In the two-and-a-half years that Stuart Vevers has been at Coach, he has transformed it from a classic accessories brand where women go to buy a trophy purchase, to a fashion label that has women flocking in their droves for its latest ready-to-wear. "When I started, I deliberately didn't limit myself to the heritage of the house as I wanted to trust my instinct as to how it can be relevant to today," the Englishman told Suzy Menkes today at the second Condé Nast International Luxury Conference.
"The heritage is there, but it's in the past and I want to be in the present. It helps me look to the future to see what people care about. Timeless and classic are words that don't appeal to me anymore. I've used them in the past and after the last recession we hung onto them for reassurance. I think brands should be strengthened rather than dictated by the heritage."
Striking the balance between old and new is not the only equilibrium that is important to achieve. So too — for a brand that is turning over almost $5 billion and enjoying global success, especially in Asia — is making sure that Coach has a personal connection to its shoppers. "Ultimately it comes down to making Coach friendly," Vevers told Menkes. "This can come through an experience in a store, having something monogrammed, and keeping the design warm. I think the idea of exclusivity needs some revision. It can just mean excluding. If I imagine myself as a teenager growing up in Doncaster in Yorkshire, the idea of going into a store and being excluded by attitude or price… I think fashion can be friendly!"
Coach, as Vevers said, is now a fashion house with ready-to-wear anchoring the accessories for which the brand has always been famous. But, while he notes that "fashion is about creating a total look, not just about an accessory", he pointed out that his own background in accessories gives him the edge when it comes to translating his inspirations into new creations now.
"My experience means I can connect a brand story with the product and I think this comes from having an accessories background," he said. "I look at Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino and Alessandro Michele at Gucci and I think we all came from accessories backgrounds. We spent many years in the background translating ideas into products."
As for the future, Vevers wants to make sure the brand is a beacon of luxury. "I definitely want Coach to stand at the forefront of the new codes of luxury. We can reference those archetypes of style. It can be a fresh alternative to the conventions of traditional European luxury. I see fewer people wearing formal clothes and less guys wearing ties. I want Coach to have a strong connection to the street. The new codes are being dictated by the new generation. They don't find status in a briefcase or formalwear."
By Scarlett Conlon, reporting live from the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Seoul