Don't yawn at the sight of another picture of Reed Krakoff, the executive creative director of Coach. True, the guy gets more press than Demi and Ashton, but he has turned the stodgy American brand favored by New Canaan, Conn., housewives and briefcase-toting free-lance writers into a global fashion status symbol. In fiscal year 2003 alone, Coach profits were up 67%. And while the rest of the retail industry was struggling with the effects of SARS, war in Iraq and unemployment, Krakoff was catapulting Coach from a half-a-billion-dollar company to a projected $1.1 billion company in 2004.
How did a 39-year-old Parsons grad from Weston, Conn., come up with a plan to transform functional bucket bags into sexy totes with names like the Slim Soho? He had pretty good training: five years at Ralph Lauren in design and then another three at Tommy Hilfiger, where he eventually became chief marketing officer.
"I also have a really weird way of working," says Krakoff, lounging on the couch of his loftlike all-white office on Manhattan's West 34th Street. "I never procrastinate. Everything is really fluid, and I'm open to being inspired by anything. If you wait for the right idea, it doesn't get done." For example, while preparing an "inspiration board" covered with gloves--a big trend this fall--Krakoff suddenly had an idea for a scarf print of a drawing of many different styles of gloves, which then morphed into a still-life idea for an ad campaign. "Each idea furthers itself," he says.
When Coach CEO Lew Frankfurt hired Krakoff six years ago, he gave him total creative control to oversee everything from store design and merchandising to, well, glove design. Krakoff set about hiring big-gun photographers such as Mario Testino, Mikael Jansson and Peter Lindbergh to shoot the ad campaigns, and then he redesigned all the Coach stores. "The first two years were kind of rocky," he admits. "I had no idea what I was getting into when I started." Now Krakoff has hit his stride, specifically with a series of best-selling handbags, including the Hampton tote and, more recently, the Soho duffel and the Slim duffel, which sold 50,000 units last year. His latest creation, the Slim Soho, is projected to sell 100,000 units this fall at $188 each.
Krakoff's goal is to change the perception of Coach, a company known for its excellent quality, from a replenishment business--supplying a product that people buy because they need it--to a fashion business, which is based on shoppers' desire. "We're not flashy or trendy, but we still have to surprise people," he says. "People have to really be enchanted by what they see." Otherwise, he would just bag it. --By Kate Betts