Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Coach Class

Here's the interview I recently did with Coach designer Reed Krakoff

Meet the mastermind behind American luxury brand Coach

“The number one most attractive thing is people that are comfortable,” Reed Krakoff says. “Confidence!” Krakoff has plenty of that. He is not only president, designer and executive creative director of growing accessory powerhouse Coach. He encompasses it all. He is Coach.

He does everything from marketing, designing accessories and boutiques (Coach just opened its flagship store in Central) to shooting photos for their ad campaigns. But Krakoff doesn’t feel pressured, even though he’s constantly forced to produce new marketing gimmicks. Instead of drama and flamboyance, he chooses a structured and well-organized way of brand building, focusing on clean, but innovative products.

The genius is known to have a laid-back, almost Zen kind of approach to overseeing the brand. Yet his management skills have catapulted Coach into a very lucrative niche in the market, being the only American luxury accessories brand. “The pressure comes from you,” says Krakoff confidently. “I tell you what, the pressure happens when you don’t feel in control of what you are doing. I think when you’re calm, you are in control. I always think when people aren’t calm, they feel like they’re going to fail. I know what I want. I’m not stressed about it. I’m able to accomplish what I want, so I can be relaxed about it. I think at the end of the day, I know that I have to be the one to fix it. So being upset about it isn’t helping. Blaming someone and saying ‘You did a bad job. I ask you to work on this black shoe', I don’t get any points for that.”

Even though he’s in charge of design, Krakoff doesn’t really see himself as part of the fashion world. To him it’s a design challenge, a process. “It’s like a problem,” he says. “I see it as problem solving. Everything challenges me. Every store has to be better than the last store, every campaign…..” He seems so relaxed saying that, one might wonder if the word “stress” actually exists in his dictionary. Things flow so naturally for him. “Well, it’s all internal,” he admits. “Otherwise we’re not going to be successful. It’s in our Coach culture, we all challenge ourselves. As soon as we finish something, we think about what we could do differently. We don’t spend a lot of time ‘Oh this is great. We do a great job’. It’s more about ‘What can we do better?’ The key is to enjoy the “doing” part, and that’s the one thing I learnt, because at the end there’s no there there. I’ve heard Ralph Lauren say that. Calvin Klein has said that. We have to enjoy the “doing” part. The process part is as enjoyable as the “getting” part, opening a big store, being successful…..”

Krakoff has gained 13 years of experience at Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren previously to joining Coach in 1996. The brand has never been the same since. He took the classic elements, the good craftsmanship and the great quality and reinvented the entire label. He spiced it up with new categories such as shoes, eyewear, jewellery, watches, knitwear and fragrance. But the main key to his ongoing success is that he pushes the brand to evolve constantly.

“My philosophy is always changing, but it always has to feel like Coach,” he says. “So it always has to be changing. It has to make sense. It has to be believable. But at the same time it can’t be static. Otherwise people get bored. I say a lot that it has to be common sense. You go to a store and you put on a pair of shoes. You go back a second time, and you don’t find anything you like. You probably don’t go back a third time. So I always want to make sure there’s something different and new.” To keep customers on their toes, Krakoff teamed up with Phillip Lim, and designed a trench coat together for this autumn. For spring he worked with hat designer Eugenia Kim to do an entire collection of hats, which transformed the store into a little hat boutique. But he doesn’t like to say it out loud, since the brand has been doing collaborations for the last ten years, and now it just seems as if they are trying to hop on the bandwagon and do what everyone else does, collaborations.

“I think it’s good though, to see how other people from different creative worlds think about design,” he says, trying to justify his latest projects. “That’s always very interesting to see a different perspective. For next spring we’re already working on something that will be different again. The idea is to always surprise people. Always keep people interested.”

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