European designers have their maisons, Cartier has its mansion, Polo has its bar and now Coach has...a house. The name Coach House, which is what Coach has chosen to call its new three-level Fifth Avenue flagship, open Friday, is decidedly in opposition to the exclusive air projected by its luxury neighbors, from Cartier to Valentino to, unfortunately, Trump Tower.
"I think Coach should have a different approach to luxury," explained CEO Victor Luis during a press preview for the store on Thursday. "We're on Fifth Avenue, which is the luxury shopping destination of New York, maybe even of America, and I want us to have a distinct point of view; I want us to be warm; I want us to be inviting; I want us to be personal."
That said, Coach House isn't exactly a mom-and-pop shop, though Luis joked about putting a bell on the front door that dings as people walk in. At 20,000 square feet, it's the brand's biggest store in the world. Impressive elements include a wide blackened steel and concrete staircase, a glass-enclosed elevator, and other high-end, yet classic architectural and design details. On the more whimsical front, upon entering, guests are confronted by a striking 12-foot dinosaur sculpture made out of Coach handbags and a mechanized conveyor belt installed with Coach products on the ceiling. On the second floor, a large, wooden contemporary sculpture — traced from an iconic rock in Central Park — accents the menswear section.
Other concepts unique to Coach House reflect the industry's apparent customization boom, like an area to create your own Coach Rogue handbag, and the Coach House Workshop, where several craftsmanship services, including monogramming — which can be done on the spot — are underway. Coach's heritage as a leather manufacturer is featured heavily via the aforementioned services, and a wide selection of the brand's time-honored, classic bag styles. And though Coach is primarily known for — and still makes the vast majority of its revenue from — leather goods, Vevers's undeniably appealing (especially those cozy shearling coats) fall ready-to-wear is also given a decent amount of real estate.
But the biggest (intentional) takeaway is how much the vibe differs from the other stores lining Fifth Avenue, to which an editor of this very site once wore sweatpants to see if associates would be nice to her. "There's an approachability to it which is American, too," said Luis. "We're not about exclusivity; we're not about things that people can't touch or feel or that are so expensive." Of course, there's something to be said for the fact that the store is on Fifth Avenue, next to all these stuffy European luxury brands to which Coach wants to be the cool, relatable, American alternative.
The store's debut signals the end of Coach's 75th anniversary year and a moment when its long, grueling turnaround efforts have finally begun to take hold. In hiring Stuart Vevers from Loewe, collaborating with the likes of Steven Meisel and Karl Templer on ad campaigns, starting to show during NYFW, reducing in-store promotions and, most recently, decreasing its presence in department stores, Luis was working to elevate Coach's image and gain acceptance from the fashion community. He's succeeded both in that and in bringing sales back up. Coach House, which also opened in London and will likely crop up in other "key fashion capitals" around the world, according to Luis, is meant to help Coach compete with those European luxury brands while also conveying that it isn't one. "Some European brands would traditionally call it a 'maison.' 'House' is a warm, American reference," he noted. It's also meant to be both modern and classic, so most technology is behind the scenes to protect the store's warm vibes, even reflected in the choice of yellow instead of white light. "We want the store on the corner to shine like a beacon of nostalgic yellow light."
Speaking of nostalgia, the dinosaur that Vevers incorporated into some of his earlier designs for the house, and that has now been given a name (Rexy) and a gender (female), is everywhere: the aforementioned 12-foot leather sculpture, jewelry, leather goods, keychains and in various decorative knick knacks. "It has nothing to do with our heritage," explained Vevers, then correcting himself: "She, I should say. It was just something I felt myself and the design team felt emotional about and our client has reacted in the same way, and yeah, it is surprising that today the Coach mascot is a dinosaur called Rexy, but I think that's kind of fun."
In addition to Rexy, Vevers has given Coach its own wearable-yet-chic ready-to-wear aesthetic of which fashion people and celebrities have wholeheartedly approved, with customers responding well to boot. So is the Coach brand transformation complete? "There's a language now that's consistent and clear," noted Luis, though both he and Vevers feel there's plenty more work to be done.
Next up is the brand's first-ever dual gender runway show including women's pre-fall and men's fall 2017 in December. It will mark the first time the brand has shown men's in New York (it usually shows in London) and also celebrate the new store opening and 75th anniversary. Even if Coach's proximity to Trump Tower, where protesting has already cost some of its neighbors millions, might put a damper on things, at least there's a "beacon of light" to look forward to.