1981, New York-Style With a love for American nostalgia, Stuart Vevers looked to the bygone era in music, art and leather for Coach 1941.
Guest entering the warehouse for Coach’s 1941 Fall 2020 show on Manhattan’s 12th avenue – the raw space a throwback to another era before all were ripped down to build gleaming new high-rises – were greeted with another throwback, a vintage billboard ad visible through the industrial loft-like windows. According to creative director Stuart Vevers, it was a Coach ad from 1981.
Also appearing from 1981 which was the height of her band’s pop music fame was Deborah Harry – aka Debbie Harry of Blondie. While her protégé band warmed up the beginning of the show, the 74-year-old badass songstress sang her 1979 song “Dreaming” as the models did their final loop around the catwalk lined with faux fur benches. (These will later pepper Coach’s store displays in the Fall.)
“Debbie and I have done a few things together as she wrote the forward on the Coach storybook we did a few years ago and she’s come to a few shows,” Vevers told The Impression, “I don’t think she never not been on a Coach mood board. We were exchanging emails over the holiday period when the idea came to me. I thought ‘I’ll just ask you can only try’ and she said yes.”
It also tied them nicely together. The singer was tied to another source of inspiration as she was apparently the first person ever to buy a piece of Basquiat artwork. 1981 was a pivotal source in many ways. Backstage post-show Vevers explained the movie Downtown 1981 – starring Jean-Michel Basquiat, written by the late Glenn O’Brien and a veritable who’s who of the 1980s downtown scene from music to art to fashion – influenced the collection.
Specifically, the designer worked with the late artist family who runs his foundation for pieces of art that were shown on bags, sweatshirts and an oversized scarf. “I was fascinated by the era as people did so many things,” said Vevers, “Basquiat was a poet, artist, and graffiti artist. Being in awe of his work, it was an honor to meet and work with his family.” In fact, his niece Jessica walked the runway in a burgundy overcoat with signature turn-lock detail closures.
The coat, along with the leather and shearling centric collection of sportswear was the designer imaginings if when he visited the Coach archives and actually find clothing. “The leather clothing is an imagined heritage at Coach because clothing really didn’t exist until 6 years ago it quite fun as a designer to play and wonder what could have been inspiring me.” (Side note, there was the odd piece of outerwear and one-offs like leather pants prior to Vevers’ arrival but it was never a business until his appointment.)
But it’s also good for business despite critics of the leather business may view head-to-toe leather collections. Honestly, we had a great reaction to the leather last season, so it felt natural to continue that,” adding, “I think with a softer color palette the leather felt like fabric so we were able to push that leather further into full looks.” The patchwork shearlings hinted at the downtown’s creative types personified in the show – complete with a new range of hard case bags in charming shapes such as pyramids, circles, ovals, tube, and boxes – as if the wearer could have made the coat themselves.
The eyebrow-raising sustainability police may view the brand’s use of leather skeptically but Vevers feels very little reason to defend himself or the brand in that vein. “Obviously people to choose not to wear leather and I understand it’s a personal choice which I respect. But Coach is America’s leather house and if people continue to eat meat, I think it’s good not to see that go to waste.” He furthered the point to remind reporters that leather is a durable fabric. “That’s how I see it if you buy leather it can stay in your wardrobe for a long time and I think that’s an important part.” Sustainability can be defined in many ways and Coach 1941 and Vevers make the case for investment dressing in long-wearing leather and shearling fur.