Lillian Cahn, who founded the Coach Leatherware Co. with her husband, Miles, and whose handbags went on to become staples in working women’s wardrobes, died March 4 in Manhattan. She was 89.
Cahn was born in the town of Sátoraljaújhely, in present day Hungary. Her father emigrated to the U.S. in 1928 and settled in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where she grew up. She later moved to Manhattan to study acting, where she met her husband.
Coach began as a family-run workshop in a Manhattan loft in 1941. The company started with six leatherworkers who made men’s leather goods. Five years later, the Cahns joined the contractor, then known as Gail Leather Products. The Cahns were owners of a leather handbag manufacturing business and were knowledgeable about the leather business. In 1961, the Cahns bought out the factory’s owners in a leveraged buyout.
At Lillian’s suggestion, the Cahns started making women’s handbags, with leather used to make baseball gloves. Through excessive wear and abrasion, the leather in the glove became soft and supple. Under the brand name Coach, the sturdy cowhide bags were an immediate hit and earned a reputation for lasting forever. In 1961, the Cahns hired sportswear pioneer Bonnie Cashin to design Coach handbags. She revolutionized the product’s design, making handbags with side pockets, coin purses and brighter colors.
Lillian Cahn, sounding like any fashion maven lusting after a must-have item, confessed to WWD in 2000 that she had an ulterior motive for hiring Cashin. “I was always dreaming after Bonnie’s clothes in the Town & Country shop at Lord & Taylor,” she said. “I couldn’t afford them, but I loved them. When we decided we were going to launch a women’s collection, I called her right away!”
Part of Cahn’s role at Coach was to develop relationships with the media and high-profile women, who frequently wore the handbags, as well as offer the female point of view when it came to design. She also raised Coach’s profile by aligning the company with philanthropic projects such as the New York Public Library and the Food Bank for New York City. In July 1985, the Cahns struck a deal to sell Coach Leatherware to Sara Lee Corp. for a reported $30 million. The brand became part of Sara Lee’s Hanes Group. Lew Frankfort, current chairman and chief executive officer of Coach Inc., couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.
In an interview with WWD in 1985, Miles Cahn said he and his wife decided to sell the business to devote more time to their growing goat farm and cheese production business called Coach Farm in Gallatinville, N.Y., which they began in 1983. According to the Coach Farm Web site, the farm supplies the restaurants of Mario Batali (who is married to the Cahns’ daughter, Susan), Daniel Boulud, Peter X. Kelly and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, among others. The Cahns sold the farm five years ago.
Besides her husband and daughter, Susan, Cahn is survived by another daughter, Julie; a son, David; a sister, Judy Miller; a brother, Lou Lenart, and five grandchildren.
@chanel and @pharrell dropped what’s being dubbed as the world’s most exclusive sneakers yesterday. The Adidas Originals NMD Hu, which Williams designed in collaboration with Chanel and @adidasoriginals, has a waiting list of over 120K people who pre-registered online at chanelatcolette.fr –– and only 500 pairs are on sale. The singer predicted the resale value of the shoes could reach $40K. Read the full interview on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdfashion (📷: Dominique Maître)
@imanshumpert is diving deeper into his creative endeavors and relaunching his clothing line, Post 90s, and is helping to raise money for the hurricane victims in St. Maarten with a jersey he’s designed with his brother. The Cleveland Cavaliers player talked to WWD about kneeling during the national anthem, working with fashion brands and how he wants to be more than an @nba player. Read the interview on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
Not only does #TheProfit return to CNBC tonight, but @marcuslemonis has launched @shopmarcus, a new shopping and lifestyle retail experience in Aspen and Chicago, with more locations to come. The retail stores offer in-store stylists and a variety of contemporary womenswear selections.
“It’s life, I’m going to face it,” @mingxi11 sighed. “I fell, but you know, I think the most important thing is that I get back up. I had the love, the help from my sister — the girl next to me Gizele [Oliveira] — she’s so nice. When I went backstage everybody was trying to comfort me like ‘Oh Ming, it’s OK.’ I’m really, really touched. I think it’s them who gave me the courage to go back on stage for the finale,” Xi told WWD of her fall at the @victoriassecret fashion show. (📷: David Fisher) #wwdfashion #vsfashionshow #victoriassecret
@louisvuitton tapped @therealpeterlindbergh for its latest city-centric photo book, which is part of a series called Fashion Eye. The primarily black and white book captures the spirit of Berlin in 57 images shot between 1989 and 2019. “Berlin is an inspiration for me, more than a city. I mean @millajovovich is simply Berlin!” said Lindbergh. #wwdfashion
“You know, I think audiences expect a certain performance so I have to deliver to them what they’re expecting to a certain degree. But I’m also a different actor and a different person, I have my own spin on the character,” says @noahegalvin of his takeover of the leading role in “Dear Evan Hansen” following the departure of @bensplatt, who originated the role. Read WWD’s interview with the 23-year-old actor on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
For pre-fall 2018, @etro created richly-colored wonderland, using tapestries, textiles and wallpapers from the Eastern world at large. The line featured floral and graphic prints and jacquard motifs, like this two-piece look featured here. #wwdfashion (📷: Giovanna Pavesi)
@kith is moving into children’s. The men’s and women’s streetwear brand has launched Kidset, a Kith kids line located in New York at 64 Bleecker Street. The line includes mini versions of staple Kith pieces like the Astor bomber jacket and the Kith box logo sweatshirts, along with a wall that can display up to 120 pairs of shoes from @adidas, @newbalance, @timberland and more. #wwdfashion
“I just wanted to create this fully rounded character, but I do think what excited me most was just the opportunity to give a group of people representation that I feel needs it. I like to do characters in projects that stand for something and Karolina definitely does, so that was really exciting to me,” @ginnygardner says of her new role in @hulu’s “The Runaways.” Gardner plays Karolina Dean, a queer superhero, which is a rarity for @marvel. Read more about Gardner’s character on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @dandoperalski)