The husband-and-wife duo famously developed hides inspired by baseball glove materials — using the leather in bags and small accessories to forge an all-American aesthetic.
Coach began as a family-run workshop in a Manhattan loft in 1941. The company started with six leather-workers 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 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 being nearly indestructible. 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.
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.
The firm’s offerings ultimately expanded exponentially under the watch of former president and executive creative director Reed Krakoff and current creative director Stuart Vevers. A representative for Coach did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cahn is survived by daughters Julie and Susi, son David and five grandchildren.