What It's Like to Cross the U.S. by Train, According to Coach's Creative Director
Stuart Vevers talks about moving to the U.S., the appeal of cross-country train travel, and how American landscapes and pop culture influence his collections.
Long before landing the top spot at Coach, British-born creative director Stuart Vevers was captivated by Americana. Vevers would spend weeks each summer crisscrossing the country by train, traversing parts of the United States that even many Americans never see.
“It's like I was unknowingly prepping for this role,” Vevers said. Here, Vevers shares his first impressions of New York City, the unexpected locales that captured his imagination, and his secret soft spot for Mickey Mouse.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When did you first come to the U.S.? Do you remember what your concept of America was like before you arrived?
My first time ever in the U.S. was when I moved here to work for Calvin Klein in 1996. I arrived in New York City, at JFK. I got in a yellow cab and asked if we could take the Brooklyn Bridge. The first time I saw that skyline at night it was a real moment. America always had that glow of Hollywood to me, because I experienced so much of American style and culture through the movies. I think that's what I'm still struck by. At Coach, when I'm referencing American style, I definitely romanticize it.
What memories stand out from your first years in New York City?
I was just so excited by the energy of New York. I'd never felt anything like it. I felt like I was walking through a movie set, because I’d seen all this iconic imagery on the silver screen. I was also in my early 20s, so I just went out all the time. It was just so exciting. I explored a lot, night and day. It's a great city to explore because it's so contained. Nothing ever seems that far away.
You’ve spoken in the past about your experiences taking Amtrak around the country. What was the initial motivation for deciding to see the U.S. in that way?
The very obvious one is that I can't drive. It's not without trying. I've had many, many attempts to learn to drive, and they just don't click. But the idea of a road trip has always fascinated me, so a train was the next best thing. I tried it once and just fell in love with the whole experience: the romanticism of the train, what you see from the window, the epic landscape. And just the idea of hopping on and off. I ended up going to some fairly random towns because the train happened to stop there. I’d jump off at 1:00 in the morning in a place I'd never heard of. There's something quite exciting about that.
Are there any particular places that have really stayed with you?
Marfa really stood out. It was fascinating experiencing Texas — there are just so many contrasts. I stayed on a ranch and went horseback ridng, and then I was exploring the Donald Judd sculptures and the art scene in Marfa. It was a very special place, I thought. The trip through the Rockies was just so epic. I really felt that being on the train, we were getting access to views that you would never see, even from a car. It was really special. And I loved the journey from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and how dramatically the landscape changes. It's so dry, and then you're in these swamps. For me, it's so transporting. It just makes me dream.
Your shows have incorporated so many nods to American landscapes. How did the places that you went on your train trips directly influence your collections?
Coach is America's house of leather, born in New York City, so it seems very natural for me to reference American style and American culture. I usually don't realize I'm referencing these things. My trips don't feel like research. They’re something that I do because I love exploring, and then it naturally becomes part of the collections. I went to Santa Fe last summer for the first time and it had a huge influence on the spring collection that I presented in September. The reference to the craft of that region, the color, Georgia O'Keeffe. I always see the Coach guy or girl as a dreamer. It's about freedom and optimism. I think there's always an important tension: The Coach girl and guy are going on this road trip, they're being inspired by these places, but in the end getting dressed in New York City. Youth culture and counterculture is a really important reference alongside these American landscapes.
I’m also a lover of popular culture, and I've been to the Disney parks multiple times. I always manage to find something new. I collaborated with Disney last year on a collection. I like the immediacy of Disney, and the nostalgia, and that ends up becoming a reference for my work. I think it's that tension between the high and low cultural references that makes America interesting.