Coach celebrates the city with colour and optimism on the High Line

Ellie Violet Bramley in New York
Photograph: WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Fashion brand Coach took over the newest section of New York’s High Line on Tuesday afternoon to present its spring/summer 2020 collection – it was an apt backdrop for a collection which took the city as its starting point.

Guests included actors and influencers such as Girls star Jemima Kirke, Coach’s global menswear ambassador Michael B Jordan and Veronika Heilbrunner, who watched from under the shadow of skyscrapers and the eye of a drone. Colourful leather dominated – berry-red trenches, buttercup-yellow skirts and model Kaia Gerber in metallic silver leather trousers. There were fashion staples in the form of trench coats and sensible sandals. Knitwear was decorated with martini and cigarette prints.

Speaking at Coach headquarters the previous day, Coach designer Stuart Vevers explained that he wanted to “celebrate the city, the daylight … with our gang stomping the High Line.” New York, he explained, “has always been part of my references but it’s always been juxtaposed with the prairie or the American mid-west or a road trip”.

A model in a red leather trench Photograph: WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Vevers, Originally from the South Yorkshire town of Doncaster, famously uses his perspective as an outsider to feed into his take on Americana. Past collections have been inspired by all-American classics from Minnie Mouse to hip-hop.

Where last season Vevers looked to the artwork of designer Kaffe Fassett, the “magician of colour”, for inspiration, this season he continued his colour-exploration via the art of Richard Bernstein. Bernstein’s influence appears in a vivid print of a pill on a jumper and a jelly heart on a bag. Some familiar faces – Michael J Fox, Rob Lowe and Barbra Streisand – also crop up, depicted in pop art-style by Bernstein, on T-shirts and tank-tops.

Coach didn’t do clothing until Vevers joined, but as a thought-experiment he pondered what they might have looked like at Coach’s first store when it opened in 1981. “You’re playing with your heritage but you can invent it.” This is what led to the leather, which had what Vevers described as a deliberately “found, vintage feeling” – and no doubt to the Human League soundtrack.

The show took place on the High Line Photograph: WWD/REX/Shutterstock

But it wasn’t all about nostalgia. Vevers is designing a collection for a new decade; the 20s. As such, he says, “it’s important to be optimistic … but that doesn’t “mean a blind optimism … not being aware of the things that are happening around us.” His take on optimism was nodded to in turquoise jumpers with pink shrimp designs and a triptych of Wine Gum-bright dresses to close the show.

Staging the show at the High Line was a fitting nod to the visually stimulated Gen Z-ers, over half of whom reportedly spend more than 6 hours on their devices daily and who are an important target for Coach. With its relatively low price, for luxury, the brand has a knack for designs that grab attention on social media feeds and collaborations. Jordan’s new role was announced in January, with Selena Gomez (who currently has 156m followers on Instagram) also an ambassador.

Prints made an appearance in the collection Photograph: WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Home for Coach and its parent company Tapestry is Hudson Yards, which sits right next to the High Line. It is the most expensive real estate development in US history – and one of the more controversial. The venue’s cultural centre, The Shed, was going to be the site of various New York fashion week shows. But when it transpired that developer Stephen Ross had recently held a Trump fundraiser in the Hamptons, first Nepalese-American designer Prabal Garang, then Rag and Bone decided to take their shows elsewhere.

Vevers says that while he understands their actions – “every brand and designer has to do the things they think are right and I support that” – Coach has been in that location for some time: “It wouldn’t be possible for us to move our whole headquarters.”

Sensible shoes on the runway Photograph: WWD/REX/Shutterstock