This week, a look at the strategies of fashion companies, including Coach and Vogue, who are recruiting Lil Nas X for major activations.
On Monday, Lil Nas X walked the Coach spring 2023 runway, ushering in a new marketing focus for the brand focused on winning over Gen Z.
Like Selena Gomez and Michael B. Jordan before him, Lil Nas X will serve as the face of the brand. If history is any indication, this will include appearing in marketing campaigns and collaborating on products. Brand executives declined to share consumer-facing partnership elements ahead of their releases.
Lil Nas X is a sharp contrast to Coach’s latest face, 53-year-old Jennifer Lopez, who has become associated with the “clean girl” aesthetic. The move is meant to drive Coach’s proposed new positioning of an “expressive luxury” brand, versus accessible luxury. Lopez remains a Coach brand ambassador.
Backstage before the fashion show, Todd Kahn, CEO of Coach, shared Lil Nas X’s story of operating beyond traditional labels and norms. “He’s breaking all the rules, in terms of how masculinity and genres of music are defined; he innovated – and Coach has always been an innovator.”
Coach’s pioneering of the accessible luxury category, now populated by brands including Michael Michael Kors and Kate Spade, is an example of that innovation, for better or worse.
“Today, for a younger customer, true luxury is not about impressing [people]but it’s about self-expression and individualism,” Kahn said.
“And [their idea of] self-expression is not about an authentic self but [rather] too much myself; it’s fluid,” added Sandeep Seth, Coach’s global chief marketing officer. “So [we’re asking]’How can we, as a fashion brand, be the channel that encourages everyone to express themselves the way they want to?'”
Coach isn’t the only brand that has relied on Lil Nas X’s popularity and bold, individualistic style to connect with a like-minded Gen Z. First, Vogue enlisted her to perform on its first-of-its-kind Vogue World runway show. even on monday. In August, he was named an ambassador for YSL Beauty. And he’s represented brands including Versace and Harris Reed on the red carpet – in a hot pink cowboy suit and crop top, respectively. According to Launchmetrics, Lil Nas X’s own Instagram posts about these partnerships drive significant media influence value. His post announcing his deal with the trainer brought in $417,000 to MIV in just two days.
And other fashion brands are getting into bed with stars who defy the notion of gender norms, including Gucci with Harry Styles.
Khan, a 14-year veteran of the brand, was named CEO in mid-2021 after serving as interim CEO for nearly a year. Seth joined shortly after, after more than 20 years at P&G, most recently as CEO of beauty brand SK-II. Since 2020, under parent company Tapestry’s “Accelerator Program,” Coach has aimed to track the business, including a pivot from price-focused marketing and promotions to value-driven and value-driven messaging. Connecting with an expanded audience through partnerships with a celebrity “constellation” has been a company strategy since shortly after its appointment of fashion darling Stuart Vevers as creative director in 2013. Currently, the brand — which sells in over 50 countries — has more than 40 celebrity ambassadors.
Seth said Coach’s story of starting in 1941 as an immigrant dream was what drew him to the company. And, he said, facilitating that same kind of connection between Coach and its customers and ambassadors is crucial to the brand’s success. Ambassadors are chosen based on a specific value they share with the brand, ensuring authenticity and ongoing connection, especially since coach ambassadors rarely expire after one season. With Lil Nas X, that value was “his courage to be real,” Seth said.
To invest in new iterations of Coach’s “iconic” Rogue and Tibby bags, for example, new customers will also need to click with the brand. “[People] are not only wearing ‘C’ [logo] for the sake of ‘C’,” said Seth. “Instead, it’s about the values it stands for and the fact that they’re associated with them.”
It’s worth noting that the trainer and Little Nas X have recently received criticism for their perceived values. IN October, TikTokers called out Coach for destroying unsold bags. Also last year, conservatives shamed Lil Nas X for coming out with a “sacrilegious” video and product collaboration.
Coach’s runway show served as a fitting announcement of the brand’s new direction, with great diversity in the model lineup and the lack of a uniform hair and makeup look. Likewise, similar ready-to-wear styles appeared in a variety of colors and styled with a wide range of accessories. “Make it your own” was the message conveyed.
On the same note, Seth reminded me before the show that Coach offers custom bags, allowing shoppers to choose every element of their purchase, from the lining to the hardware. The company plans to resurface the offer in future marketing.
While Lil Nas X did not perform at Coach’s show, only walking the runway, it’s a safe guess that Coach will jump at the opportunity based on the buzz surrounding his performance at Vogue World. Other fashion brands haven’t hesitated to go there with their musician partners. For example, in 2021, to build buzz around a pair of collaborations with Pacsun, ASAP Rocky performed an unreleased track at one of her stores.
But Coach upgraded his usual venue for Lil Nas X’s partnership debut, hosting 600 people at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC; appeared at the smaller Pier 36 last season. And offering “experiential moments,” including in Coach stores, will be a priority for the brand moving forward, Seth said.
Already, Coach is “constantly” hosting pop-ups around the world to test new concepts being considered for its store fleet, Seth said. Through Sunday, he’ll be hosting a pop-up in NYC’s Nolita featuring her collaboration with graffiti artists Mint and Serf. The company’s plan is to soon accelerate its rollout of pop-ups in the U.S. Ninety percent of the brand’s sales are direct-to-consumer.
“We want [Coach experiences] to build community, [engage] all five senses, surprise and delight,” Kahn said. “If someone comes into our store this month, three months from now, they should see something new and interesting.”
Seth added, “The brand should be as present in real life as it is in the virtual world.” Instead of a social channel, Coach teased the Lil Nas X collaboration last weekend on a billboard in Times Square.
Coach has made good progress in expanding its customer base, attracting 4 million new shoppers in North America in fiscal 2022, according to Tapestry’s latest earnings report. And now, it’s aiming to become a $5.7 billion brand by 2025. Staying laser-focused on the Gen Z trend while leveraging expert support is key to this strategy.
“Partners can bring you to a new place,” Kahn said. For example, he referenced the wardrobe Coach co-developed for Lil Nas X’s “Long Live Montero” tour, which kicked off last week. “Our teams and his teams [came together to] create six compelling looks that still represented the Coach brand, but in an unexpected, non-traditional way.” A horse with the trainer’s logo is being used as a stage prop and visuals include a golden gladiator suit.
“In fashion, when you can take the ordinary and make it interesting, or you can match different ideas together, that’s what becomes new and innovative,” Kahn said.
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