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).
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.
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.
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.
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.