When Coach CEO Lewis Frankfort made the controversial decision to hire Reed Krakoff (pictured) as the company’s executive creative director in 1996, the board told him, “It’s your funeral you’re planning if you hire that kid.” Just over 15 years later, Krakoff has risen to the role of president (while retaining his original title as well) and is credited with steering the company from a $500 million American powerhouse to a $5 billion global brand. “The funny thing is that no one ever asked me if I’d designed a bag before,” said Krakoff Wednesday night at New York’s French Institute/Alliance Française, where he delivered the first of this season’s Fashion Talks series. (Next up at FIAF: Stefano Pilati and Dries Van Noten.)
After he was introduced by Elle editor in chief Robbie Myers, Krakoff described both his work at Coach and at the namesake designer label he created in 2010. The distinction he drew was between working with just a handful of designers at Reed Krakoff versus working as Coach’s “design architect” overseeing a team of hundreds (though he assured the audience that he personally approves every piece). “It’s very much like finding the code, or an algorithm for success,” he said of designing for Coach. “It’s based on balancing what came before to understand what must come next. It’s really a giant puzzle.” As for designing his own label, he admitted that he sometimes has to edit himself. “You need to be able to do what the business needs but keep it in line with what people will like. You can’t always just do what’s best for the creative good,” he said.