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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Newsflash -- Coach's First Global Flagship Store in HK!

Style: Redefining Design
A store that mimics apartment space
By Anandhi Gopinath

"Organised chaos", Reed Krakoff, president and executive creative director of Coach, says authoritatively. “It’s designed to look like organised chaos.” The scene before him is a huge rectangular table covered with jewellery, bags, purses, umbrellas and shoes.

The American leatherware company was launching its new global flagship store in Hong Kong in the company of a huge gaggle of regional journalists. The first thing that greeted us when we stepped in from the pouring rain outdoors was a warm blaze of colour atop a plain glass table. It was as if a young girl was getting dressed to go out, and not knowing what to wear, she had put all her stuff out on her dressing table. Cluttered, yes, but it was a deeply appealing display, nevertheless. The oohs and aahs could be heard from a mile off, and the high-wattage smiles of approval easily outshone the recessed lighting above.

As it turned out, the description wasn’t too far from the truth as Krakoff went on to explain that the store was in fact designed to mimic the apartment space of a very young, trendy girl living the New York lifestyle.

The latest of 13 stores on the highly populous island, Coach’s new home is special. What Krakoff calls the “newest iteration of our flagship prototype” featuring “the newest, most up-to-date collections”, the new global flagship store is to be a huge brand-building tool for the American leatherware brand.

Taking a step away from their usual minimalist style, Krakoff and the Coach Architecture Group designed the 9,400 sq ft store to look a little more cluttered than is their usual way. The lower level consists of most of their newer products, arranged in a colourful array across the store. Classic pieces, like the Bleecker tote bag, sit next to the jewellery collection, which is just beside the counter for Coach’s new fragrance. Unveiled in conjunction with the launch, this is the first release of the fragrance outside of the US market.

A curved, white staircase dramatically leads upstairs; where there are special pockets of space dedicated to particular lines of shoes, eyewear and outerwear. White sheepskin rugs break the monotony of the shimmery marble floor, breaking into private spaces to try on the vast variety of products that lie about. Many of us stopped to admire our reflections in the custom-lacquered, antique mirror with oxidised nickel silver accents, and rest our not-so-weary bodies on custom-designed furniture placed generously all over the store.

It was becoming easy to understand the design philosophy Krakoff was referring to; we felt we were in someone’s trendy home rather than just a retail space. Yet, the respect for tradition is also distinctly apparent. For example, between the bags that are strewn about on the shelves, we see oversized gold turnlocks, a model of the clasp that is an icon of many Coach bags.

Downstairs, there is what Krakoff calls a legacy wall, which features illustrations of New York, old posters, the brand’s horse and carriage logo, images of the current campaign, sketches and anything at all that serve as ideas for the current season. Which meant the wall would always have something new to add as newer collections arrive at the store. Everyone was deeply impressed, as Coach’s Queen Street store had achieved a retail feat few stores manage to do — it had become warm, welcoming and real.

On the outside, Coach stands tall in the midst of the Queen’s Street clutter, with its glass and stainless steel backlit signature façade; it proved to be such a hit that tourists and Hong Kong residents alike were seen taking pictures outside the store that were sure to end up in some holiday scrapbook or on some mantelpiece somewhere. It had to be said that the location that Coach chose was a brilliant fit to the younger market Krakoff said the company was also trying to target — barely a hop, skip and a jump away is Lan Kwai Fong, the island’s elite clubbing area.
“In general, as we go forward, our stores will have a more residential feel; they are warmer with more decorative elements and are generally friendlier to shop in… that’s definitely the idea here,” says Krakoff in his trademark drawl. “We combined the idea of it serving as a retail space, and as a typical New York apartment.”
The new design of the store is the first of its kind in the world, hence Hong Kong residents are extremely proud to have the vastly popular American brand test out the new idea in their city. “The timing was great, really. The consumer here really appreciates anything new and anything fashionable. It was a great way to cement our position here. It’s also a geography we’re focusing on in the future,” he says.
Which is appropriate for them to do, considering that the brand, taking its cue from other luxury brands, has realised that the greater China is where the money is. “Hong Kong is an important destination for Coach as it is the gateway to Asia. Hong Kong is a leader not only in business, but also in fashion and lifestyle,” says Coach Inc chairman and CEO Lew Frankfort. According to him and Ian Bickley, president of Coach International, the brand intends to open another 30 stores over the next few years in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China and Macau, as they have identified Greater China’s potential to quickly become the third major market for Coach, after North America and Japan.

In Asia, Coach has taken on a more aspirational positioning. “We do compete with the bigger European brands, but that happens globally, not just in Asia. What’s happened is that our product lines have become broader and broader, and we still intend on doing that to compete at low and high-end levels,” says Krakoff.

The lines that have come out of Coach in recent years have been attributed to Krakoff’s revolutionary direction of the brand. Hired in 1997 from Ralph Lauren, Krakoff was given total creative control to oversee everything from store concepts to merchandising to product design. Eleven years later, Krakoff has hit his stride with a series of cult-status bags, expanding the product lines (Philip Lim designs trenchcoats for Coach while New York milliner Eugenia Kim does hats) and of course, designing fantastic new stores. Known as the Lagerfeld of his time, Krakoff has reinvented the slightly stoical image of Coach and made it cool.

Yet, he says, he relies on a slightly arbitrary design inspiration. “It’s a hard thing to talk about because it’s not deliberate. It’s very iterative and experiential... one thing always leads to another,” he muses. “You have to go far in one direction, then far in another direction and see how it feels. You start to build a vocabulary of stuff you can work with. When I first started at Coach, there wasn’t much — one type of leather, one material, that’s it. My next step was to develop fabric and material ideas, hardware ideas, signature detail… and the brand just grew from there.”

Each product led to yet another collection, as the brand extended from bags to shoes to outerwear. Coach took its time to do this, as Krakoff is quite specific about letting things take their own course naturally. “Each product leads to the next, and you can’t do them out of sequence. There’s a time frame for everything, and we do it accordingly at each place,” he says.

Personalised details like this exemplify the personality of the brand, as each market is treated individually. For example, when the store was opened in KL, Krakoff designed a beige limited edition satchel exclusively for the market. In Hong Kong, two new products were also launched. “People here love fashion so this was fun for me,” says Krakoff. “They love new brands and new ideas, they like to shop, so it was fun to design this sort of store and the limited edition products.”

To be able to walk into a store and feel welcome, to be able to find anything from jewellery to key fobs to bags — whether you’re male, female, teenager or adult — takes a special sort of skill. It’s redefining traditionally held perceptions of what is stylish and what isn’t, or disregarding the it bag phenomenon for something that a customer would want to own forever.

It’s a redefinition of style in every sense of the word.

The Newborns
The Perry limited edition Ergo satchel in python and the MyNY tote, the two new products created exclusively for the opening of Hong Kong’s new global flagship store. Coach will also be donating RMB1 million and a portion of the store’s first-month sales to the China Red Cross Fund in aid of the Sichuan earthquake victims.

Coach Perry Limited Edition Ergo Satchel in Python, price unavailable

Coach MyNY Tote, US$1,000

Courtesy of The Edge Daily

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