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.
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye