Award-winning designer Reed Krakoff shares his latest portfolio with StarTwo.
REED Krakoff looks like a man with answers to two of life’s small but important mysteries: a) why do some women never seem to have enough handbags, and b) why doesn’t she ever find things inside, just when she needs them?
Who could be better informed about the relationship between a female and her keep-all, than someone whose job is to persuade them every season, to retire that old bag and clutch a new?
The soft-spoken, genial New Yorker is the creative director of Coach, the American brand that has re-defined the luxe accessories business with the new buzzword “masstige”, a niche between prestige and what Krakoff terms “accessible luxury”.
“A woman can never have enough handbags because there is always something new and exciting to covet,” ventures Krakoff, whose movie star looks are in the Bruce Willis category.
He keeps mum on the second question. The two-time winner of Council of Fashion Designers America accessories award could think it politically incorrect, not light-hearted, as intended.
Or maybe Coach women are not the type that sweat the small stuff, anyway. (Like hunting frantically for a receipt she’s sure is there, or a lipstick that was inside just 10 minutes ago.)
At any rate, in this age of equal opportunity, men have as much right as women to any number and style of bag they desire, he insists.
“In fashion these days, there is nothing that women have men can’t have. I often see men with separate bags for travel, work, etc,” he exclaims.
A fleeting vision flits, of closets spilling with carriers of all sizes for the constant jags that are part of the designer’s job specs.
He had stepped off a plane from Florence, Italy, in the late afternoon, to attend an exhibition of his photographs in Tokyo.
The folio – his professional debut – was shot for an advertising campaign to celebrate Coach’s 65th anniversary.
After a breakfast interview with reporters next morning, he was jetting off to Paris, and returning to New York after a weekend.
“That’s a typical working day,” he says.
The pace is set to get more frantic, with Coach’s foray into the perfume business and his venture into professional photography.
“The scent is really fresh and sophisticated,” he reveals. “I worked closely with the Beauty Bank team (an Estee Lauder division) to create a fragrance which embodies the many personalities of the Coach women.”
Taking up the camera for the Coach campaign was like the last piece of the jigsaw. “It’s an organic thing,” he says about his transition from styling and directing a photography session, to shooting it himself.
“You have a vision and at some point, you want to move on,” he explains.
“No one was surprised since it is not unusual for a creative director to do the photographs as well.”
Designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Thierry Mugler had earlier also moved behind the lens.
The tough part, really, was finding 65 subjects willing to pose.
Krakoff cast the net wide for women who could epitomise the DNA of the brand: playful, sexy, sporting, romantic, dreamy, confrontational, down-to-earth – the endless facets of contemporary femininity.
“Each was cast for a different reason,” he says. “Some were high-fashion looking, friends of friends, society girls, models.”
The frustration of the talent hunt was underscored, with the inclusion of an unlikely beauty: a pug, togged in a striped doggy coat in the season’s signature Legacy motif.
Real-life posers included New York-based Malaysian supermodel Ling and her sister Ein, 1990s model icons such as the Siberian beauty Irina Pantaeva, and the skinheaded Swede, Eve Salvail, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe’s daughter, Ann, and Reed’s wife, Delphine. “She is my muse,” he says.
The shoot was done over four days; he had about 30 minutes for each subject, many of whom he was meeting for the first or second time only.
“A few were nervous, and we would talk about boyfriends or sisters to relax,” he says. “We didn’t want them to model or feel like they were having portraits done, we didn’t tell them how to behave.”
The result is an elegant portfolio of casually structured pictures – in colour or black and white – of girls who just want to have fun or just be themselves. (Each wears a Coach item, most of which comes from the limited-edition Legacy collection, which updates on ideas from the brand’s archives such as its tote bag and signature brass hardware, like the toggle button created by the iconic designer Bonnie Cashin during her tenure at Coach in the 1960s.)
Krakoff’s focus has already zoomed in on the 2007 campaign and will be seen through completely different eyes, he says, from his debut shoot.
The creative streak runs through the family line from his mother. “She was an interior designer, so I was fortunate to be surrounded by art from a young age.”
He found his calling early. “I always knew that I needed a career which allowed me to express myself creatively.”
A graduate from New York’s Parsons school, he served his time on a jeans mega-brand, before he was headhunted to Coach. He was reportedly hired, on the verge of boarding a flight to another design job in Italy.
It has proved to be the right match: Reed has won, twice in the millennium, the accessories award from the Council of Fashion Designers America and sales have grown six-fold for the publicly-traded company.
Unlike celebrity designers such as Marc Jacobs or John Galliano, whose persona looms as large as their talent, for someone who has helped to lift the brand into the league of big brands, he flies below the radar.
“I’m honoured to be part of its success,” he says. “The best part of my job is seeing a woman on the street carrying Coach. Watching a piece from the pages of my sketchpad to the real world.”
How it all began