Coach is something of a fashion unicorn these days. Humble beginnings in mid-1940s New York established the brand as a no-nonsense leather goods maker. That legacy continued throughout the 20th century, and eventually, it was cemented as an American success story, one replete with pebbled leather and the signature “C” monogram print. More recently, however, under the forward-thinking creative direction of Stuart Vevers, Coach is much more than just a tried-and-true bag brand; instead, it’s a global vision of youth, community, and Americana. His vision of modern-day style defies eras and genres, jumping swiftly from ’70s flowy mini dresses to leather bar-inspired grunge looks without any explanation (because really, none is needed). Vevers’s most recent take on utility comes to life in a collection honoring artist Tom Wesselmann.
Despite his misgivings about being associated with the Pop Art movement, Wesselmann created imagery that aligned with similar aesthetics in the early ’60s. His work stands in direct contrast to American iconography with bold, sensual figures and colors that spoke to a rise in both sexual liberation and consumerism. His later work honed in on specific body parts, most notably a red-stained lip with a cigarette, proving provocation isn’t reliant on nudity. Vevers worked closely with Wesselmann’s family and estate to create a collection of ready-to-wear and accessories that both honor his legacy and build on it, to a scintillating effect. Case in point: The infamous cigarette lips are printed on trench coats and the Duffle 27 bag, and various other motifs play out on Charter backpacks, the Rogue 27 bag, T-shirts, and cheeky (er, lippy in this case) keychains.
Vever’s success as creative director is most palpable through his devoted community—Coach Girlies, as I call them—that the brand wholly embraces. Enter Hari Nef, a muse to many and a doll to all. The actress/model/writer/It-girl is a Coach Girlie through and through, having collaborated with Vevers for several seasons now on lookbooks and campaigns. This go-around, Nef, joined by poet and activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal and model Manami Kinoshita, is lensed again by creative juggernaut Juergen Teller in a series of photos that combine her irrefutable charm, the silly seduction of Wesselmann, and irreverent glamour as envisioned by Vevers. In honor of the playful new campaign, we caught up with the jack-of-all-trades remotely as she films Greta Gerwig’s Barbie in London to discuss the new collection, what she’s reading this summer, and what American beauty means to her.
Which oversized motif of Wesselmann’s speaks to you the most?
The red lips smoking a cigarette. A Juul just wouldn’t cut it!
You’re famously well-read. What’s on your summer reading list?
Amor Cringe by K. Allado-McDowell, The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, and 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell.
What does it mean to you to further the uniquely American heritage of Coach?
American luxury, to me, is utility and easy glamour—it’s about living well, rather than some remote idea of “looking chic.” Bonnie Cashin, who began collaborating with Coach in 1962, embodied this spirit of playful utility through her craft; she devised the signature coin purse-style clasps featured on so many Coach designs to this day—not just the bags! I’ve always found that detail—I’ll say it again!—useful, and glamorous. I aspire to utility and glamour.
If you could only have one item from the collection, which would it be?
Ask Stuart: I collect trench coats! And what I need is a trench coat with a pair of big red lips exhaling a plume of cigarette smoke. In organic cotton!
What’s the most important thing you learned while working on this campaign?
You can do just about anything in front of Juergen Teller’s lens, and he and his partner Dovile will find a way to sculpt that gesture into something bold and glamorous. Looking cool beats looking pretty every time.
Are we going to see Rabbi Jen return in season 2 of And Just Like That…?
I surrender to Michael Patrick King, out of whose brain sprung Rabbi Jen! I’ll always be grateful to him for writing that part for me.
Fair enough. What can you tell us about Barbie?
Barbie was the stuff of my childhood dreams, which gave way to my more recent dreams—and those are cinema dreams. Before stepping onto [Greta Gerwig’s] set, I dreamed with Greta for years—mostly in the back row of the IFC Center with a large popcorn in my lap. From Barbie: expect color and glamour and play. Sounds fun, right?
Coach x Tom Wesselmann is available online at coach.com, in pop-up shops, and via store takeovers globally. Shop some of our favorite pieces here:
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