The Groundbreakers: The executives behind key changes at influential companies
Creative Director, Coach
American fashion house Coach has a new vision.
The 81-year-old accessible luxury brand has recently repositioned itself to attract Gen-Z, stepping outside of its comfort zone and experimenting with fresh designs and a revamped marketing strategy.
At the forefront of Coach’s rebrand is creative director Stuart Vevers, who joined the company in 2013. For Vevers, fearlessly exploring modern design elements and connecting with Gen Z have been exciting challenges. Coach’s Pillow Tabby “it” bag, which has gone viral on TikTok, points to Vevers’ creative vision for Coach and its potential among young shoppers.
“The Pillow Tabby is a bag my team and I designed based on how we were feeling during the early part of the pandemic,” Vevers said. “It was a human and personal conversation. We just talked about how we were feeling, and it got quite emotional. We were looking for comfort and affection, because we often couldn’t be close to loved ones. So the idea of a soft, squishy bag that you can hold close to you like a pillow felt right.”
Creating more expressive and personal products has worked to Coach’s favor. The latest earnings report of its parent company, Tapestry, in November, showed that Coach accounted for $1.12 billion in net sales, up 4% year-over-year. Along with the Tabby bag, Coach’s Willow and Rogue handbag families, and the introduction of the Bandit bag style, fueled mid-single-digit gains in global handbag sales. Tapestry has said it expects Coach’s revenue to grow to $5.7 billion by 2025.
Coach has also leaned into strategic collaborations. In September, the brand announced rapper Lil Nas X as its global ambassador. And it launched a corresponding campaign, dubbed “Courage to be Real,” in October. For Vevers, the bold campaign and partnership are the exact representation of Coach’s direction.
As Vevers continues to breathe new life into the heritage brand, community and self-expression are among his main focuses.
“Part of my evolved vision for Coach is to create a sense of belonging through shared references and pieces crafted to last for generations,” he said.
Coach has recently aligned itself with “expressive luxury.” What is it, and how does it affect your approach to design?
“Expressive luxury is our new vision for Coach, rooted in inspiring confidence in the next generation to express themselves and my personal belief that fashion should be about exploring who you are and having fun.
Coach has always been about creating a fashion world where people feel free to courageously express themselves as they are, and this manifests in the storytelling around my collections and in the community we’ve been building around the house. With ‘expressive luxury,’ we hope to usher in a new chapter of individuality and self-expression.”
What inspires you about the next generation?
“Their fluid approach to fashion and life. From our increasingly fluid approach to fashion, in terms of gender and reference, through mixing and matching pieces across eras and cultural movements, to our celebration of authentic self-expression, our recent collections have largely been inspired by the vision of the next generation and how they interact with the world around them. This vision I debuted on the runway has now gone on to shape our strategies across the business.”
Including at Mulberry, Loewe and now Coach, you’ve designed many “it” handbags in your career. What are the secrets to creating a popular style?
“Designing for European houses, I learned so much about craft and creation, and developed a passion for those things that I brought with me to Coach. As creative director, I still see myself very much as a designer. I love to sketch, and there is something that comes from sketching that is unique. I love that a random thought can be explored quickly or the slip of the hand can bring an unexpected new idea.
But it’s only at Coach that I’ve been able to bring my vision of a more inclusive fashion world to life — by reimagining the house’s heritage through the lens of the next generation. I wanted to create a sense of community at Coach, and this is often the starting point for my collections. The way I’ve referenced American pop culture in my collections is part of this — it’s about creating a sense of belonging and, hopefully, making people smile.”
To what do you owe your success as Coach’s creative director?
“One thing that has helped me is that I find change exciting. I also genuinely love the story of Coach and its heritage, and find it really inspiring. Perhaps my success at the house has come from balancing those two things: it comes down to knowing when to celebrate our heritage and knowing when to evolve and push things forward.”
What impact has the ongoing pandemic had on your approach to design?
“During the pandemic, I became a father. That, combined with global and personal changes, inspired me to reflect deeply on the future we are leaving for the next generation and my role in creating that future. This inspired me to evolve our approach to collections and seasons with environmental responsibility in mind. My team and I made a commitment to sustainability that prioritizes prototyping and learning through design, and using recycled, upcycled and regenerative materials more with every collection.”
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