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Can Mulberry’s creative director give Coach the makeover it needs?

June 11, 2013
Obsession
Fashion
June 11, 2013

Creative director Emma Hill announced her resignation from UK handbag maker Mulberry today, sparking speculation that she could be hired by Coach. The US handbag and accessory brand is trying to broaden itself into a lifestyle line, pushing into fashion, jewelry and other luxury products.

Hill, who turned a stodgy British wallet and briefcase maker into a cult global label, seems like she’d have the gumption to do the same for Coach. (She resigned because of differences over “creative and operational strategy.”)

But there are reasons why she might not be the best choice. Coach—which has been hurt by competition from the likes of Michael Kors and Tory Burch—wants to sell shoes, coats, hats, jewelry and more. Yet, Hill’s strong point is handbags. Before Mulberry, she worked with companies that do more than bags like Burberry, Marc Jacobs, Gap and Marks & Spencer, but only spent short spells at each. 

Another challenge that Coach has is overexposure, or brand dilution. More than a third of Coach’s square footage is at its outlet locations. And it’s primarily known as an accessory and handbag company, not as a label worn by recognizable celebrities, models, or first ladies. In markets like China, Coach is seen as an accessible luxury brand. Hill’s cachet could help reverse some of that dilution, restoring Coach’s prestige as a middle tier luxury brand. Hill made Mulberry famous for chic, quirky designs worn by the celebrities like UK television presenter Alexa Chung and American singer Lana Del Rey. But if Coach wants to move into much higher-end luxury territory, Hill might not be the best choice. She introduced a wider variety of cheaper products at Mulberry to capture a younger, less affluent base of customers.

One of the reasons Hill may have decided to leave Mulberry was disagreement with Mulberry’s decision to take the label upmarket, according to the Financial Times. Mulberry declined to comment on whether this was the case. It said in a statement today that Hill “wishes to leave after a very successful period at Mulberry.” (Coach did not respond to questions about the possibility it might try to bring Hill on board.)

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