That Cute Coach Bag Actually Comes With a Rich History

Here's everything to know about the fashion brand, from how it got its start to its best-selling pieces.


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New York really is a concrete jungle in which dreams become reality. It’s where artists are born and brands are established, both of which stem from the city’s contagious energy. Among the most famous labels bred in Manhattan is the fashion brand Coach New York, otherwise known as Coach or the Original American House of Leather.  

The start of Coach the fashion brand.

Coach was founded by six artisans in a New York loft back in 1941. At the start, they hand made wallets and billfolds out of leather, and while profitable, the brand thrived relatively quietly. After a few years in business, Lillian and Miles Cahn — two experts in the leather goods industry — joined the company and spearheaded the operation to its success. Miles was responsible for improving their products, processing the leather similarly to how baseball glove leather was processed, thus making it softer and more durable. Lillian, on the other hand, designed the brand’s first women’s handbags. 

Miles and Lilian Cahn.


The couple bought Coach in 1961 and from there, the affordable luxury label grew into the brand you know and love today — with a little help from some rockstars in the space along the way.

Bonnie Cashin was Coach’s first lead designer.

In 1962, Miles hired Bonnie Cashin — whom Fashionsita once called a “a pioneering ready-to-wear designer” that “helped invent, and cement, the category of American sportswear” — to front a women’s accessories account under their men’s accessory company, Gail Leather. Cashin stepped into her role and designed multiple Coach signatures, including the label’s renowned brass turn-key hardware, the bucket bag, and a zip-top tote roomy enough to fit a second, smaller handbag inside. She left the brand in 1974.

"[Cashin] was the designer who started the movement of carrying two bags to work," Jeannine Scimeme, adjunct assistant professor in Accessories Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), told Fashionista back in 2019. "It was definitely for busy, working women. If she carried two bags, that woman was working outside the home. And [Cashin] believed that women had so many roles, one bag wasn't enough."

The importance of Richard Rose and Lewis Frankford.

Richard Rose joined the Coach family in 1965, stepping into the role of Executive Vice President. Rose is responsible for getting Coach the placement it needed in department stores, giving the brand a new level of exposure and status. He is also credited as being Lewis Frankford’s mentor.

Lewis Frankford joined Coach in 1979 as its Vice President of Business Development. Under his direction, the first Coach flagship opened on Madison Avenue in 1985, the same year that Miles and Lilian Cahn would sell the brand to the American consumer goods company Sara Lee

Coach Bags

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Coach was briefly owned by Sara Lee.

Yes, that Sara Lee. The Sara Lee best known for its desserts — cheesecake, pie, pound cake, etc. 

It might come as a surprise that, out of all the corporations the Cahn family could have sold their fashion house to, they settled on Sara Lee. But it turns out, the age-old saying “opposites attract” kind of rang true here. Under new management, and with Frankford’s vision for the company, Coach sales flourished. 

In 1996, Frankford became the chairman and CEO of Coach and brought on designer Reed Krakoff as president and executive creative director. Together, the men enhanced Coach merchandise to be functional and stylish. This shift catapulted the brand to fame and wealth — Krakoff’s image drove the brand’s sales from $500 million to $5 billion. 

In 2001, Sara Lee cut ties with Coach so that it could become its own entity. 

Jessica Alba.

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Who is the executive creative director of Coach today?

Krakoff stayed with Coach for 16 years before stepping down from his role and pursuing a namesake line of women’s accessories. He is succeeded by Stuart Vevers, the former creative director of Mulberry (from 2004-2007) and Loewe (2007-2013), who has also worked in the accessories departments of brands from Calvin Klein to Givenchy.

The most popular Coach bags throughout the years.

The first style to come to mind when we think “Coach” is the saddle. It was introduced to the market in 1971 and saw a surge of popularity in the 1980s, then again in the early aughts. While the style isn’t always necessarily “trendy,” it continues to be a brand best-seller. 

Elsa Hosk.

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The tote bag is also popular among Coach customers. It was first designed in the 1960s by Lillian Cahn, who, according to her husband, was inspired by shopping bags: "When her family came over from Hungary, it was during the Depression," Cahn explained in an interview with NPR. "They were struggling and her mother was making noodles at home, and the kids would fill the shopping bags and would deliver these noodles, and so one of her suggestions early on was: Why can't we make a shopping bag but out of leather?" So, they did. 

The Coach Tabby (both the original and its pillowy counterpart) is a relatively newer style for the brand, but a hit nonetheless. It’s cool because it can be casual or formal, dressed down or up, and worn as either a shoulder bag, crossbody, or top-handle accessory. It comes in different sizes and styles, and the Pillow Tabby even comes in a range of pastel options that make it feel more modern. 

Coach Pillow Tabby shoulder bag

What is Coach’s best-selling product, to date?

Coach is best known as an affordable luxury brand, specializing in leather goods. The label does sell ready-to-wear clothing items as well, such as outerwear, dresses, and shoes, but their best-selling products are, by far, its bags. More specifically, the brand’s top two best-sellers are its Willow Saddle Bag and Soft Tabby Hobo Bag

Coach in 2023

Jennifer Lopez.

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Ironically, the future of Coach looks a lot like the brand’s past life. 

Its rebranding is giving Y2K vibes, speaking to millennial nostalgia, but also capturing the attention of GenZers (TikTok dubbed its Pillow Tabby Shoulder Bag the “It” bag of the year). We saw the return of swinger bags, canvas crossbodies, and The Rogue, decked out in its signature logo, vibrant colorways, and eye-popping floral designs for spring 2022. These reimagined throwback styles are expected to stick around amidst the biggest bag trends of 2023.

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