The new Coach & Rodarte capsule collection, which hits retail this week, is one of those fashion mash-ups that turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s saying something, because those parts include not only Coach’s long history in glove-tanned leather and Rodarte’s reputation for runway romanticism but also riffs on René Magritte, vintage advertising, the Chateau Marmont and a collaborative process so comfortable that Rodarte’s sister act of Kate and Laura Mulleavy started to think of Coach’s creative director Stuart Vevers as part of the family.
“I said to Stuart it’s kind of natural for us to work with another designer because that’s what we do all the time,” Laura Mulleavy said during a recent press preview of the collection.
“So he’s our brother now,” Kate joked.
We caught up with the sisters Mulleavy — and their freshly minted honorary brother — at the Coach boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills late last month where they shared some insight about the 39-piece collection and how it came to fruition.
“For some of it, we talked on the phone,” said Vevers, who is based in New York. “But most of the time we worked in the Chateau Marmont [in West Hollywood]. I remember those meetings at the Chateau as being the most creative, with swatches spread out on the floor.”
One of the early things to catch the Mulleavys’ attention were a couple of ’70s-era print advertisements Vevers had plucked from the Coach archives. One was a slightly fuzzy photograph of a leather handbag slung over a shoulder, while the other was a black-and-white sketch-like image of a purse. Both had the simple statement: “This is a Coach bag.” (“If we were doing an ad campaign now, we’d do something like that,” said Kate.)
The trio liked the ads so much that they ended up using them as graphic elements in the new collection — with a few sly tweaks like changing the name Coach to Rodarte on the barely legible leather tags pictured in the images.
“What I loved about the original ad was that it was a Coach bag, and it was simply saying: ‘This is a Coach bag,’” said Kate. “And [our version] says, ‘This is a Coach bag,’ but it’s [also] a Rodarte bag. Like the surrealist painting of a pipe that says, ‘This is not a pipe.’”
“It’s conceptual,” added Laura. “It’s a little Magritte [and] a little Man Ray.”
Versions of the archival ads now appear on screenprinted T-shirts and sweatshirts, on intarsia knit sweaters and, in a meta move to which Magritte would surely tip his bowler hat, printed and embossed on tote bags.
The things-are-and-aren’t-what-they-seem theme crops up again in a range of studded leather pieces blooming with multicolored floral sequin appliqués, a motorcycle jacket, a leather minidress and several bag styles among them, where it takes a second or even third look before it sinks in that the “sequins” are actually intricately cut pieces of leather.
Rounding out the collection is an allover floral pattern consisting of pearl studs surrounded by laser cut petals, a design that appears on additional motorcycle jackets, bags and a leather minidress.
Another thing that’s not what you think it might be? The price tag. Despite all the intricate embellishments and luxe leather craftsmanship, the collection clocks in as surprisingly affordable, with the archival-print totes priced at $650, handbags from $295 to $1,900, and apparel ranging from $125 (for a T-shirt) to $3,500 (for the motorcycle jacket with leather sequins).
The limited-edition Coach & Rodarte collection is available at coach.com starting Wednesday and select brick-and-mortar Coach stores (including the Rodeo Drive boutique) beginning April 14.
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