Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. So what does the unfamiliar gestate, in a creative brain? Fascination, perhaps. Stuart Vevers certainly seems to be fascinated with his new digs at Coach 1941, its HQ towering over the High Line bang in the center of New York City. There’s a wide-eyed wonder, a wholehearted embracing of Americana in his work. It must all seem like a dream to a boy from Yorkshire who dared to think big.
That’s painting Vevers as a slack-jawed yokel, but his Coach 1941 collections do play fast and bold with American archetypes in a way that an American designer would never attempt. He’s evidently enamored with his new home, so after a Spring show devoted to Andy Warhol (could there be a more American artist?), he dedicated his Fall 2016 collection to American music, to late-’70s hip-hop, and Bruce Springsteen.
Sounds like a strange mash-up: Fab 5 Freddy and The Boss? It mostly manifested in accessory tricks, such as Born In the USA bandanas knotted around necks and hips, or deep bucket hats tugged low on the face. A few jackets in patched leathers of various variegated browns were distinctly ’70s, but otherwise what Vevers showed was a luxed-out bunch of menswear staples, the sort of lumberjack shirts, peacoats, down jackets, and battered Perfectos that guys (and a few girls) have already got in their closets. Granted, a few of the leathers looked as if half a dozen jackets were ripped apart and stitched together in a modern, never-before-seen hybrid. They were a lot of work, but they wound up appearing pretty basic.
Which is a decidedly good thing. Vevers talked about the notion of “heroing the blue collar” in this collection; I wound up thinking how old-fashioned it seems to wear a tricky, tricksy outfit that seems overtly “designed.”
It was meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar garments—staples, basics, codes, whatever you want to dub them—that Vevers was really interested in this time around:Archetypes was his choice noun: “A cool sweatshirt, a witty bag, and a pumped-up sneaker—that’s what appeals to me today, and to a younger guy. That could be luxury.” Cool is a word Vevers is interested in, too—a quintessentially American notion, it popped up in the ’40s, when Coach was founded (the label celebrates its 75th birthday this year) and when the idea of the teenager first began to be mooted as a cultural touchstone. And Vevers’s clothes today looked, simply, cool. Cool jackets, cool sweaters, a cool bunch of the brand’s signature reversed shearling coats—“our version of fur”— whose fuzzy-wuzzy dandelion-fluff volume emphatically punctuated the show. Vevers asserts those sell out as soon as they hit the floor. They were great, like the rest of these clothes, although they weren’t going to move the goalposts of the fashion business.
Neither should they aspire to. Accessible luxury is the game Coach is in, but, for Vevers, accessibility isn’t just financial but aesthetic. His Coach clothes are dumb—but dumb cleverly done. References everyone can understand, in clothes everyone can get, both ideologically and on their backs. The designer batted at the gargantuan down coat, inflated to GhostbustersStay Puft Marshmallow Man proportions, and said, laughing: “I do see people dressed like this in NYC!” I’ve been there in February for Fashion Week, so I agree. If there’s any justice in the world, this collection means Vevers will see plenty more customers come fall—and they’ll be bearing the Coach label.