For five years the French Institute in NYC has invited its members (that’s me!) and those of the public to participate in soirées featuring fashion industry headliners. This year Reed Krakoff, creative director at Coach for the last twenty years, kicked off FIAF’s annual event.
The night began with an introduction from Robbie Myers, Editor in Chief of ELLE magazine. As I sat two rows back I had one of those, “only in NY moments.” A moment where I realize how cool it was that I got to do something like this. I miss France a lot, but for right now I think NYC has a lot to offer me. And being able to go to an event where I am one among people I admire (Editor in Chief of a major magazine…right up my alley) is formidable!
So after Robbie’s introduction, Reed Krakoff and Pamela Golbin, Chief Curator of Fashion and Textiles at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, sat and had a casual chat in front of a sold-out crowd in the Florence Gould Hall on the Upper East Side. Reed spoke of his beginnings at Coach and his newest venture, his self-titled brand which launched its first collection in 2010.
I loved having my eyes opened into this designer’s thoughts, inspirations and goals. Reed didn’t grow up living and breathing fashion like some designers (Isaac Mizrahi for example). He went through what he referred to as a “formal education” of fashion at Parsons School of Design. Prior to Parsons, he had graduated from Tuffs with a dual degree in art and finance. The later was his parents’ prerequisite before allowing him to pursue fashion at Parsons. Before landing at Coach, Reed held positions at various American fashion houses including Ralph Lauren and Anne Klein.
Reed is a down to earth person. One can understand that just by listening to him talk about his success (which abounds) and his goals for this budding brand, Reed Krakoff. He is a family man (his 8-year old daughter in attendance last night was the only one to stump him with a question) and an extremely hard worker (with the millions of items developed at Coach every single day, he says that he still looks at each and every one).
I found it really interesting that Reed doesn’t think of FASHION when designing his collections. He thinks more about shape and form, like an architect might (I haven’t met many designers, so this could be run-of-the-mill as that goes). His creations are influenced by the culture which feeds him, but the fashion culture and trends are not what move him in certain directions. His ideas are raw and pure. He learned to be confident in his work saying that it is important to be sure as hell that “this is it” one day and then that it’s not the next. But there also comes a point when you go with it and knowing when this is takes time.
Time is one thing that Reed has been blessed with in the industry that seems to constantly be in a rush. “Today designers aren’t given time. They get two collections and then must redefine a brand,” which is more or less impossible he said. Shows like Project Runway where time is the game show factor attest to this.
Reed was also blessed with opportunity. He realizes how lucky he was when Lew Frankfort, chairman and chief executive officer of the brand, took a chance hiring him back in 1996. SInce then he has risen to the challenges before him while also creating new endeavors along the way, which is where RK comes into play. A new goal and new adventure.
The two fashion houses are separate but related being that the same man operates both. The operation however is different for the two, one being a powerhouse already and the other being a baby that still needs time to grow. True to his driven personality he has big goals for the brand, wanting it to be a brand that people know intuitively. A brand that similar to a bookstore poster he saw while in Paris which listed 20th century artists with one word, could be whittled down to a simple, all telling description. For the man who took a 500 million dollar company to a 4 billion dollar powerhouse, I think this is possible!
It was all-in-all a unique night for me. One that I hope I will have the opportunity to do again sometime.