Coach is now a fully fledged American fashion house — Quartz

Since at least 2013, Coach has been experiencing a decline in sales, suffering from its reputation as a peddler of cool but unremarkable handbags, and the fact that Coach bags can often be had at a discount – the kiss of death for any brand” premium”. But now, a look around fashion’s top window displays suggests that’s about to change.

Starting this month, you’ll find Coach apparel among the shelves of cool, edgy brands at the New York Opening Ceremony. At Colette in Paris, which buys some of the best European brands, Coach will be present, as will luxury retailers Jeffrey and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Luisaviaroma in Florence, and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, among others. And while some of these boutiques were already selling Coach bags, it’s just as much the clothes – jackets and vests in patchwork leather, as well as tops, dresses and skirts printed with colorful and lively prairie flowers, with the Coach 1941 label – which are finally bringing the brand from “affordable luxury” to the top of the range.

Coach 1941 presented its latest collection at New York Fashion Week yesterday (February 16), following an enthusiastic response to Coach’s first major presentation last September. Having this line debut simultaneously at some of the world’s top fashion retailers could give Coach’s image a much-needed boost.

Randy Brooke/Getty Images for the coach

Soon in the best fashion boutiques.

“It has the potential to drive sales and really make [Coach] a total brand, as opposed to just a handbag brand,” says Robert Burke, CEO of retail consultancy Robert Burke Associates, of Coach 1941. be represented and sold there. ”

There are indications that a turnaround is already taking hold. While the brand’s recent earnings report was far from stellar, it did show improvement. The company has cut promotions while introducing new designs, and CEO Victor Luis noted on a call with analysts that Coach handbag sales in the over $400 bracket have increased 35% bag sales, compared to around 30% last year. . “The increases showed the continued progress of our elevation strategy, with higher prices and more forward-thinking products,” he said.

Coach even expects to return to positive same-store sales growth by the fiscal fourth quarter of this year.

The designer behind Coach 1941 is Stuart Vevers, a highly respected fashion veteran who previously reinvigorated accessory brands Mulberry and Loewe. The English designer’s clothes and bags for Coach 1941 are cool, easy and fun, and they have broad appeal, befitting Coach’s accessible “affordable luxury” position in the market. They have already added much-needed energy to a brand that had become stagnant.

“There’s a beautiful young spirit in ready-to-wear,” says Jeffrey Kalinsky, founder of Jeffrey, who also bought Vevers’ work for Mulberry and Loewe. “It’s not just a flower dress. This is a biker jacket. But the perfecto is not in black leather. It’s in a splash of color.

Kalinsky is also executive vice president of Nordstrom, which will also carry Coach 1941. He says that while Coach’s core business is bags, apparel is key to making Coach a complete fashion house. “In an accessories business, ready-to-wear can spin the fantasy about who the woman is,” he says.

Some of the clothes are selling well, Vevers said, but Burke thinks they’re more about image than sales. “It’s really meant to help reposition the brand and elevate it,” he says.

It’s hard to revive a brand that has been overexposed in the mass market, but there are notable precedents, including Gucci and Burberry. As Burke points out, Gucci was best known as a brand of mainstream handbags and accessories before Tom Ford took over the creative direction and made it extremely sexy in the 1990s. And Burberry was a resource for coats. until Rose Marie Bravo helps it grow into a full luxury house.

It remains to be seen whether this year will mark a similar turning point for Coach, but 2016 is important regardless. It’s the 75th anniversary of the company, which started as a family workshop in New York – in 1941, of course – making leather goods.

In 1996 Coach hired Reed Krakoff as creative director. He was instrumental in reshaping the brand image and growing the business into what it is today. Coach became ubiquitous in American malls and expanded internationally, pioneering the affordable luxury space now filled with American brands such as Michael Kors and Kate Spade. But the shine faded and Vevers replaced Krakoff in 2014, the same year Luis took over as CEO.

In this context, it makes sense that Kalinsky calls Coach 1941 a “natural evolution” of the brand rather than a change of course. It’s more than just a pivot away from recent history, it lays the groundwork for the future and makes Coach a brand to watch.