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A Trip into America’s Prairie Heartland with Coach A/W17

In celebration of Stuart Vevers' third year at the helm of the all-American brand, his A/W17 collection explores the city, the country, and everywhere in-between

TextJack SunnucksPhotographic EditorHolly HayPhotographyAlex Lockett

“I’m very proud that the Coach girl is very clear and identified.” Stuart Vevers is talking about his A/W17 collection for the behemoth accessories brand, which had no ready-to-wear to speak of up until he joined three years ago. His anniversary there, he says laughingly, is dwarfed by the company’s recent 75th birthday – but it’s a milestone worth noting nonetheless, and an apt time to reflect on the look he’s created, which has come to represent a kind of modern Americana: a warmly inclusive whistle-stop tour through the codes of the country.

Designing a World

When Vevers joined, he saw an opportunity to create a new language for Coach – one deeply rooted in its heritage but also speaking to its diverse customer base. “Something that was always really important for me was that clothing was a new proposition for Coach,” he says of the challenge. “So now, to have these references in our language, like the varsity jacket, the biker jacket, the shearling…” Outerwear has become one of his main calling cards, whether it be the tough biker jackets covered in sweet pins, or the now ubiquitous shearling jackets in an array of finishes that he’s pioneered. For A/W17 such pieces were particularly appealing, and came complete with his now-staple vintage-inspired patches, but also prairie appliqués and pretty floral intarsia.

Prairie Season

As you might have guessed from the ramshackle home and rolling fields of wheat that appeared at the thoroughly Instagrammed show venue, this season Vevers took Coach deep into America’s prairie heartland. “The silhouette’s completely prairie. It’s like Days of Heaven, the Terrence Malick film. Paper Moon was also a big reference.” The film, for which Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar, sees a father and daughter travelling across Great Depression-era Missouri. From that, “We kind of started thinking about the tomboy. So a lot of the prints, the check, the car prints, there’s that charm to them. The Coach girl has always had that play between masculine and feminine.” 

Back to the City

With his love of contrast, of course Vevers couldn’t be happy with one reference. “The tension is there’s this 1980 New York hip-hop thing all the way through,” evident in the down jackets, oversized trainers and shearling-lined hoods. “It’s the shoe, and a return to playing with status… it’s the kind of status where you made your look from your neighborhood – I like that kind of creativity.” One of Vevers’ signatures, a girlish dress, “Looks like she’s split two dresses and put them together. That self-expression is really important. And there’s a New York thing there.” The ultimate splice of cultures comes from the puffer jackets. “It’s like a bedspread, essentially. The prairie print, the covers – it’s an eiderdown reference but made into a huge puffer.” Somehow the effect is decidedly New York, too, and the perfect fit for a snowy season.

A Melting-Pot American Clan

Obviously so much of a brand’s attitude comes from the people it asks to represent it and, at Coach, the casting has always been particularly punchy. Whether it be Rianne Van Rompaey (Dutch) or Imaan Hammam (Moroccan), Vevers always makes his models seem part of an American dream. “It’s their character,” he says simply of building the Coach clan, “when you meet these people, Like Lexi [Boling] and Harleth [Kuusik], who were in the first collection. And Cara [Taylor]’s in the campaign, Vincent [Beier Kaspersen] was in the last show, Winnie [Harlow] was in the last show. Once you get to know some of these people, you want them back.” The big news this season was that Selena Gomez has signed on as the latest face of the brand – it’ll be interesting to what Vevers will do with the young superstar.

To America... and Beyond

Show now over, Vevers is looking to the next one (obviously, fashion never sleeping and all that). “Literally next week I’ll go to Tokyo with Keith [Warren], who’s head of ready-to-wear.” Sitting in the atelier you witness the comings and goings of the Coach design team, all of whom are eclectically dressed in a mixture of Coach and possibly Japanese fashion. Tokyo however, is somewhat outside the usual Coach frame of reference – one senses that, template now established, he’s eager to expand the brand’s aesthetic.

“One of the things I guess I felt about Coach is that it’s super American, and what interested me was how to approach American style. But also the craft of America. Like these shearlings are elemental and raw, there’s nothing precious about them.” Of the fully realised world he’s created, he says “It really starts with a conversation,” and gestures to the many people coming and going in the office. “You can be looking at something in a vintage store, in a gallery, and it just sparks something else. People always say, ‘where do you get inspiration from?’ and I always think the best inspiration comes from conversation.” Democracy, the most American of values, at its best.

For our A/W17 fashion week coverage, is collaborating with Gasoline, a photography collective working with visual artists around the world. Here, photographer Alex Lockett presents a look behind the scenes at Coach.