In the three years since launching his namesake brand, Krakoff has dressed Lena Dunham, Julianne Moore and the First Lady Michelle Obama, who wore his cobalt blue dress on the March 2013 cover of Vogue.
He has a robust accessories business (the Boxer and Atlantique bags have been big hits), which accounts for about 70% of sales, and his ready-to-wear clothing is gaining momentum among women looking for something intellectual, modern and American.
Krakoff, a longtime art collector and photographer, recently published “Women in Art: Figures of Influence,” a collection of black-and-white portraits of female figureheads in the art world, including Christine Kim and Rita Gonzalez, associate curators of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He photographed them last year in front of a massive Toby Smith sculpture in one of the museum’s expansive halls.
Krakoff was back in L.A. last week for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund event, and I caught up with him over coffee to talk about his post-Coach career, the DNA of his brand, his photography style and his favorite L.A. spots.
Do you miss Coach at all?
I wouldn’t say I miss it. I had an amazing experience and it was a chunk of my life. But it was becoming clear that this was what I wanted to do with the next stage of my life, and the timing was right.
People who watch the markets are already predicting the decline of Coach now that you’ve left.
I really don’t know much about it. I’m just so happily focused on my business and my team and I’m lucky to have been able to start the business with the great support of Coach. They still have a stake in the company, which is great.
Intellectually, did you want to go back to the beginning?
Yes, the experience of starting and molding something, the good and the bad, is gratifying. I have been in this business for 20 years, and it’s great to do something now where I don’t have to put it through a filter. It’s personal. I photograph campaigns and work on the stores with my wife, Delphine. We have a small team and we’re all in sync. It’s very collaborative.
What niche do you think the Reed Krakoff brand can fill in the luxury market?
We’re finding we’re being accepted as a credible competitor to European luxury brands. And I believe there is space for a brand that is about a new kind of luxury that’s not a woman in a white coat with a thread and needle. It’s about creativity that’s connected to all different aspects of the world -- art, design and architecture. We see it as a more modern, design-driven take.
What do you like most about the business?
Being in a commercial company sometimes it gets obscured, but I love to make things -- sketch, drape and construct samples in the office
I know you shoot your own ad campaigns. I’m sure you are constantly taking photographs too. What is your camera of choice and do you shoot digital?
The Mamiya RZ67. There is something about the process of shooting film, you do something different. It’s like writing in pencil versus on a typewriter versus on a computer. It informs your choices a lot. Plus, you have 10 frames in a film camera then you have to reload. But I also have about 7,000 or 8,000 pictures on my phone. I’m constantly taking pictures with it, but it’s a different exercise.
You’re lucky to be a young brand with such a robust business in accessories, when a lot of times it’s the reverse, and the clothing comes first. What are people looking to you for in RTW?
It’s not enough to have the most expensive double face cashmere. There has to be desire, quality and craftsmanship. The fundamental of our brand is bringing together the disparate ideas of sensuality and architectural design, luxury and modernity.
Let’s talk about the spring 2014 collection. What were some of the inspirations?
I thought it would be interesting to start with something more ethereal and feminine, something inspired by traditional dressmaking techniques, shirring and transparency. We were playing with overtly feminine fabrics like satin but then bonding them to make them more architectural. The palette mixed somewhat industrial colors like signal yellow, with the opposite, makeup-like tonalities. Then we brought all the elements together.
Did you have any artists or art pieces on your inspiration board?
Usually it’s more how people approach things than the actual thing. One was Louise Nevelson and her organic sculpture which she created with pieces of wood. Anish Kapoor was another, for the fluorescent color.
I like that, the idea of architectural or industrial femininity.
That’s always running through the collection, and at the end of the day, we’re trying to create things that have a feeling of desire and power.
The handbags you’ve designed have been so successful. Are you going to roll out a new style each season?
It’s a delicate balance between having enough new ideas and losing the opportunity to make something really iconic. You have to make something iconic; it doesn’t become that by accident. It has to be something people really love, and you have to give it a life and support it. So it’s a good question, and it’s one we think about every day.
For spring, we are introducing a new style called the Atlas, which is very different than what we’ve done before. The whole concept, because for me, it’s not enough to just make something nice, it has to have an idea, was that this would be the opposite of anything architectural or linear. So every edge of the bag is turned in a different direction. You can’t see the zipper, the handles are turned so they are tubular. There are very few seams and very little stitching. And the hardware is round to create this idea of something soft in the extreme. It has a pillow effect. It took about six months to do, to make this edgeless bag. It’s really an expression of sensitive craftsmanship in a modern way.
I know you are in town for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund event, which you’ve dressed Lena Dunham for, and you’ve dressed her a few times. How did that relationship develop?
I actually met her mother first [artist Laurie Simmons]. We worked on a project for the Whitney Museum together [a Coach bag inspired by Simmons’ 1989 work, “Walking Purse”]. We did it over the phone and it came out great. Then I watched Lena in her first movie, “Tiny Furniture,” and got to know her through that. We dressed her for the Emmys in 2012. I love the work she’s done. And she really embodies the type of woman we dress. She’s self-confident and has her own sense of style.
Are you looking at opening a store in L.A.?
Yes definitely, in the near term. L.A. is important for us in so many ways. We need a place to have a presence here and to work with Hollywood.
What do you like to do here?
The Getty is the most spectacular museum, and one of my favorite places. I’m a big fan of Richard Meier, I’ve done a little work with him, and the location is so amazing. I usually go up there even if it’s just for a few minutes. There’s a great movie called “Contest of Wills” about what they went through to build the museum. It took 14 years to finish. And they had to create this new way of cutting stone, and actually design a new stone-cutting machine. It’s an amazing journey to see.