Reed Krakoff Talks Parsons, UFC, and Launching His Own Line

Reed Krakoff
Photo courtesy of Reed Krakoff
Reed Krakoff

It's difficult to say that a designer is having his or her shining moment with a market as volatile as fashion. But if anyone is, it's Reed Krakoff.

The president and executive creative director of Coach has not only revamped the brand but also launched his own eponymous label that's become a must-have for fashionistas. And he's being honored by Parsons at the 2011 fashion benefit and is up for Accessories Designer of the Year at the CFDA Awards.

Krakoff sat down with FashionEtc to talk about his school days, why he launched Reed Krakoff, and his interest in Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Congrats on the Parsons award. That must be exciting since you started there as a student. Did you ever expect you'd get to this point?

I don't think it ever occurred to me in those days that I would get to whatever point I got to.

You have said you were never a great student.

I wasn't a good student in certain areas. I was terrible at draping. I was too impatient. I have a really difficult time with things that are very methodical. I'd get ahead of myself.

But now you get to go back.

I really love the school [Parsons], I have to say. It was the place where I really found what I wanted to do with my life. Parsons was this amazing combination of being very creative and being very supportive of creativity, and [it] prepared you for a job. It's a delicate balance.

What made you launch the Reed Krakoff line?

Primarily, we felt there was a different woman out there. And that there was a space for an American luxury brand that wasn't being filled. That was really the fundamental aspect of it.

How would you describe the Reed Krakoff customer? 

It's definitely a woman who's confident, has a busy life, works, travels, doesn't dress head to toe. Who understands quality and timelessness but isn’t looking for something too classic. It's a combination of a lot of juxtapositions, of something that's quite beautifully rendered and executed but at the same time it has to have a level of design and newness.

What's the difference between the Coach customer and your customer?

Coach has an amazing breadth for the consumer, for the woman who loves Coach. Everyone has had an experience with a Coach bag. And there's a beautiful sense that Coach is really part of the American landscape. It's fundamentally an accessories business; it's very optimistic, and it has a refined kind of simplicity. It's graphic, it's colorful, very broad based in terms of appeal. That would be Coach. My brand is much more nuanced, much more multireferential.

Reed Krakoff bag shoes

Photos courtesy of Reed Krakoff

Spring 2011 accessories by Reed Krakoff

Do you approach the lines differently when you design? 

I have a pretty—thankfully—easy time not feeling like, Oh, I want to save this for this brand or for that brand. It's such a different process. It's really like a puzzle. We have hundreds of different bags, shapes—it's about the right thing at the right time. My brand is more about creating language, creating a point of view; the aesthetic is very much personal to me, very much my own. I see Coach as being an amazing design challenge, and I love both of the them for what they bring

Tell me about your UFC book. I'm intrigued by this interest of yours. Where did it come from?

The thing about fighting that I find incredible—and the more I got to know it, the more I found it appealing—it's an amazing example of willing yourself to do something. These guys do something that you just don't understand how they can do it. But they do. And what they go through with the training and dedication is very primal. It's pretty simple: They fight; one guy wins, one guy loses. Being in an industry and a world that's pretty complicated, it's nice to watch and be part of something that's simple.

What advice would you give Parsons students coming into this world of fashion where people are having breakdowns left and right? 

The best advice I got was to be true to yourself. The sooner you accept or embrace what your role can be in fashion, the better. The best way to find out is to try it, put yourself out there.

Coach is forward thinking in terms of social media. Was that something you were interested in?

It's part of our culture to be broad based in how we talk to the consumer. It's become, and has been, such a core idea of how you speak to consumers in a modern way. The digital world has become everything. Funny we were late to get into e-commerce.

You were and you weren't, though.

For consumers we were late; for fashion we weren't. We wanted to study it a bit and understand what it really meant. I remember 10 years ago, everyone thought it was going to replace department stores. For us it's just part of being current with our consumer base. I'm amazed at the number of sites that love Coach, talk about Coach. I saw one great site about how to tell if it's a real Coach bag. We took it to our quality people and said, "We should probably do something like this." Because it was really well done.

Reed Krakoff Fall 2011

Photos: Imaxtree

Looks from Reed Krakoff's Fall 2011 collection.

What do you think is next for you?

I don't really think about it that way. I'm lucky: I love what I do, I feel very fortunate to really be excited to come to work every day, and I have a very full private life. I always feel if you love what you do, you do a good job. You won't be looking at that question, wondering why you didn't think about it before.

With Missoni signing on with Target, would you consider doing that kind of collaboration?

I wouldn't dismiss anything out of hand, but I have to think about why I'd want to do that. I've never considered it.