Coach 1941 Tries New Things

Celebrating his fifth year as creative director at Coach, Stuart Vevers wanted to “open his mind,” as he put it after the show, and took a break from the American heartland he’d been exploring these past seasons. This time around, he explained, “the familiar becomes unfamiliar, vivid and uncanny. Dismantled and reassembled. Dipped in psychedelia.” This explains in part why Vevers, for his Fall 2019 men’s and women’s collection, collaborated with Kaffe Fassett, a renowned artist from the 60s and 70s mostly known for his psychedelic works.


Stuart Vevers. Photo: Courtesy of Coach.

Presenting a new take on gritty-glam at the American Stock Exchange in New York City, the designer used Fassett’s 60s era psychedelic florals on prints that appeared throughout some of the collection’s looks, namely sweaters, lace-trim frocks, and parkas. Given Vevers’ uncanny talent for tastefully pairing clashing elements, the experiment was likely to pay off. Using a muted color palette, the prints, mostly all applied against a black background, continued to embody their cultural significance despite being pulled into the Coach universe.


It seems the designer took this dichotomy-like approach for other portions of the collection, creating unexpected final results by merging what has been traditionally considered opposing aesthetics. Think board shorts surprisingly layered under skirts, in lace and leather; girly floral print dresses complimented and toughened by rock n’ roll-like leather jackets; or sporty shorts in plaid softened by chiffon dresses.


The menswear, interpreted less dramatically than in past seasons, was also quite impressive. Offering a more contemporary and cool take on Coach classics, the designer took American archetypes and modernized them with what he described as “a thread of sport.” A reversible jacket that featured checks on one side and bright nylon on the other testified to this effort, and is sure to become a favorite among a younger crowd.


Vevers kindly took some time after the show to talk to us about his inspiration, music, and why it’s essential to take risks.

Coach 1941 Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Tell me a bit about your work with Kaffe Fassett.


Well, he just struck me as being a magician at color. I read about him and thought the way he interpreted color, as an emotion and as another way to communicate, was amazing and I thought “I’ve got to get this guy to work with us.” He created all of the prints you saw tonight, and we worked together on the coloring. Being an artist from the 60s and 70s, which was a specific era of exploration, it also felt like the right fit with what I wanted to do. Psychedelia seemed like a good theme because it meant opening one’s mind, exploring new places, and trying new things.


It might have been somewhat unthinkable 5 or 10 years ago for such an important brand to dive into psychedelia as an overarching theme for a show. It seems quite progressive that you decided to do that. How did you get away with it?


Definitely... Well, I honestly think that nowadays it’s about taking risks. You’ve got to try new things and, to me, one of the references to psychedelia is opening your mind, about letting new things in. At the end of the day, this is a big company, but I have to love what I’m doing. This is my passion and it all starts with emotion – to inspire a big company you need that emotion, and that mostly only happens when you experiment and take risks.


Music has always been very important in your shows, and I know you’re very involved in the process of selection. It felt a bit more melodic and toned down this time. Can you tell me a bit about how the choices came about?


I wanted to play with a sense of surprise. We’ve been known for our relentless use of rock n’ roll, so I wanted to take a softer route this time. Even if it was upbeat at the beginning, there was still something soft about it. Then halfway through, we just dropped it right down. It’s not necessarily something you want to do in a show like this one because you want to keep it going, but I wanted to empty the space a little and let the audience take in the collection in a different way. [The transition in question was executed using a song by American songwriter and composer Sufjan Stevens] And then it felt right to pick it back up a little bit.

Coach 1941 Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

So, what an acid trip might feel like then?


(laughs) Maybe yes.


Speaking of, was there a purposeful grungy feel to some of the collection? I ask because I could easily imagine a circa mid-90s Johnny Depp wearing quite a few of those pieces.


I mean, in a way yes. You know, a lot of my heroes are from that era. Sofia Coppola, Winona Ryder, Drew Barrymore... This is a time when I was growing up and learning about fashion, so it’s something that’s a little bit present by default I think.


What other inspirations came into play for this collection?


This is my fifth anniversary of showing a collection for Coach, and I wanted to try a fresh approach. Part of this was looking at what we do in a new way, like the dresses for example. We thought it would be interesting to tuck a dress into a pair of shorts, giving it a new silhouette and attitude. Basically taking it out of the prairie, you know? We also wanted to give the clothes a new context.


I’m assuming that’s what the choice of space was about as well?


Absolutely! A big thing in choosing a venue is that I wanted lots of light, to “let the light in” so to speak. When we found this space, it felt perfect with the wooden floors and the high ceilings, but the windows were all covered up. It took a lot of work to remove all of the filters and curtains but the need for light was very important to me, so we got it done.


Coach 1941 Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Were you happy with the outcome?

It was perfect, yes. I loved seeing the sunlight on the floor and reflecting off the sculptures we had set up in the room. Those sculptures were mostly there to reflect the light...and then there was the finale, when the colored lasers came on and we went full psychedelic. I mean, of course I had to introduce a theatrical moment at the end! But the main intention was to strip everything back and let the collection speak for itself.