His dream as a child was to be a hockey goalie. In fact, Reed Krakoff, president and executive creative director of Coach, the 60-year-old American leather and lifestyle goods company, was such a good hockey player he was recruited by a New England boarding school and was a star player in the New England teen hockey league. During summers he played in a prestigious Canadian-American teen league, a legendary breeding ground for future stars of the NHL. “I’ve always liked sports—participating in them—not watching,” Krakoff says.
“But that’s one side of me. The other side is my interest in design. My mother was a decorator and she turned me on to painting. I was especially drawn to modern art when I was young,” he explains. “I loved Warhol and I liked the sense of fantasy created by artists such as Jasper Johns with his numbers series and his maps of America. As a child, I also loved museums. I remember the first one I visited—in Boston when I was seven. I was impressed by the extraordinary space. It was enormous, white and quiet,” Krakoff notes. “I’m also a huge admirer of the architect/designer Philippe Starck. He has incredible energy and an ability to work with so many different materials—pasta, toothbrushes, eyewear, motorcycles, hotels—and create something distinctly his own.”
So it’s not surprising that when it came to a career, Krakoff turned to design. He holds an A.A.S. degree in fashion design from Parsons School of Design and a B.A. in economics and art history from Tufts University. Upon completing college in the late ’80s, he interned at Anne Klein as Narciso Rodriguez’s assistant. Krakoff also worked on Ralph Lauren’s design team and as senior vice president of marketing, design and communications at Tommy Hilfiger USA. In 1996, he was hired as Coach’s first creative director and given the mission of overhauling the Coach image—an already formidable brand. In 2001, he was named Accessories Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Under Krakoff’s leadership, Coach has continued its global expansion into such product lines as shoes, clothing, jewelry, luggage and furniture. In 2002, Coach signed an exclusive, worldwide licensing agreement with Marchon Eyewear for a line of ophthalmic frames and sunglasses. The eyewear will debut this month at Vision Expo West.
In shaping Coach’s image, Krakoff follows the company’s overall philosophy of accessible luxury and incorporates his own holistic approach. “All of our products, whether they be bags, belts or eyewear, must embody functionality, an innovative use of materials, distinctive style and sensibility,” Krakoff says.
“Everything has to be integrated into the picture along with appropriate pricing, marketing and merchandising. Nothing can be too expensive, non-functional or over designed. And all the licenses in our collection have to have a relevance to the others,” the designer emphasizes. For example, he notes the signature grommets found on the bags also accent the eyewear. “I think it’s this cohesiveness and dedicated focus and commitment to all areas of our brand from product design to marketing that sets Coach apart. It’s also undoubtedly the reason we have such a broad customer base,” Krakoff adds.
Because of Coach’s commitment to cohesiveness, the designer feels it’s essential that all the licensees have a shared vision. “We make a point of developing a partnership with our licensees,” he says. “We feel Marchon is a great partner for us in our eyewear pursuits. We definitely have a shared vision.”
Krakoff also feels eyewear is a key element in the big picture. “It’s glamorous, sexy and fun and it completes the image. You can give yourself a whole new look just by putting on a sunglass. It’s a great way for people to express themselves. And relatively speaking, eyewear is a very affordable accessory,” he notes. Krakoff’s ultimate goal for this accessory is to develop more iconic eyewear that even without the brand logo is recognizable as Coach product.
For his own use, the designer has always liked aviator and rimless styles. But he has been personally trying various designs, following his policy of testing new Coach product, whether it’s a belt, luggage or sunwear. His criteria: it should be fun, useful and stylish. His definition of style: “It should be effortless. People who have a sense of style look comfortable.”
|As with all the company product, Coach is placing emphasis on packaging the eyewear. “Since we are known for our bags, it’s important our eyeglass cases are seen as distinctive in their own right—not just something free that comes with the eyewear,” he explains. “We want the cases to go above and beyond their functionality and be an object the wearer wants to carry as an accessory.”|
When asked what career he would pursue, if he were not designing product, Krakoff says he would continue to do some type of design—either architectural or interior, with a focus on residential environments.
“I just keep following my instincts,” he notes. “Even though I’m a long way from those hockey nets.”