Joel Sternfeld's image of the High Line sent along with the Coach runway invitation.

Coach is marking a milestone year a few months early.

This story first appeared in the September 11, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While the brand won’t officially turn 75 until 2016, it’s getting a jump this week with its first runway show and a newly minted higher-end label, Coach 1941. The label is part of a strategic transformation that builds on Coach’s roots into what chief executive office Victor Luis describes as a “broader house of fashion and a broader house of design.”

“The collection is really building on the work we’ve done for the past three New York Fashion Week presentations, in terms of the aesthetic and our point of view,” noted Stuart Vevers, creative director of Coach. “What we’ve been presenting within those collections has felt more pushed creatively and a more elevated offering from Coach and we’ve just never given it a distinct title. We felt that the time was right for that given the interest we’ve had.”

Luis pegged the collection as the luxury counterpart to the main Coach collection. “Everything that has been on the Coach runway will be built out fully into a full head-to-toe expression of what Stuart has been working on with all categories,” he said. “Coach 1941 will be in our flagship stores and have much more limited distribution that will allow us to speak to the better global specialty retailers with a Coach proposition that is much more fitting with their clientele. The big opportunity for us is at price points that are above Coach, and yet below pricing — but still the value — of traditional European luxury brands. We believe that is a great big white space and wonderful opportunity for us.” Anything that appears on the runway will be Coach 1941, while the “core” offerings will be “Coach New York.”

Vevers noted that the collection will include an expanded leather-goods offering, a nod to the brand’s origins as a family-run leather workshop. “Ready-to-wear is an important driver of the storytelling and what we do, but we’re really building our offer of leather goods with a more distinct product,” he said. “We’re taking a lot of the clues from where we started, but just making it more distinct.”

While Vevers’ past collections might technically be considered under the Coach 1941 umbrella, the label’s official debut will be on the runway at next week’s show. While Vevers’ past three presentations have featured a loose runway format, Tuesday afternoon’s show marks Coach’s first official straightforward runway show in the brand’s 75-year history. “We were kind of pushing the boundaries of what a presentation can be,” Vevers noted. “The biggest difference is there were smaller groups before, but this is a single moment. That has been a very different challenge and creative process when you’re thinking about the space and the venue. In celebrating this moment of moving forward into our 75th anniversary, we wanted something that felt very special and connected to Coach.” That goal led Coach to a familiar spot for the runway’s location: the High Line. The famed elevated garden has been host to the brand’s annual summer kickoff party for several years, and is the neighbor to its soon-to-be-opened headquarters at 10 Hudson Yards. “We worked with our partners at Hudson Yards and the High Line itself to create this amazing venue that has not existed and will not exist again,” said Luis.

Added Vevers: “It’s a very special moment in time. Ultimately, I would like our point of view on a fashion show to be different. It’s about bringing joy to the proceedings.”

Adding instant gratification to the mix, as well, the show will be live broadcast on coach.com, and viewers will instantaneously be able to purchase Vevers’ take on the brand’s saddlebag, done in honor of the anniversary. “I wanted to take inspiration from our archive and heritage, but to do something very new and forward looking,” he said. “The idea of presenting a bag inspired by our heritage as part of Coach’s first full runway show felt like a really great tension…It feels like a modern luxury bag. It symbolizes a lot of what Coach is about: great American style, ease, a relaxed quality. This is a return to a much-loved leather.”

The bag will be available in three sizes, priced from $395 to $695, done in 14 colors. A limited quantity will be available online and at the brand’s SoHo and Rodeo Drive stores until Sept. 20, and will be released when the spring collection officially hits stores.

“We’ve grown to be a very important, global leather goods retailer, but what Stuart’s done with the new saddlebag is layer on the second, very important value of the Coach brand and bringing us to the future, which is to transform us into a house of design,” said Luis. “This is very much about Coach’s next transformation.”

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