Stuart Vevers & Rodarte

What comes to mind when you think of American fash­ion? The con­ser­v­a­tive stylings of blow-dried, New York ladies who lunch in Oscar de la Renta dresses and Jimmy Choo pumps are just as indica­tive of the coun­try as the pared-down, Calvin Klein jeans-and-tees chic of the Los Angeles style set. The beauty of American style is it’s as expan­sive as the coun­try itself – no single aes­thetic defines it, and things get even more inter­est­ing when you start mixing it up.

A case in point? A brand-new col­lec­tion from the clas­sic American label Coach, which, under Stuart Vevers’ lead­er­ship, has been imbued with a daring new spirit since he joined as cre­ative direc­tor in 2013 (see his AW17 col­lec­tion, which mixed Seventies hip-hop with Little House on the Prairie).

Coach & Rodarte

For the col­lec­tion, Vevers has part­nered with fashion’s favourite sis­ters, Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte (known for redefin­ing Hollywood red-carpet glam­our with their demi-cou­ture dresses), to create 23 bespoke and lim­ited-edi­tion bags, as well as 16 pieces of ready-to-wear. It’s East Coast meets West, and every­thing from the punc­tured-leather biker jack­ets in ecru to the T-shirts, sweat­shirts and embell­ished skater-skirt dresses embody the best of both worlds. The col­lec­tion, nine months in the making, began after an ini­tial meet­ing at Los Angeles’ Chateau Marmont Hotel, and the friend­ship blos­somed as the three spent hours trawl­ing through the Coach archive in New York over dinner.

Here, Kate, Stuart and Laura reflect on their col­lab­o­ra­tion, how American fash­ion speaks to us glob­ally in an age of par­tic­u­lar volatil­ity, as well as the need (now more than ever) for you to use your plat­form.

Stuart: It’s funny, we didn’t know each other that well before we kicked things off.

Laura: We showed on the same day [as Coach] in New York fash­ion week, so that’s how we first spoke to each other, but we [first] met a long time ago, at a party.

Stuart: Yes, in Paris. The fun thing about us meet­ing back at New York Fashion Week was that usu­ally people get super-pro­tec­tive over their space, but with us there was this imme­di­ate sense of cama­raderie, even with shar­ing models. We wanted to sup­port each other. That isn’t so typ­i­cal in the world of fash­ion.

Coach & Rodarte leather jacket

Kate: So when the col­lab­o­ra­tion came to pass, we already thought Stuart was just the coolest. Looking at your designs, you can tell some­thing has caught your eye and taken over your life. You can really see and feel your inspi­ra­tion.

Laura: Any dif­fer­ences we had went out of the window when we all sat down together. If one person had an idea and we thought it had res­o­nance, we moved for­ward with it. There was no sit­ting down and think­ing of 20 ideas; it was more, What are we enjoy­ing dis­cussing in this meet­ing?’ and What does Stuart do that is inspir­ing?’ In our work with Rodarte, [Kate and I] already have a part­ner­ship, so there is a con­stant dia­logue and you are always aware some­one is bring­ing some­thing to the table.

Stuart: I had never really thought about it like that. We first met to dis­cuss the col­lec­tion at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, then you guys would come to New York – and you can’t help but be influ­enced by where you are. Rodarte is born-and-bred West Coast, and Coach is East Coast, and the col­lec­tion is very much a reflec­tion of that.

Coach & Rodarte

I’ve spent most of my career in tra­di­tional European luxury and there was a lib­er­a­tion in design­ing with a more inclu­sive approach to fash­ion. People around the world really con­nect with American style. Whether you think of sneak­ers or T-shirts, jeans or biker jack­ets, they all come from this super-func­tional place and now it has become a ref­er­ence all over the world. [For instance] if a sneaker becomes accept­able in a social sit­u­a­tion, it’s dif­fi­cult to go back to a shoe that is less com­fort­able.

Kate: It’s about your audi­ence. I grew up in north California, at a time when, if you wanted cool things, you either went to a vin­tage store or Gap. I didn’t know high fash­ion even existed. My ref­er­ences came from film, art, music, things that were more per­for­mance-based.

Fashion has always been a big sign of our cul­ture and a huge sig­ni­fier of the times, and will con­tinue to convey where we are polit­i­cally and socially. In the past 15 years, fash­ion has turned into such a big indus­try. Things have shifted and your brand can become a plat­form for what you want to say and make your work and your cre­ativ­ity more valid.

Coach & Rodarte

Laura: I think things have shifted in American fash­ion because of a pro­lif­er­a­tion of retail out­lets. But that has only pro­vided a bigger plat­form for the design­ers, a bigger plat­form for what you want to say and a bigger voice for your cre­ativ­ity depend­ing on what you value. Every brand is dif­fer­ent, and that is what is great about American fash­ion: that it’s accept­ing of so many dif­fer­ent people.

Stuart: That is what American fash­ion has always rep­re­sented – free­dom. Right now, we are con­stantly con­fronted with things going on around us. It’s about stand­ing up for what you believe in and remind­ing people about the impor­tance of being pos­i­tive.

Laura: I com­pletely agree. You can choose what you do and how you use your voice and what you truly believe in. With things that are unjust and unfair, it’s your respon­si­bil­ity as a cre­ative to play your part in the pro­gres­sion of soci­ety. I really think that’s the way cre­atives have been used through­out his­tory. We must find the tem­per­a­ture of our time – it’s con­trolled by the artists.

Coach & Rodarte