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The first thing you’ll notice when you step inside Coach’s new Fifth Avenue flagship is the Tyrannosaurus Rex straddling an unassuming display of purses, her heavy head raised toward the ceiling, jaws open and tongue lifted, mid-roar.
Brown and black leather backpacks stitched together at the sides form her spine, and her haunches are two larger knapsacks. Her whole body, in fact, has been engineered from all manner of Coach shoulder bags, makeup cases, and purses squished, stacked, and sewn on top of each other.
The T-Rex has a name, and it’s Rexy. She first appeared as a metal keychain in fall 2015, and has since cropped up with her prehistoric pals on sweaters and leather varsity jackets. While the dinosaur theme lingers throughout the store, there’s a decent chance that shoppers will forget all about the towering theropod at the entrance by the time they reach the third and top floor of Coach House, the brand’s name for its largest store to date. It’s just that big.
On the second level, Coach craftsmen offer monogramming and bag repair; at a press preview on Thursday morning, they were busy creating and affixing leather flowers to vintage purses. One floor up, shoppers can handle leather samples and then sit down at an iPad to customize a made-to-order Rogue bag. The space balances elegance and playfulness, commingling neon lights and animal sculptures (much smaller than Rexy) with clean lines and an abundance of sleek leather seating. The stair railings are also made of leather, a subtle but excellent detail.
Beyond adding a new ornament to Fifth Avenue’s retail strip just in time for the holidays, the opening of Coach House marks a major milestone in the brand revamp that Coach put into motion three years ago.
At that point in 2013, Coach’s sales had been slowing and it was losing ground to other mid-priced labels like Michael Kors, Kate Spade, and Tory Burch. So it overhauled its leadership team over the course of the year, naming Victor Luis, then the president of its international group, as CEO and hiring Loewe’s Stuart Vevers to take up the reins as creative director.
Coach ditched the logo-heavy bags it had become known for and leaned into glovetanned leather, a return to its roots as a mid-century leather goods company. It hired the legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel to shoot ad campaigns starring Chloë Grace Moretz and a host of edgy models you’d otherwise find partying at at Alexander Wang’s famous ragers. In February 2014, Coach started showing a clothing collection at New York Fashion Week.
Meanwhile, the brand started remodeling its store fleet, updating the spaces in what it calls a “modern luxury” style — one reflective of Coach’s commitment to a high-quality yet youthful look. (By this June, roughly 700 of Coach’s 1,000 directly-operated stores will have gotten a refresh.) But after all these changes, CEO Victor Luis says, “It just felt like we were missing something.”
Hence, Coach House, a grand finale to Coach’s rebranding project.
“Obviously we have aspirations that this will be one of our most important stores in the world,” Luis says. “It certainly is from a size perspective, and we certainly expect it to be from a revenue perspective.”
Fifth Ave is, of course, one of the most famous shopping districts in the world, but recent events have changed the tenor in the area. The extent to which Coach House will be affected by its proximity to Trump Tower, which has drawn protesters and disrupted traffic in the area since the election, is still unclear.
“We’re a few blocks away from the center of the activity, so I think we’ll be less impacted than the retail locations that are closest. I think things are calming down,” Luis says. “We’ll adjust on a day-by-day basis if there is an impact and figure out what steps to take.”
Coach House succeeds in making expensive things feel casual and even inviting, which hits the mark for the young people that the brand is courting. If there’s one sticking point, though, it’s actually the dinosaur motif. Isn’t it a little random? Worse, doesn’t it seem calculated, as though pandering to people’s inclinations to call themselves “quirky” or “nerdy” as a way of declaring their individuality?
Not necessarily. Vevers says he wasn’t planning on turning Rexy into a recurring thing when he made that first keychain on a whim.
“It was something that myself and the design team reacted to emotionally, and it just made us smile. I think ultimately it did that for other people, and that’s why Rexy has kind of become a mascot of the new Coach,” Vevers says.
He’s got us there. It’s hard not to grin when you come face to face with Coach House’s Rexy sculpture, which, extinction and medium aside, is remarkably lifelike. And at a time when brick-and-mortar shopping is all about creating experiences that customers want to haul themselves out of their houses for, that alone is a win.