed at looks pinned to a board: “That’s the best seller,” he said, highlighting first a bag, then a coat, then a T-shirt, with lightning speed.
Vevers is turned on by the idea of dressing the world, which is why his Coach 1941 collections—for him, and her—are so immediately and easily accessible. For Spring, it was once again a riff on American wardrobe classics. “Every look is styled with a T-shirt,” stated Vevers. They were, but it was more interesting that the ethos of the T-shirt—an American working-class underwear staple pulled center stage in the mid-’50s, and now an indispensable everyday staple for the majority of the planet—informed every piece. Coach clothing is easy to wear, uncomplicated, fuss-free. It’s also comfortingly familiar—both in that we know the garments from our own wardrobes (classic bombers, skinny pants, penny loafers, those T-shirts) and because they have, over the seasons Vevers has been designing, created an identifiable Coach look. They included, naturally, multiple iterations of the best sellers Vevers pointed out. “We’ve reset the idea of the brand people thought they knew,” said he. “Now we can push further.”
As befits a designer interested in commerce, the push was as much about selling as showing the collection. Vevers chose to respond to the ongoing debates about instant access selling. His tagline: See now, buy now—or else! After the show, Coach will release a selection of pieces from the collection, in limited quantities. When they’re gone, they’re gone—and, presumably, you have to wait until next spring. “We trialed it with a handbag in the last women’s collection,” said Vevers. “It sold out in an hour and a half.” Impressive.
What’s even more impressive is how Vevers is challenging preconceptions about the creative limitations these new ideas of selling will place on designers. Half the collection wasn’t there when Vevers walked me through—because Gary Baseman, a contemporary artist Vevers collaborated with for his Spring 2015 womenswear line, was busy scribbling across the leather jackets and bags, less than 24 hours before the show was set to begin. The pieces Coach will retail right now will be similarly hand-decorated by Baseman, alongside more affordable print totes and T-shirts. “It’s about thinking of how to get an intimate voice from a big brand,” said Vevers. You hope more labels can think with such open-mindedness when addressing these ever-more-insistent demands.
Like he said, there is an intimacy to what Vevers offers at Coach, and a personality. For Spring, rather than his previous singular cinematic inspirations, Vevers had been channel-hopping. He simultaneously cited My Own Private Idaho, Rebel Without a Cause, obscure B-movies, and even an episode of The Twilight Zone—one called “Black Leather Jackets”—as equal influence. They added up to a general notion of teenage rebellion; of customization; of personalization, even, with models’ penny loafers pimpled with studs, jackets pinned with badges, and Baseman’s dribble, spray-painted art everywhere, especially on salable black leather jackets. It even infested classic prints, like Aloha florals and surfer seascapes. “He’s involved in just about all of it,” said Vevers, pointing out a Baseman-ian snake wriggling through undergrowth on Hawaiian shirts.
The collection was handsome but made to be pulled apart into individual pieces, rather than proposing a head-to-toe look. Vevers likes that idea, and it seems he engineers his designs to fulfill it. In the end, though, perhaps you can’t judge its success before the sales figures are totted up. Vevers himself summed it adroitly: “The customer has the final say.”