Designers have got creative in lockdown. Christopher Kane has taken up painting. Michael Halpern cast his entire digital presentation with front line workers, whilst Preen duo, Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton raided their old samples cupboard to bring back fabrics from seasons past. So what then has Coach’s Creative Director, Stuart Vevers been up to?
Well, quite a lot as it happens. For a start, the 48-year old designer and his husband Benjamin Seidler started a family in lockdown, welcoming twins River and Vivienne into the Seidler-Vevers household in June. And then there’s been Coach’s viral Make Your Voice Heard campaign, encouraging Americans across the country to vote. And though he’s far too professional to say it, you have to wonder what sort of behind-the-scenes mayhem has gone down since March 2020, given Coach’s sizeable Chinese market and the sheer global breadth of its products and consumers. Miraculously he’s somehow managed to get out a collection too, and not just any collection either…one that may shake up the entire fashion industry as we know it.
When we speak via Zoom, Stuart is sat, crossed legged and calm as a millpond in the Coach headquarters in New York. 'This is only the third time I’ve been in the office,’ he says. In fact he’s only been back to work full-time since the beginning of September, having taken a month of paternity leave and then worked part-time throughout August.
'The twins were born right in the middle of lockdown, so it’s been pretty crazy,’ he admits. ‘A lot of people said: "You don’t need to do this. Everyone will understand if you’re not able to do a collection this season." But I felt compelled to. I had to put something out there creatively that started to digest some of this. If I miss a season so much will have changed by the time I come back, I just wouldn’t be able to start again!’ He’s joking but there’s truth behind the laughter.
Because Stuart Vevers lives on the crest of culture. It is where he is happiest; ten yards ahead of everyone else. He is, after all, the man who created the IT bag, helped transform the house of Loewe and has managed to do one of the most complete image turnaround jobs on Coach. And so you have to wonder: what has been going on in his Mad Hatter’s mind since March…
‘You know we started the season like we normally would, looking for new inspiration, finding something we hadn’t seen before, and after a while it started to feel….’ He searches for the words. ‘… not enough. We had to dig deeper and ask: what are the things we have been putting off? I have always had a fear of putting myself out there. I used to think people were going to criticise…so everything I was doing was too tentative. But this time I thought "no more excuses, I’ve just got to do it."'
And done it he has. The SS21 collection is called Coach Forever and features a number of Stuart’s ‘gang’ - rapper Megan Thee Stallion, Debbie Harry, Kate Moss and Hari Nef. So far, so Coach. But there’s something different about it all…and yet reassuringly familiar. That’s because Vevers has done the unthinkable, creating a ‘new’ collection that features jumpers from previous seasons, bags from the Coach archives and even, shock horror, vintage pieces from some of America’s arguably ‘rival’ fashion brands (vintage Levis 501 and Brooks Brothers white men’s shirts feature in the collection). It is magpieing at its very best, but also totally audacious.
Are a pair of vintage Levis embroidered by Coach a Coach piece or a Levis’ piece? If you have to ask that question, I suppose you're kind of missing the point. Because this collection is less about clothes and more about ideas. In times of struggle people come together…so why can’t brands too? The economic devastation wreaked by Covid-19 will mean more of us will have to buy vintage. So why not reflect that in the collection too?
‘It’s not a single idea from beginning to end,’ he admits. ‘It’s more about items and ideas. We deliberately pulled things from the past. We upcycled vintage Coach bags. I’ve also pulled things from my 7 years at Coach.’ He then proceeds to show me a sky-blue jumper with a rocket on the front modelled by Bob The Drag Queen. 'That was in my first collection for Coach and was the first thing to sell out,’ he says fondly. Next he shows me an image of Hari Nef in a dress reminiscent of Courtney Love circa 1992. 'This dress is SS18. The shoe is from AW18. This is a good example of mixing up seasons.’
Next, there’s a tote that is 100 per cent recyclable- a combination of plastic bottles, reconstituted leather and recycled thread; after that, a deeply luxurious oversized clutch that is little more than hundreds of scraps of leather intricately knitted together. There are tutti-frutti coloured bags made with vegetable dyes and Dinky Coach bags from the 1970s customised with cute little badges. It is Vever’s own private commentary on the cycle of fashion as well as the reality of his clients’ wardrobes. Which is of course its genius. Fashion is so used to sitting high above the masses, this is Vever’s way of levelling with the world. And he has done it beautifully.
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