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What Does Coach Want?

The rumor that Selena Gomez is its new face says a lot about how the revamped brand views itself.

Selena Gomez wears a low ponytail and a classic sleeveless, scoop neck red dress.
Selena Gomez on the red carpet at the American Music Awards.
Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

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On Sunday, Page Six reported that Selena Gomez has inked a contract with Coach to design her own line and star in its ad campaigns. The price tag on the deal, according to Page Six’s anonymous sources: $10 million.

It’s a staggering amount, for sure, but this news isn’t particularly surprising coming from the all-American leather goods brand. (A Coach rep hasn’t yet responded to Racked’s request for comment.) After embarking on a thorough brand overhaul three years ago that involved ditching the logo-laden bags that previously defined it, Coach has gained the momentum and industry acclaim to finally swing for the fences.

In mid-November, Coach opened its largest store to date on New York’s Fifth Avenue, a monument to the youthful but high-end aesthetic it’s been developing since Stuart Vevers joined the company as creative director in 2013.

Last Thursday, Coach hosted a runway show at Pier 94 on the west side of Manhattan, a huge production that involved trucking in a nearly full-size motel, custom neon signs, trees, and old cars to create a parking lot for the models to circulate around. Fake snow fell from the rafters, and a youth choir emerged at the finale to sing “Empire State of Mind.” Then the audience stormed the faux motel, which turned out to be a real bar.

Earlier that week, the Financial Times reported that Burberry had rejected a merger bid from Coach, rumors of which had gotten going earlier this fall. Whether or not this was true, the message is consistent: Coach now sees itself as part of fashion’s big leagues, no longer just a mall brand beloved by tween girls.

But that’s the catch. Doesn’t it want to be both?

Two impulses, at times contradictory, have emerged in Coach’s rebranding efforts. Youthful quirk is one, represented by the T-Rex motif that has become one of its new codes under Vevers’s direction; a Disney collaboration filled with the image of Mickey Mouse; and famous teen Chloë Grace Moretz’s appearances as a campaign star.

Yet Coach also wants to be a luxury brand with serious industry cred. It talks up its heritage as a New York leather company, stressing the quality of its bags, which max out at $1,400. It invests heavily in its Fashion Week presence at a time when many brands are opting out of the show schedule or reconfiguring their formats.

These two directions aren’t impossible to reconcile, but sometimes the message becomes muddled. Coach’s recent runway show was a perfect example. The neon signs shaped like T-Rexes, ’70s-inflected NASA sweaters, a heartwarming children’s choir singing a 2009 Jay Z and Alicia Keys hit, and the elaborate setting were all compelling moments, individually. But combined, it seemed to reach in too many directions at once.

So maybe Selena Gomez is exactly the bridge that Coach needs.

Gomez grew up on Disney Channel, but has undergone her own style transition in the last few years. Stylist Kate Young helped her build a new adult image, guiding her toward silky, sultry looks from Givenchy and Monse. The Louis Vuitton campaign Gomez snagged this summer made it clear the transformation was complete.

Gomez is as mass market as pop stars come, and with a face that cherubic, no amount of power suiting can make you forget her Disney roots. Still, she’s won the approval of luxury’s most exclusive circles.

Maybe Coach can have both, too.

Update: On Friday afternoon, Coach confirmed that Selena Gomez has signed a deal with the brand, which will span ad campaigns (starting for fall 2017) and a “special design project” with creative director Stuart Vevers.