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A New York state of mind

Alexander Fury uncovers the latest from New York

I’ve just arrived in New York for the spring/summer 2016 shows – the irony of doing so at a point when summer 2015 is only just beginning to turn to autumn is never lost on me, even if autumn/winter 2015 pieces have been peppering the wardrobes of the fashion-conscious for months already.

It’s appropriate that New York begins each four-city seasonal fashion jaunt. ‘New’ after all, is the name of the game when it comes to fashion. Almost 350 fashion shows play out here each season, the first bold, brave steps of fashion designers to define the clothes we’ll all be wearing next season.

The hallmarks of New York style are easy to pinpoint. Easiness, indeed, is one of them – not in terms of design, but in terms of us actually putting the clothes on our backs. Forget buttoning-up and stiff corsets – the best NYC designers translate a languid, laid-back and defiantly American ethos into their garments. In the past, that was in direct contrast to Europe and specifically the precious fashion traditions of haute couture, generally uptight, strait-laced and starchy. America wasn’t having any of that.

Sportswear has been America’s greatest contribution to fashion; its single best-known garment the humble jean. I’m not saying all American designers make jeans (although quite a few have made quite a few billion off them), but there’s the feel of the jean, the sense of a certain worn-in, slouchy familiarity that we normally associate with much-loved denims that’s evident even if you’re slipping on leather trousers or an oversized shearling duffle coat.

Comfort. That’s the word. American fashion is comfortable, first and foremost – referring to the sense of clothes on the body, which also means it can advance exciting new ideas. Remember, back in the fifties, James Dean’s T-shirts and Marlon Brando’s leather jackets were viewed as rebellious, although now they’ve become staples of both men’s and women’s wardrobes.

There’s something infectious about all those American qualities for us Brits – it’s something you can see in Stuart Vevers’ autumn/winter 2015 Coach collection, for instance. Vevers is a Brit, born in Yorkshire; while Coach itself is quintessentially Manhattan, founded in a New York loft back in 1941. Vevers’ latest Coach collection, his third women’s wear range for the house, is influenced by a wider picture of America. In one sense, quite literally: Vevers took inspiration from his journeys criss-crossing the US via rail since his appointment as creative director of the label in 2013. But in another, ideologically. “I think my approach to fashion is quite straightforward,” says Vevers, echoing the general mood of American fashion – albeit in an English accent. “I think that’s the thing that I feel most clear about – I like to be quite down to earth about design.”

While Coach may seem Manhattan through and through (its logo, for instance, depicts a Berline carriage that could be straight out of an Edith Wharton novel), a wider-ranging notion of America is embedded in Coach’s heritage – not least those abstract notions of ease and comfort fused with fashionability. That is something Vevers is discovering with glee, seizing on motifs like Lumberjack plaids, outsize work wear and classic black leather Perfecto jackets and tricking them out with plays on scale (big country, big clothes) or trinkets and mementoes, like the sort of stuff you’d bring back after your own Thelma and Louise-style road trip. It is down-to-earth, to borrow his words, but that doesn’t make it any less desirable. Like the rest of the collection, the squishy, hold-all bags – Coach’s signatures in autumnal shades – are both covetable and practical.

There’s also a sense of the egalitarian – you can imagine anyone in Vevers’ Coach clothes. He certainly does. “There’s a sense of a desire for reality,” says Vevers. “It’s super exciting to see someone walking down the street in a coat or a jacket or a bag… I think I get more excited about that.”

America is the land of the free, after all, and cruising into New York (even on a Boeing) you can’t miss the Statue of Liberty. American fashion is easy, comfortable, and available to all. It’s not about excluding people, even when it’s exclusive.

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Turning tradition on its head

Alexander Fury explores London’s style heritage during London Fashion Week.

London’s contribution to the international style landscape is legendary – and even that’s understating it. Unpick the seams of every established fashion brand and chances are you’ll find a couple of British fashion school graduates inside. The reputation of Central Saint Martins, for instance, holds global appeal, pulling in students from across the world. The reason? It’s the best – and that’s where they want to be.

There’s an interesting dichotomy, though, in London. Because, for all the capital’s reputation as a boundary-pusher, there’s an establishment, a heritage, and a history that is ever-present. The biggest example of that? How about the Royal Family, who celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at the same time the punk movement exploded, transforming popular culture entirely – not least in fashion.

That notion – of disparate, different worlds clashing together – is quintessentially London. Style tribes like Peter York’s famous Sloane Rangers and the buzzy, Blitz-clubbing New Romantics could co-exist; designers dress punks and princesses alike. The milliner Stephen Jones once told me, laughing, that one of his hats was worn by both Diana, Princess of Wales, and Visage frontman Steve Strange. “Well, not the same hat,” he laughed. “But… the same design!” London is about opposites attracting, and how those opposites can seem attractive. It’s Jordan, the high priestess of punk, combining spiked hair and Mondrian-inspired make-up with a twinset and pearls.

You can be both New York and London at the same time, too. Stuart Vevers, Coach’s creative director, spent his formative student years in London, meeting throngs of like-minded creatives – like Love magazine editor-in-chief and super stylist Katie Grand – that would later come to be known as London’s junior style elite. Vevers also found his unmistakable signature aesthetic there. “I definitely like quite a sexy and bold look,” says Vevers. “It’s about mixing that bolder, tougher quite youthful way of working that I like with a real respect for heritage and craftsmanship. It’s a colliding of those worlds.”

This week, the collision takes centre stage at London’s Selfridges, where Coach install their Autumn/Winter 2015 collection for the very first time: a big bite of the Big Apple, in a landmark London store. Vevers uses the phrase “super-heritage” to describe the collection, whose chunky shearlings and polished Americana cool – as well as Vevers’ key bag shapes the Swagger and Ace – hit Selfridges’ floors on Friday to launch London Fashion Week.

In Vevers’ work, reverence meets irreverence – a quintessentially British point of view. At Coach, that includes the label’s own archives and history – 75 years of know-how that Vevers is grabbing, lightly, and shaking by the scruff of its neck to create something fresh and new. Coach’s ready-to-wear collections, the house’s first in its history, have all of the house’s emblematic elements embedded in them, but with a fresh – indeed, London – twist. “I have an idea in my head of someone who wants a playful take on luxury, something a little different,” says Vevers. “A provocative take on classicism I think.”

That sounds very British, and certainly in that punk tradition. But throw any of that heavy-duty stuff at Vevers, and the Brit shrugs. “I like to have fun with it.” There’s nothing more London than that.

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“The Italians and French invented chic, Americans invented cool”

Alexander Fury explores the need to express your individuality whilst at Milan Fashion Week

As the international fashion calendar moves to Milan, the focus comes onto the individual. Italy is, after all, the home of the eccentrico, of figures like the outré Marchesa Casati, who sported live snakes as jewellery and walked a cheetah on a diamond leash while wearing a leopardskin top-hat, and latterly, Anna Dello Russo, whose daily shower of fashion has included giant bananas and cherries. And that’s just talking about what’s ended up on the top of her head.

Individuality isn’t necessarily about dressing kookily, though. A tradition of painstaking craftsmanship is keyed to the idea of creating unique, one-of-a-kind pieces for a discerning clientele across the world. That’s something modern consumers are demanding more and more of, alongside the opportunity to buy into quality and the reassurance of a heritage brand.

“I love that,” comments Coach’s creative director Stuart Vevers. “I love the idea that a girl will pick it up and say ‘This is my bag’,” – rather than saying it’s a Coach bag, he means. Coach clients can opt to emboss their initials into their bags – a service offered since the 1950s, but one that is gaining new traction and popularity with a savvy generation of millennial customers eager to tailor their accessories to their lives as perfectly as a bespoke suit.

That new generation is key. Stuart Vevers is acutely aware of the need to make every aspect of Coach feel relevant to modern customers – fashion is ever-moving, after all, as its latest shift over to Milan fashion week amply demonstrates. “It’s great to look at heritage and it’s great to look at the history and it’s great to have good quality,” says Vevers. “But if you’re not doing something new with it and something fun with it, it just gets very stale very quickly.”

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Amped-up double-turnlock hardware
Metal and leather Coach hangtags
Luxe pebble colorblock leather
Long strap for shoulder or crossbody wear
Elegant rolled handles for hand-carrying
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Vevers’ Coach is new, but at the core are elements that have been in place since the very start. For instance, each of Coach’s products are embossed in the same manner they were 75 years ago (whether with the horse and carriage logo, storypatch or hangtag code) – a stamp not just of authenticity, but of that all-important quality.

Coach’s most iconic leather is American in spirit, based on baseball glove leather originally created by Coach for its masculine accessories (and some items for “m’lady”). The focus of the Coach label may have broadened since its founding in 1941, but the guarantee of quality on the story patch hasn’t, while the baseball glove-inspired leather continues to be put to use with American flair.

“I love the idea of cool, even though people may think it’s a bit naff,” says Vevers. “I think the French and Italians invented chic, but Americans invented cool. And that’s how I always want my Coach pieces to look: cool.”



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The origins of haute couture

Alexander Fury discovers history and heritage at Paris Fashion Week

The spring/summer 2016 shows close in Paris – a city steeped in history and heritage, and the birthplace of modern fashion. Haute couture, the French term for exquisitely realised and entirely made-to-measure clothes, was first coined in the court of Empress Eugénie in the mid-19th century. Today Paris is still the home of expert craftspeople and maisons de couture. Walking through the city frequently feels like trailing through the history books: look out from the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, and you see a picture-postcard cityscape largely unchanged since Alexandre Gustave Eiffel finished his iron edifice in 1889, bar La Défense and the squat glass Centre Pompidou.

Of course, Paris isn’t the only place with heritage and history: Coach celebrates its 75th anniversary next year and is still based in New York City, producing quintessentially American accessories and drawing on the country’s heritage as a fashion innovator with a sportswear bent. Delving into the Coach archives, it’s fascinating to see how the leitmotifs of American design – function melding with form, practicality fused with design ingenuity – play out across Coach’s accessories through the decades. Bonnie Cashin, an American fashion legend who helped invent our modern notion of “sportswear” and clothes you could wear even when you weren’t doing sports, was Coach’s first creative director and the first to expand its remit into womenswear in 1962. “You can literally see the moment Bonnie joined,” states her latest successor, creative director Stuart Vevers, as I delve into the Coach archives under the New York High Line, close to the location for Coach’s first ever runway fashion show for spring/summer 2016 up on 30th street.

A resource for its designers lovingly amassed over years, the Coach archive charts the brand’s evolution, like a natural history museum of leather goods. Over 20,000 pieces are stored in specially-constructed lockers – from the earliest Coach accessories created back in 1941, through to the growling gremlins that featured in store windows to celebrate a recent collaboration between Vevers, Coach and the artist Gary Baseman. Those are instantly identifiable, but it’s the subtler moments of Coach’s history that surpass. The fact the label was the first to launch leather tote-style bags back in the Sixties, which have since become an easy go-to wardrobe staple; Cashin’s love of contrast binding, and of making structural elements such as metal kisslocks into decorative features, punctuating the exterior of handbags in the mid Sixties, styles that still seem modern and daring.

And, of course, there’s the turnlock – a standard piece of hardware, but one that originated with Coach. Stuart Vevers and Coach are rightly proud of that heritage, blowing the turnlock up big and bold, and using it to stud his latest designs for the label, like a badge of honour. A badge that, like Coach’s signature Storypatch, guarantee quality, authenticity, and craftsmanship recognisable the world over.


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