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we're the kids in america: 75 years of coach

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Coach in New York last night, Stuart Vevers made a powerful call for harmony in a divided America.

by Anders Christian Madsen
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Dec 9 2016, 10:05pm

As a British designer interpreting a rootsy American brand on New York soil, Stuart Vevers has been in a unique position at Coach over the past year. His atmospheric take on small-town America and the countercultures of the country, which shaped the Western World throughout the twentieth century, has become shrewd observations on a contemporary America in evolution — even if Vevers hasn't made direct reference to Trump and what the President-elect stands for. For Coach's 75th anniversary show in New York last night — a presentation staged in a motel parking lot on Pier 94 — Vevers put on his most emotional call for unity to date, merging his women's pre-fall and men's fall 2017 collections in one powerful co-ed reminder of the diverse youth culture and thirst for discovery that made America great in the first place. "It's very nostalgic," Vevers said before the show, talking about the NASA t-shirts that established the 60s Space Age mood of the collection. "It's the nostalgia of possibility. In the sense of optimism and togetherness, I think there's something about that time and the Space Program and the rockets and the planets and the NASA graphics that kind of just gives this feeling of possibility. And it feels quite cult."

He couldn't have illustrated the differences between those golden years of America and the current political spirit of the country more elegantly, carving out the rebellious sense of adventure of the 60s against the reactionary state of the union today. "When I started at Coach, one of the values of it that I loved is this idea that it's inclusive — that it's open. New York City is a cultural melting pot, so it's a celebration of that. I think I've always celebrated that. I think it's just a continuation of where I started," he noted. It's the liberal East Coast outlook conservative candidates like Ted Cruz referred to during the election as "New York values," meaning the opposite of what he thought the wholesome Mid-West believes in. As fate would have it, Trump — whose politics hardly reflect those values — is now putting together his cabinet from his skyscraper minutes away from the new Coach store on 5th Avenue, making Vevers's celebration of that fundamental inclusive New York spirit so much more important. "I think it's New York American values," he pointed out. "It's celebrating the best of America."

Interestingly, his collections for Coach have taken their point of departure not in the cosmopolitan America of New York or Los Angeles, but in the small-town prairie land immortalized in film and TV like Twin Peaks and Stranger Things. The Coach he has created celebrates all of America, starting at that heartland, and portrays the diversity and individuality of that culture. "I've always thought that part of the character of the Coach guys and girls is that they're optimists — they're rebels," he said. "I definitely reference American counterculture a lot. It shaped American style. It's those archetypes from the biker jacket to the M65: those kind of pieces become what we reference as American style, and a lot of those things came through the counterculture movements." On his 75th anniversary runway, those guys and girls were one big gang, wearing each other's clothes in a trouble-free unisex — if not gender-neutral — celebration of the fellowship of diversity. "We always had our favorite Coach girls in the guys' show, but they would be wearing their own collection. This time we just swapped the clothes around and kind of figured it doesn't really matter anymore," Vevers explained.

Over his three-year tenure at Coach, the British designer has embraced the grounded American wholesomeness of the brand and used it to reflect the most optimistic sides of American culture, effectively turning Coach into a kind of social and political mirror for the American consumer — and the rest of the world. "It sometimes helps being an outsider," he said backstage. "I definitely reference the obvious because I romanticize, and one of the things I love most about Coach is that it's not some fantasy jet-set lifestyle brand. It's completely grounded and based on reality. It's authentic. Those are the things I really like to celebrate. Tonight we're showing in a motel parking lot. I romanticize something cinematic, slightly eerie, and a little bit dangerous. That appeals to me. I like that we show in a gas station, a building site, a suburban street. I like celebrating the everyday of America." In a country TIME magazine's new Trump cover referred to as "The Divided States of America", Vevers's approach to American culture is a powerful case for harmony in a time of political division. "This is the culmination of three years's hard work for me and I'm really proud of where we've got to," he said. "I'm proud of the momentum we've created within Coach, and I guess this is the next step. The next 75 years."

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Text Anders Christian Madsen