“Fashion should be about joy, about celebration and, to paraphrase my hero Keith Haring, it should be for everyone.”
Stuart Vevers is the kind of fashion insider who could be… inaccessible. A true industry veteran, Vevers, who recently marked 10 years at the helm of Coach, cut his teeth at Calvin Klein in New York after leaving his hometown of Yorkshire, England to study fashion design in London. What followed was tenures at some of the most sought-after labels, including Bottega Veneta, Mulberry, and Loewe, where he honed a mastery in accessories and a knack for creating creating fly-off-shelves It items, including bags like the legendary Emmy bag from Mulberry that once hung nonstop from Kate Moss‘s supermodel arm.
And at Coach, where he has held the position of creative director since September 2013, Vevers has steered the classic American brand in new directions — and into new wardrobes — by expanding the legendary accessories brand’s apparel offerings and authentically reaching increasingly younger generations. (This is no accident — read on to learn about Vevers’ respect for the “next” generation.)
So, you see, Vevers could be somewhat affected by his decades of acclaim. Instead, the man who joins me on Zoom on a 35-degree September day in New York is warm, fully engaged in the conversation and generous with his responses, not to mention his time (the runway presentation for Coach’s Spring 2024 collection was just a few hours later, on the eve of New York Fashion Week‘s official Spring 2024 calendar). We connected almost immediately over the concept of crafting clothes for a club kid lifestyle (his at English clubs, my fiancé’s at Toronto raves) and I quickly understood one of the ingredients to Vever’s success: He’s kind. And humble. And deeply connected to both family and history — that of his upbringing (his father attended his first fashion show ever that evening); that of Coach (he speaks with reverence about the brand’s archives and its roots in New York City); and that of his own family (he took a bow at the end of Coach’s Spring 2024 show that evening with his toddler son in his arms).
It was poetic, then, that Vevers stage his 10-year anniversary collection presentation at the iconic New York Public Library, where so many stories are housed. There, famous faces like Jennifer Lopez and Lil Nas X gathered with editors, buyers and tastemakers to watch the Spring 2024 show where leather bowling bags and mini totes shaped like ducks dangled off the arms of models of different genders and sizes.
The collection, full of signature oversized leather jackets, fresh knit dresses, elevated suiting and leather slips and which didn’t include a single high heel, if memory serves, felt reflective of the next generation that Vevers fondly speaks of — cool, a little edgy and entirely uninterested in dusty old rules. At a dinner after the presentation, an emotional Vevers reflected on his decade at Coach and what keeps him loving fashion after all these years: “Fashion should be about joy, about celebration and, to paraphrase my hero Keith Haring, it should be for everyone.”
Here, get to know Coach creative director Stuart Vevers a little better, plus take a peek at highlights from the designer’s 10-year anniversary presentation.
Where did your interest in fashion initially came from?
That’s a great question. My grandmother was an amateur costume designer and made costumes for the the amateur dramatic shows in her town, and she would always dress me and my brother and cousins up to go see her shows. There was something there; it wasn’t exactly fashion but she was creative and always making things. And I adored her. So she was my first inspiration.
I grew up in a relatively small city in the U.K., far from [any kind of ] fashion capitals. My parents didn’t go to college, so I grew up in a traditional working class family environment and I wasn’t exposed to [fashion]. But I was tall from quite a young age, so I could get into nightclubs from about 15. And I started dressing up and my grandmother, who was a wizard on the machine, would help me make some of my clubbing outfits. That’s when I started to look at magazines and books around style. But even at that point, I don’t think I ever dreamt I would become a designer.
I was always as a kid drawing, painting. So it wasn’t that long until I realized that [fashion’s] where I wanted to go. But in fact my father, who’s coming to his first fashion show tonight, when I first said I wanted to study fashion, he was horrified [laughs].
How do you stay energized and keep inspiration flowing when creating for for a brand with a history like Coach?
I think where I am (New York) certainly helps. I really believe New York is the most creative city in the world. There’s so much creative energy, amazing style, characters, just walking down the street is inspiration. And I think also not being from the U.S., not being from New York, there’s something in that; I sometimes feel like I’m working on a movie set and it keeps me alert to how fortunate I am to be in this city that is so inspiring. And it just happens to have always been Coach’s home, where it started in 1941. So it’s a great place to be inspired by what’s happening today, but also what happened in the past.
Speaking of Coach’s past, how do you go about mining Coach’s history?
We have an amazing archive. And it’s full of real samples, and they’re arranged chronologically, so you have things from the ’40s, all the way up to today. We’ve got drawers and drawers of catalogs and editorial from over the decades. Sometimes I’ll just go down now wander through and see if anything jumps out, and sometimes an individual piece will just become the starting point for something. And sometimes I’ll reference it very directly. Or sometimes it might be a combination of colours, or it sparks a memory of something. It’s amazing to have that resource. But what’s great is you never know where it’s going to take you.
You’ve been the creative mind behind quite a lot of It bags. How does it feel to see those designs walking down the street on someone’s arm?
Oh, it’s one of the best things about what I do! When we were all in lockdown not so long ago, and I was kind of trying to figure out my place in the world and I was like, Why would anyone care about fashion right now when there’s so many bigger things happening in our lives?, it actually brought me back to what I love most about fashion. And I realized that actually, it brings joy and, at its best, it makes people happy. It makes them feel more confident walking into a room, it just gives them that spark when they leave the front door.
On TikTok, I see the Pillow Tabby on someone Gen Z; I remember buying my first Coach bag more than 20 years ago. How do you approach designing for multiple generations?
Honestly, I’m most inspired by the current generation and I have a fascination with youth culture, counterculture, pop culture, through history, but also very much today. I feel like the current generation, or sometimes we call it the “next generation,” teally establish what’s going to come next. And I think all of us, whatever age we are, are very inspired by that.
Today’s generation is dramatically changing the way that I think about so many things, not just fashion. And sometimes it’s challenging because sometimes they are challenging things you’ve established that you feel comfortable with. But it’s really vital to listen and to think about what they’re saying. And I think we’re all, in fact, then influenced by that. And so that’s my approach.