Fashion All The Rage

Coach gets an edgier look with new designer Stuart Vevers

Forget preppy stripes, poppy brights and in-your-face logos. Coach has a brand new bag -- and creative director, who is putting an edgier, more streetwise spin on the classic American label.

British designer Stuart Vevers ushered in a new era for the $1-billion brand on Thursday when he presented his first collection of clothing and accessories for Coach during New York Fashion Week.

Vevers, a veteran of Louis Vuitton, Mulberry and Loewe, said the collection, which puts a bigger focus on clothing than ever before, is "about re-establishing what makes Coach unique in the market."

One of those things is that Coach is an American luxury brand, founded in 1941. "And a lot of what I see people wear around the world are fundamental shapes that are American, whether it's a denim jacket or a fireman's coat or work wear," said the designer, who was inspired by the rugged clothing worn by characters in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," among other things.

The look was American work wear-meets sophisticated luxury, edgier and more streetwise than the brand was under former creative director Reed Krakoff.

The collection was heavy on outer wear, including Buffalo check blanket coats, shearling hoodies and twill fireman's coats, paired with suede shearling "urban hiker" boots that were a hybrid sneaker-boot with Coach's signature turnlock fastenings. Underneath the warm layers were baseball jackets, wool miniskirts, patchwork suede dresses and retro-inspired sweaters, one with a rocket design and "Apollo America" spelled out across the front. There were also fun extras, including cameo and leather feather necklaces.

For the dark, autumnal color palette, Vevers looked to Joel Sternfeld's photos of 1980s America in the book "American Prospects." A Sternfeld photograph of a suburban street was projected on the wall behind models.

Vevers said he was also inspired by the women who collect and wear vintage Coach purses. (I myself have several scored at flea markets.) The new handbags seem to have a sturdiness and heft that was lacking in some of Coach's recent designs. Among the highlights: the "Dakota," a fringe flap cross body bag; the "Ryder," a shearling messenger; and a black tooled leather tote.

Vevers also studied the archives of famed Coach designer Bonnie Cashin, who worked for the brand from 1962 to 1974 and added several iconic handbag designs and hardware details. (He keeps a photo of her on his office wall as a reminder of how she is "the  guardian angel" of the brand.) But ultimately, he did not want to dwell too much in the past.

"I did some pieces early on but they felt too reminiscent and didn't give enough of a feeling of change," Vevers said. "So I kind of turned away, but hopefully still got some of the spirit."

The fall 2014 Coach collection will hit the brand's flagship stores in September with prices from about $400 to $3,000.

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