At Coach, an Eclectic Paean to New York Cool

Stuart Vevers flicked on his laptop camera last Thursday afternoon to accept an Accessories Council Hall of Fame Award for the Rogue, a boxy leather handbag he unveiled in 2016, just a few years into his time as Coach’s design director. “I’ve been thinking about the role Coach has played in people’s life over the last year and a half,” Vevers said to a virtual audience from his Upper West Side townhouse office on the top floor, one shoeless foot tucked beneath him, out of the screen. “It represents superbly crafted objects that encapsulate the upbeat energy of New York, our eternal muse.”

Coach’s spring 2022 runway presentation at Hudson River Park’s Pier 76, which promised to mark a triumphant if open-air return to live to view, encapsulated a purposeful set of contrasts — quality craftsmanship and laid-back dress, reverence for the past, and forward-looking zeal — was set to go on grander display the following evening.

Final fittings were underway in Coach’s Hudson Yards headquarters an hour later, using the same office and a separate Zoom link: clothes clearly intended to spark joy were placed across racks and set on tables. Flared macaron-pink pants were printed with an archival houndstooth lifted from a coat by Bonnie Cashin, Coach’s first designer, whose work Vevers frequently references; trompe l’oeil shirts printed with faux collars and turnlock pockets, another homage to Cashin, who invented the turnlock closure; and slouchy denim shorts in skater-casual silhouettes.

A makeshift photo studio in the center of the room had a huge monitor with the faces of stylist Olivier Rizzo, who was tuning in from Antwerp; Keith Warren, Coach’s London-based head of ready-to-wear; and Vevers. As models posed in the studio, the three men gave a group of IRL stylists directions on how to drop a pocket or pin a tee. A model with scarlet hair walked around in Cashin-inspired leather pants — “I believe they should be shorter,” Rizzo said — and a cotton tee with the Eagle emblem, New York’s most legendary leather bar, which closed in 2000.

Nonetheless, it was simple to see a teen or a twenty-something lusting over the clothing. “I’ll see young kids on the streets of Brooklyn or Tokyo wearing a Coach bag that’s 50 or 60 years old, and they’re reinterpreting our heritage,” Vevers, 47, said. Coach, which began as a tiny leather goods company on 34th Street in 1941, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Vevers joined the brand in 2013 after rising through the ranks of European luxury firms like Loewe and Louis Vuitton, bringing with him not only ready-to-wear, which he debuted in the fall of 2014, but also a passion for American pop culture. He explained, “It’s how I connect with today’s youth culture.”

Youth culture was unavoidable the next day. Skateboarders picked from the streets of the city carved their way across the pier’s concrete surface. Pat McGrath and Guido Palau delivered fresh faces and elegantly undone hair to young models slouched in makeup chairs, a kind of high-fashion carpool lane. Vevers wore a black tee and sneakers to the show and went straight to the green room, which was set up in an outdoor tent, for a cup of tea and to meet his groomer, a preshow ritual he’s followed for years. He then walked outside, past a group of drummers from the Sunrisers Drum and Bugle Corps from Long Island, who would be joining the joyful finale, to deliver his last choreography notes.