When Gordon Thompson III joined Cole Haan as executive vice president and creative director in 1999, he knew he had quite a challenge on his hands.

“Cole Haan had great ingredients, but a lousy recipe…it’s been a very rational brand without a lot of emotion,” Thompson recently told WWD. “The last three years have been devoted to reengineering, and reintroducing a lot of emotion in women.”

Thompson immediately jazzed up the footwear assortment and added the Nike Air technology, which quickly became a Cole Haan classic. Under his direction, Cole Haan has diversified into handbags, which are produced in-house; outerwear, licensed to G-III Apparel Group, and watches with Fossil. Last spring, the Nike Inc. divisionlaunched the G Series shoe collection, which combines Nike technology with designs that skew a younger, hipper customer.

Cole Haan’s philosophy? “It’s casual luxury coupled with an American fashion brand,” said Thompson.


Since joining Coach in 1996, Reed Krakoff has steered the reinvention of a classic handbag brand into an accessories powerhouse. Under his fashion direction, the 62-year-old New York-based company has become one of fashion’s most successful firms, with stellar sales and earnings results that have made it a Wall Street darling as well as a consumer favorite.

A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, Krakoff designed women’s wear at Polo Ralph Lauren and was creative director at Tommy Hilfiger before joining Coach, where he quickly began an overhaul. He started using more fabrics and lighter-weight leathers. The product line now includes gloves, shoes, sunglasses and luggage as well as furniture and a selection of men’s and women’s wear. For fall, Coach’s offerings include patchwork totes and fur gloves, wristlets and outerwear such as shearlings and ski jackets.


Few master the art of must-have handbags like Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. Since joining Vuitton as artistic director in 1997, he created a ready-to-wear collection, and overhauled the signature leather goods assortment, making Vuitton red-hot again.Jacobs’ first hit, in spring 1998, was the pastel Monogram Vernis, a glossy, patent leather handbag with the Vuitton icons in relief. He followed it up by collaborating with designer Stephen Sprouse on graffiti handbags, and illustrator Julie Verhoeven for delightful snail, butterfly and owl collages.

But Vuitton’s latest, the rainbow-colored monogrammed bags with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, looks set to become a new landmark for the house. Within days of the spring 2003 collection, waiting lists were drawn, a black market erupted on eBay, and near-perfect copies trickled onto Canal Street. Everyone, it seems, wants a Murakami these days. “The reach of it, we had no idea,” Jacobs said in a recent interview. “I love that we’re involved in the creation of something that almost seems historic.”


Bottega Veneta is known for its high-quality, artisanal accessories, and Tomas Maier has continued to build on this tradition while adding some modern touches. Maier joined the 37-year-old Italian luxury firm as creative director in 2001, shortly after the company was purchased by Gucci Group. Under his leadership, Bottega has stayed close to its heritage with a focus on craftsmanship while adding new weaves such as the zigzag, which brings some zip to the brand, as well as adornments such as fringe, beads and ceramic trimmings.

To underscore the brand’s exclusivity, Maier has created limited editions and artistic collaborations each season, including one this past spring with mixed-media artist Nancy Lorenz to create lacquer-and-leather boxes.

A native of Germany, Maier trained at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris and worked at some luxury goods houses, including Hermès, where he was the women’s rtw designer and also designed leather goods and accessories. Maier began his own collection called Poolwear in 1998, which he continues to produce.

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