In this exclusive interview, interior designer William Sofield explains how he helped revamp the fashion brand’s downtown shop with frankness and authenticity.
by Tiffany Jow
September 08, 2017
Opening today, Coach’s gut-renovated SoHo store re-emerges with a decidedly downtown sensibility. “I wanted it to feel completely and unapologetically New York,” says Coach’s executive creative director Stuart Vevers, who worked closely with interiors guru William Sofield to reimagine the space. It intentionally distinguishes itself from the brand’s other shops by embracing its history and location—a 3,640-square-foot space in a landmarked building—as a means to connect with the neighborhood and to make a statement about the brand’s definition of modern luxury.
“We used elevated, industrial elements that speak to our straightforward approach to luxury, and left the construction visible and honest,” Vevers said, noting design features like exposed brick, vintage cast-iron columns, and ample natural light. “We don’t hide anything.” Sofield, who has created interiors for Gucci, Bottega Veneta, and Derek Lam, helped Vevers develop a new retail concept for Coach in 2014 that’s since been implemented internationally. He jumped at the chance to shape a one-of-a-kind Coach store in SoHo, where he grew up and still resides. We spoke to Sofield about the importance of authenticity; the ideas behind the new space; and his mom, who wore Coach with unforgettable flair.
What initially drew you to the Coach brand?
In developing the new retail concept in 2014, we started at the Coach headquarters on 34th Street, where the company was born. The archive was fascinating, and a joy to learn about through Stuart: “Look, it was so subtle!” he’d say, with all his great energy. “This was a handbag for a simple, modern woman who had her own sense of style.” I realized they were things my mother and sister wore—things that were simply and beautifully made, with details like really clever snaps. That’s why I said yes to the first collaboration. It felt like, for once, it wasn’t about something being branded as from Paris but made in Vietnam. There was a real authenticity to it. I’ve always said the Coach woman hails her own cab: she knows what she’s doing, and she’s got her own style.
Why was creating a connection to place important for the SoHo store? I am suspicious of hype in fashion—I spent my youth in SoHo, and what was so great about it was the sense of discovery. Now it’s just an amusement park. Everything everyone does has to be bigger and better than the last.
I’m kind of an architect who is beginning to hate architecture. It overwhelms the product. If it really is meant to make people see and feel the product and how it’s made, the surroundings often distract from that. So for me, the SoHo store was about being faithful to SoHo—tuning into its intimacy, and making something special.
Describe the experience of being inside the space. The first moment will be a changing theatrical moment. It could be something like silver beach balls, because Stuart has such a sense of play and humor about him. It’s just fun, and not self-conscious. The idea is that there is this display moment at the front that is very different from how you encounter product in the rest of the store.
The luxury of the space is that you don’t have to show every single thing in the line. It’s edited, it’s just for fun, and it can change. The flexibility is important. If you want people to revisit, there’s got to be a reason.
The store puts power in the person buying the product. It seems like it was the customer who created it this way. I’m sure no one told my mom how to wear Coach. What made it so great was what she did with it and how she wore it—that had a kind of graphic simplicity to it. That’s what I’d like the message of this store to be. It’s about you going to the rack and seeing the pieces and putting them together in your own way.
Is that the key to successful retail interior design? I think post-9/11 there is a huge mistrust of corporations. Now, it’s about being in the moment and not thinking about the larger brand. When I did the Gucci store, people asked how Tom [Ford] and I predicted what people would like, and what our vision for the store was. We didn’t have a vision. We just went with the moment, and because of that people understood it. There’s a difference between designers and finance people. The latter can tell you what happened, but they can’t predict the future. It’s kind of like quantum physics—your mind can change the way the world works.