Coach has built its reputation as “America’s original house of leather” on quality and long-wearing designs.
A weekend outing to one of New York’s many outdoor vintage markets yields scores of Coach bags from the Seventies and Eighties that while well-worn, only look the better for it.
The company maintains that this lasting craftsmanship — one in which bags are meant to patina rather than crumble — has been a secret sauce to its success.
“I think in terms of quality and craftsmanship, we’ve stayed true to what we set out to do when the brand started. It’s of the same quality, but just being executed on more products than we were making in the Forties and Fifties,” said Coach’s in-house archivist, Jed Winokur.
Creative director Stuart Vevers, who joined the firm in 2013 after working with European leather goods houses like Loewe and Mulberry, said craftsmanship is what drew him to the label. Coach maintains an in-house leather workshop in its Manhattan headquarters.
“One of the reasons I knew I could come here is when I saw the leather workshops — I connected with it immediately, and connected one-on-one with the craftspeople. As soon as I saw the workshops, I knew I had a space to create. I think it’s a very rare but important resource to have that knowledge as a leather goods house — at the end of day it’s what we do best, it’s what we are known for,” Vevers said.
Since its founding, Coach’s design ethos has been predicated on the American aesthetic.
Its original glove-tanned leather was developed to resemble the hides used for baseball mitts. “I think we’ve always tried to build an American approach to product. Glove-tanned leather is based on the look and feel of a baseball glove. There are a lot of houses of leather, but not many do so with an American sensibility,” Winokur said.
Also integral to Coach craftsmanship is its signature binding details. Rather than painted edging, Coach bags are piped with bound leather edges — adding further sturdiness.
Winokur said of the detail’s resonance: “It was meant as a protective way to shield bags, but we started to play with color and do a contrast binding on Sixties women’s bags, which is when [the binding] became a visual component as well.”
A heavy-duty turn-lock closure is a design element that was added to the brand’s visual repertoire in the Sixties, at the behest of then-creative director Bonnie Cashin. This detail, added to collections circa 1964, was inspired by clasps on convertible vehicle tops.
These varying hallmarks were developed with visual distinction and functionality at top of mind.
“I think those vintage bags are very simple in design, and how they were binded ended up making a product that’s really lasted. I’ve seen some bags that are very well loved, but because of the thickness of leather we were using in the Seventies and Eighties, and the binding, they’ve held up,” Winokur said.
Carrying this ethos into the future, Vevers implemented a list of house codes upon his arrival at Coach — laying out design and craftsmanship hallmarks to carry forward in all commercial collections.
“I think at the end of the day, Coach is a reference in America,” Vevers said. “It’s so well-known in America because everyone has a story [attached to the brand]. The glove-tanned leather — all those bags was a real reference for Coach, and we are glad to have brought it back in a strong way.”