What do iconic American references like Elvis Presley, exploring the Midwest by train and Southern California's skate and surf culture have to do with handbags, clothes and accessories from Coach?
Stuart Vevers, executive creative director at Coach, says those American staples have been key influences in his work at the fashion brand, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a new book, a revamped fragrance and a fashion collaboration with Disney.
The nostalgia isn't completely out of left field given that the New York-based company's founders, Miles and Lillian Cahn, were initially inspired by the supple leather and stitching of a baseball glove when they were first creating bags in 1941. But for Vevers, who was born in Yorkshire, England, and who lived and worked in Europe as a designer before taking the helm at Coach in 2013, the fascination with Americana is paramount in disrupting current ideals of luxury in fashion.
"We are living in a world where people aren't aspiring to stereotypical images of luxury," says Vevers, who worked at Louis Vuitton, Mulberry and Loewe. "Luxury to the next generation could mean a T-shirt or fun playful backpack, and I want Coach to stand at the forefront of the new codes of luxury that are being created right now."
The designer has been implementing plenty of playful elements that still manage to feel incredibly elevated across the men's and women's ready-to-wear, bag, shoe and leather accessories categories offered by Coach.
This level of flexibility to adapt to the ebb and flow of fashion and luxury is part of what has kept Coach relevant for more than seven decades.
"Coach has stayed true to its core values and yet has remained flexible to the needs of not only American women but also aspirational women worldwide," says Milton Pedraza, chief executive of Luxury Institute, a brand consulting agency based in New York that has worked with Coach and other companies. "Its designs adapt to the changing tastes of contemporary women."
Bold color, metal rivets, floral appliqué and embellished patchwork have reinvigorated bags, which still stand on a foundation of quality leather, brass toggle hardware and detailed stitching — are all hallmarks of the brand.
The fall 2016 ready-to-wear has the same unselfconscious nature and everyday appeal of the bags, seen in Western-style studding on a leather jacket, '70s-inspired scarf print blouses and crewneck intarsia sweaters emblazoned with a dinosaur named "Rexy."
It's what Vevers is calling an "American take on luxury" and what Coach stands to represent through Vevers' versions of classic staples including varsity jackets, sweatshirts and saddle bags, punctuated by the practical elements that have helped keep Coach a consistent commercial success.
"American values come through freedom and an openness," Vevers says. "I like that our client works, and our client needs their clothing and accessories to work just as hard."
Further illustrating this American spirit and marking the brand's milestone anniversary is a new book out this month called "Coach: A Story of New York Cool" written by Joel Dinerstein and designed by Fabien Baron. The collage-style coffee table tome chronicles the brand from its beginning in a small SoHo workshop in New York with six employees to the 1960s when pioneering sportswear designer Bonnie Cashin took over creative duties. The book also highlights the decades of celebrity fans wearing and carrying Coach clothing and bags.
Additionally, the brand has revamped Coach the Fragrance, a perfume that originally debuted in 2007 and was reintroduced this September, as a scent that is inspired by the energy of New York City, and includes contrasting notes of raspberry, Turkish rose and musk.
From Ali MacGraw to Chloë Grace Moretz — the current face of Coach — Hollywood has also been an integral part of the brand. "I think it has to be authentic," says Vevers about Coach's appeal and relationships with celebrities. "I like connecting with people I admire for their work or style, but the authenticity is crucial. It's just like with our clients; it has to be natural."
The diverse mix of front-row celebrities at the spring 2017 show in New York included Courtney Love, Moretz and "Stranger Things" stars Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown and echoed the designer's ethos for bringing a broad set of cultural references from music, film and art together.
"I really want, with the music and culture references, a more modern vision of America," Vevers says. "Diversity is modernity, and as a designer, I want to include all of America in Coach."
From original silhouettes of the 1950s to Coach staples festooned with C logos and newer, popular styles like the Swagger and Rogue bags, the house has set out to demonstrate the breadth of its work as well as its customer service. Check out the new Craftsmanship Bar at the Rodeo Drive flagship store in Beverly Hills.
The fourth of its kind in North America, Coach's Craftsmanship Bar is part mini museum, showcasing bags from the '50s, '60s and '70s, and part personalized customer service with cleaning, customization, monogramming and product repair.
The range of design from the last 75 years is clear when canvassing the display at the Craftsmanship Bar. Look for a '70s saddle bag that has the wear of a baseball glove and a Swagger bag covered in cheeky varsity patches.
The styles are all vastly different, but perhaps it's the level of accessibility in the price point and functional design that has made Coach familiar and aspirational to buyers for the last 75 years.
For Vevers, the formula for creating a successful collection that is steeped in the brand's seven-plus decade heritage but still appealing to a new millennial audience is completely about relatability. It's about those iconic American references of Elvis and wide-open plains now injected with flashes of visual inspiration the designer gathers while scrolling Instagram.
"My magpie is that of a digital magpie," Vevers says. "The world is moving fast, and to be relevant, design needs to be connected to the street."