COACH CREATIVE DIRECTOR STUART VEVERS IS SWINGING FOR THE FENCES AT THE ICONIC AMERICAN HOUSE.
“I’m not sure Chucky is helping with the silver leather!” says Stuart Vevers, looking with bemused interest at a mood board featuring everyone’s favorite monster doll. It’s teeming rain outside on this April afternoon, but inside Coach headquarters a block from the Hudson River, the atmosphere is almost cozy.
Under discussion are the handbags that will accompany Vevers’s spring 2015 presentation. The designer, who arrived in New York in September to take the helm of the historic 73-year-old American leather house, says he wants real leather that looks “fake and plasticky.” Presented with a bolt of fire-engine-red calf stamped to evoke crocodile, he likes the “cartoony, bubbly quality,” but thinks the scales look a bit toadlike. “Is it Canceled, Rejected, or Straight to Production?” he asks the assembled employees, naming a game they all like to play. Everyone is invited to chime in, and items can morph swiftly between the categories. “It saves time and feelings to render a quick decision,” he explains.
Vevers’s lively, extremely unpretentious management style reflects the guy himself—and, by extension, the brand he now heads. “We have freedom,” he says, explaining his role as one of preserving the essential American-ness of the label while leaving room for a bit of what he calls “naughtiness and subversiveness.” Coach’s structure, he claims, allows for moments of madness. “I like anything that feels young—a little bad behavior, rebelliousness. You need to be rocked a little—you have to keep learning.” It’s a sensibility that was readily apparent in his inaugural fall 2014 collection, where the traditional tropes—scarlet-and-black houndstooth-checked coats, toggled duffles, shorty shearlings—were worn by a group of louche young models who looked like they spent more time smoking in the girls’ room than they did studying for trigonometry. The accompanying satchels, including a few dripping with fringe, managed to be both boho and preppy; soft totes, meanwhile, looked sturdy enough to conceal a yoga mat, a MacBook Air, and a well-thumbed copy of On the Road. Today, the wide variety of mood boards reflects Vevers’s freewheeling (and sometimes, he admits, slightly twisted) aesthetic notions—references range from Beck in a pink sweatshirt to Kurt Cobain in a leopard overcoat and white shades, from the Branch Davidians to Christina Ricci in The Ice Storm. “Let’s play another game!” he says, suggesting what he calls Point, where random images—say, a mall rat and a mod chick—are paired to see if they might talk to each other in a vernacular Vevers and his team can hear.
“I LIKE ANYTHING THAT FEELS YOUNG—A LITTLE BAD BEHAVIOUR, REBELLIOUSNESS.”
Though Vevers, 40, is happily settling into both his new position and his nineteenth-century Greenwich Village garden duplex—a temple of interior-décor simplicity where he lives with his partner, a designer and illustrator—he has in fact been bouncing around the globe for almost two decades. Born in Yorkshire and trained at Westminster (“My father said, ‘Really? Not an accountant or a lawyer?’”), he has a resume that spans from a first job at Calvin Klein in New York eighteen years ago to Bottega Veneta in Milan and Givenchy and Louis Vuitton in Paris. Then it was back to London for Mulberry, where he expanded his purview from accessories to womenswear, followed by Loewe in Madrid before he decamped to Coach.
He relishes being back in New York. “Coming back at my age, I get to do different things,” he says. “It’s not just getting drunk and falling over! Now it’s getting asked to people’s houses, going to dinner.” One enthusiasm that hasn’t gone stale with time, though: a visit to the local flea. “I do love a market!” Vevers says, laughing, on a weekend trip to the well-worn Chelsea Antique Garage market, where—no surprise—he mainly has eyes for beat-up vintage handbags. A suitcase of what seem to be items that should have been either Canceled or Rejected yields a sad gray Coach satchel from the nineties that may or may not be on the level. A white Vuitton with multicolored LV’s and metal corners, clearly ersatz, nevertheless elicits a pang of nostalgia. “That was one of my designs!” he says.
Vevers has an unnerving habit of staring not at women but at their bags, which is why a fellow shopper, noticing his intense gaze, suddenly clutches her clutch and looks around nervously. (If only she could hear him proclaim, “You’d never guess—that’s early Bottega!” she could relax.) Still, if you think that Vevers is some sort of jet-setting purse pedant slumming his way through this rough-and-tumble market, you are rapidly disabused of this notion when he begins extolling the glamour of Amtrak travel. While the rest of his colleagues are sunning in the Hamptons, he’s doing Seattle to Chicago through the Rockies, or Los Angeles to New Orleans in a sleeper car. He also admits to harboring, without a trace of embarrassment, an abiding love for Disneylands around the world, which he has visited, he says—counting on two hands—at least seven times. “It’s a fantasy, an inspiration,” he says, a dreamy look clouding his bright-blue eyes. “Minnie Mouse’s house! The Pirates of the Caribbean ride! The band, the parades!” Then, in an unwitting nod to Coach’s happy past, he adds, “And, best of all–just walking down Main Street.”