Coach Is Moving in a Whole New Direction: Will Its Customers Follow?

Let's just say, it's not your mother's Coach.
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Lauren Indvik
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Let's just say, it's not your mother's Coach.
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Coach is in need of a turnaround. No one knows that better than Coach's newly appointed CEO Victor Luis and creative director Stuart Vevers. Except, perhaps, the company's investors, who have seen the stock fall by 40 percent since 2009 as sales have flatlined and the sales of rivals (namely, Michael Kors) have skyrocketed.

At a presentation outside Lincoln Center on Thursday, press and buyers were given their first thorough preview of what Coach's turnaround -- if a turnaround it will be -- will look like. Let's just say, it's not your mother's Coach.

At the entrance, visitors were greeted on three sides by rows of mannequins adorned almost entirely in black: black waterproof winter coats and pebbled leather jackets, some with shearling collars, paired with modish black wool miniskirts reminiscent of Marc by Marc Jacobs circa 2003 (see one example snapped with my iPhone, below). Gone were the bright, simple or logo-splayed handbags; in their place was an urban fusion of black and brown leather totes and crossbody messenger bags adorned with midwestern motifs like studs, fringe and feather-shaped leather pieces. In fact, except for the appearance of a few key signatures -- turn locks on bags, for example -- it was nearly impossible to identify the collection as Coach. It was more Nicholas K meets DKNY meets Madewell.

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A half hour later, attendees were invited to sit on black shearling-covered benches to watch Coach's ready-to-wear presentation. Coach, as we all know, has always been an accessories brand -- and a high-margin one at that. Under Luis and Vevers, it's aggressively expanding its range of clothing. The collection (see slideshow below) was good, more in line with the tone -- and saturated color palette -- of the Coach of seasons past. There were toggle coats, bomber jackets and blazers with an oversized red-and-black houndstooth pattern, paired with thick red turtlenecks, red and black mini skirts, and leather boots the shape of wellies. The standout coat of the collection was a ecru number with matching shearling cuffs, collar and lapels, complete with yellow ochre leather patches on the shoulders. The bags here were better than the ones I saw in the beginning. I liked the oversized clutches -- especially the shearling -- and others featured a great deal of long fringe.

Going off the comments I saw on my Instagram and Twitter feeds, the industry is enthusiastic about the "new Coach" -- "sexy" was the word that popped up most frequently -- but I wonder if Coach's customers will be. Do these bags have the kind of mass appeal that has made Kors so successful, the kind that Coach needs to turn its sales around? Because what those customers want is simple: bright, functional, identifiable handbags that look more costly than the $250 they paid for it. Whether Coach can deliver the same kind of results with a more offbeat design strategy remains to be seen. Earnings season will tell.