A little over a year since Reed Krakoff's eponymous label announced it was pausing all design and production operations, the former Coach creative director is bringing his signature handbag shapes, prints and colors back to stores when his Kohl's collection launches on April 21. Featuring apparel and handbags priced between $15 and $129, Reed (as the brand is simply known) is exclusive to Kohl's for spring.
Krakoff said he teamed up with Kohl's because he saw a gap in the market for affordable accessories with distinctive design and quality construction. "If you walk into a department store, everyone basically has the same silhouettes," he said, describing them as "versions of the luxury brands." But he and Kohl's wanted to create something accessible and luxurious, which he says are not mutually exclusive. "There's a quality piece that people associate with luxury and it has nothing to do with price: there are very expensive bags that are very poorly made and there are very approachably priced bags that are very well-made," he said.
And Krakoff believes the mid-market is missing not just quality brands, but brands with strong designer identities. "It's something that's unique and true and created by one designer that you only get from that one person... that really creates something that [feels] luxury." One might argue that H&M and Target's designer collaborations occupy that space, but with rotating designers and flash-in-the-pan hype, most shoppers have a hard time actually buying them. And unlike Kohl's previous collaborations with Thakoon, Milly and Peter Som, Krakoff's is a stand-alone collection. "We are already working on the next couple of seasons," he said, even though there are no official confirmations about a continued partnership yet.
To create high quality at low Kohl's prices, Krakoff stressed functionality ("things all go in the right places") and unique production through new custom prints and fabrications. "We wanted to to bring an artisanal kind of handmade aspect to something that — it's not mass-produced, but the quantities are obviously more than one," he said. "I wanted to create that specialness that you usually get from very small productions." For the bags, he sought out soft but super durable materials that wouldn't lose shape when filled with belongings, and that could hold up to saturated colors.
Krakoff said there is a playful, classic sophistication to the line as a whole that references signature elements from his core luxury line. For example, the ready-to-wear pieces are heavy on color-blocking and athletic-inspired. The handbags feature personalization options with pouches and fobs. "That's something that we really stressed in the luxury piece of the brand," he said, adding adding that shoppers will find versions of the Boxer, the Atlantic and the RK40 bag styles.
The lower price point also allowed Krakoff to take more risks with color and details. "[It] isn't as serious a purchase as when you’re spending lots and lots of money," he said. "[Customers] may buy more than one bag, they may buy two or three, even. It just creates a more fun environment and again, I don't think theres anyone in that space right now. I'd be hard pressed to name an accessories brand that's in that space."
If that handbag market was the impetus for the collection, why design apparel too? "The ready-to-wear was also as important to tell the story of the brand and to be impactful in the stores and online," he said, adding that he was a womenswear designer before he was an accessories one. "I think it really helps tell a bigger story, it helps with marketing."
Krakoff worked closely with Kohl's on marketing and branding because he knows how crucial those elements are to handbag purchases. "It has to be functional, it has to be comfortable, but first and foremost people have to think it's cool and desirable and something they want to live with," he said. "It's a very emotional category. When you carry a bag, it’s a badge for you, what you believe in, the kind of of fashion you support... it's really very much of a symbol."
Meanwhile, the core Reed Krakoff brand is still on hiatus. "We are in negotiations with a few different groups, exploring new partnerships," he said. A long Vanity Fair piece published last week delved deep into why the designer decided to pause his eponymous label. "It's old news, it's over a year ago," said Krakoff about the profile. "I'm excited about all the things that we were able to accomplish and we are going to accomplish moving forward."
Preview the Kohl's x Reed collection, available April 21, here.