The designer, who has been president and executive creative director at Coach for the past 15 years, as well as the designer behind his own label for the past three, spoke candidly about simultaneously working for two very different brands at a conversation hosted by the French Institute Alliance Francaise on Wednesday night.
Krakoff participated in a conversation with Pamela Golbin, chief curator of the Musée de la Mode et du Textile at the Louvre.
Calling Coach a “fluid machine,” the designer referred to thousands of products, hundreds of employees and a complex puzzle of evolution, metrics and competitors.
Krakoff also addressed balancing creativity and commerciality.
“You need to be able to do what the business needs and be proud,” he said. “It takes vision.”
At Krakoff’s namesake luxury label, which he often referred to as “RK,” the designer gave credit to his CEO Valérie Hermann for handling the business side, while he and a small team of designers focus on the creative.
“My brand is a direct reflection of the things I love,” which include sensuality, minimalism and architecture, he said.
But even the seasoned designer, who cut his teeth at Anne Klein and Ralph Lauren before transforming Coach from a $500 million brand to one that’s fast approaching $5 billion, admitted it was no easy feat starting his own line.
“I’ve never worked harder in my life,” Krakoff said of taking on his first collection. “I didn’t know where it would lead or if I had anything to say.”
A similar moment occurred when Krakoff started at Coach in his early 30s, having never worked with accessories before.
“No one ever asked me if I had done a handbag before,” he confessed, jokingly adding, “I never said I didn’t, but I never said I did.”
Krakoff also talked about his influences, though was quick to include artists and architects over fashion designers.
“Design is design,” he said. “I get fed in what’s happening culturally, but not by fashion.”
At the end of the conversation, Krakoff took questions from the audience, which was mostly composed of FIAF members, students and fashion press.
The designer’s 8-year-old daughter asked what his favorite piece was, to which Krakoff replied after heavy contemplation: the Boxer tote, his label’s most iconic handbag. Krakoff later answered questions about social media and having a global outlook.
As for advice for young people in the audience, Krakoff had a simple message. “Trust yourself. You cannot be someone else better than they are.”
Next week FIAF will host Stefano Pilati with an introduction from Harper Bazaar’s Glenda Bailey, and Dries Van Noten, with an introduction from style icon Iris Apfel.