Models on Runway_Credit Mitchell Sams

Viewed from afar, Coach’s venue for its spring/summer 2016 ready-to-wear runway show resembles a giant greenhouse. Parked on top of the High Line, an elevated park that snakes through lower Manhattan, the pristine set-up boasting floor-to-ceiling windows is flanked by New York’s prime estate, one of them a still-under-construction tower of glass, concrete and steel. When completed, part of the 47-storey building will house Coach’s new headquarters.

With the brand’s new home looming in the background, excitement is naturally buzzing through the air. Coach turns 75 in 2016, and in some ways, today’s runway show—the first-ever for its burgeoning Coach 1941 womenswear line—honours that milestone. Executive Creative Director Stuart Vevers, who was roped in by the American brand in 2013 to rejuvenate its business, is standing at the creative epicentre of all the developments at the leather goods giant.

16Sp0426_LB

“I think a certain amount of pressure definitely helps,” the 42-year-old British designer explains of the expectations resting on his shoulders. “I do what I can, what I believe in and I’m staying true to that. But I also feel like I have enough people on this journey with me. They’re beginning to understand this new direction I’m taking. I’m very confident about where we’re going.”

Vevers has steered Coach onto unexplored territory with a much-lauded women’s fall/winter ready-to-wear collection in 2014. More than just diversifying the brand’s offerings, the well-received showing turned Coach into a potential prêt-à-porter player overnight. One year later, Vevers followed up with the brand’s first menswear runway show in London, churning out a collection of easy essentials that juxtaposed trippy acid colours with big cat prints. Now, under a cloudless September sky in New York, Vevers is about to do the same with Coach 1941’s womenswear line. “It’s time to show people what makes the Coach girl different,” he says.

On a mirrored catwalk circling a make-believe prairie field, Vevers sends out a collection that reflects the “magpie-like” approach girls today employ to build their wardrobe. “It’s a reality: A beautiful leather coat with a t-shirt; the high-and-low mix that somehow feels youthful and contemporary… Fashion is more and more about the story each individual item tells,” Vevers says.

16Sp0448_LB

Bohemian patchwork floral dresses form the skeleton of the collection, while an assortment of supple leather outerwear and bold-coloured suits give the eclectic range its flesh and muscle. Biker jackets made out of colourful patches of calf leather bear an uncanny resemblance to the agricultural topography of the American Midwest, while suede vests come updated with cowgirl yoke details. Adorable sweaters knitted with scenes of the Mojave Desert at dusk—even the unlikely one of a dinosaur running loose. “I’ve already asked them to make that one in men’s sizes,” Vevers laughs.

16Sp0374_LB

It’s evident from each passing season that the Coach girl is a fearless adventurer travelling across America in her dusty Chevy, making occasional pit-stops at abandoned gas stations or zipping past snow-capped Alaskan towns. New York will always be the starting point of this epic road trip. And Vevers, of course, is in it for the ride. “Except I can’t drive!” Vevers jokes.

Whether he’s in the driver’s seat or not, Vevers timely update of nostalgic Americana for a new generation at Coach 1941 couldn’t have come at a better time. “When I first joined Coach, there was something in the air. So many other brands were referencing American style. From jeans to sneakers, we’re all wearing American icons,” Vevers observes, “and the reason why they work for us even today is because they come from very practical places.”

16Sp0396_LB

Considering how practicality and functionality are two codes deeply ingrained in the DNA of the company best known for its affordable handbags, this partnership between Vevers and Coach is set to thrive. “I want to embrace Coach’s democratic nature,” Vevers explains, firm in his belief that the brand can be a genuine alternative to the world of traditional luxury.

“I’m not playing with the fantastical. I’m trying to make the everyday romantic instead. Because I’m an outsider, I see beauty in a gas station in the middle of nowhere. And that romance is so appealing now.”

By Gerald Tan