Fashion

Bringing Back the Classics

Who says classics are no longer relevant? Johnny Coca proves naysayers wrong by re-introducing Mulberry's classic bags with a new 'facelift'
Reading time 5 minutes

In his second season at Mulberry, Coca talks about redesigning icons, making classics relevant and the importance of functionality in bags.

Mulberry is commonly referenced as a Brit national treasure, It bag maker and leather expert. Was there any pressure being trusted with a brand that is so culturally important?
There is always pressure when taking on something new. Fundamentally, I was inspired by Mulberry’s heritage and I wanted to create a new design language that was more relevant and accessible to what people need right now. I also wanted to make things that people would desire, use and make a part of their lives. 

How much did you know about Mulberry before joining the brand?
I loved Mulberry. I loved its heritage and quintessentially British ethos, which the brand embraced. I thought the Bayswater was a great bag because I used to see that range in all the best department stores. When I was called about the job, I was excited because I knew Mulberry had two factories employing 600 local craftspeople. I spent my first two weeks at Mulberry with them, observing and suggesting new ways to work the leather and improve the bags’ construction. For example, by simply stitching in a different way and slightly altering its proportions, I was able to make the Bayswater hold its original shape with handles that don’t ‘flop’. As an expatriate you definitely see things differently from locals. Key British symbols are more relevant and inspiration because you have not been overexposed. I would not say that this makes the challenge of designer any easier, but the experience of having grown up in another culture brought a fresh interpretation.

What was your vision for the brand?
I’m all about taking something old and giving it a twist to create something fresh and right for now. The Mulberry woman is also stronger than before. She has that ‘I don’t care what you think’ London attitude and loves practical clothes and bags, but is also feminine and has a tender side.

“Classics may not always look modern or be the It bag, but they are timeless and you cannot put a price on timeless beauty.”

What was the first change you made?
I brought back Mulberry’s old logo from the ’70s. It was during one of my first visits to the brand’s factories when I discovered that original logo from its archives. I loved it because it felt English and it had character. The previous logo did not look English and was quite neutral. It had no character.

Were you concerned about alienating Mulberry’s existing customers?
My strategy was to grow the brand’s customer base but nurture our existing customers at the same time. By reworking classic styles such as the Bayswater, we are still focusing on our key customers but modernising our creations with each season.

Why did you rework the Bayswater, a bag that’s already so popular?
The Bayswater, which is Mulberry’s bestselling bag, was originally designed in 2003 by Nicholas Knightly. But I wanted to make that bag perfect for today’s lifestyles, so I reengineered it. The handles have been thinned so they will always stand upright and I have removed the feet, shrunk the postman’s lock and removed the key accessory so the bag is much lighter. It can also hold laptops and tablets better due to its more structured shape. We offer both the classic and the modern design in store. We love them both!

"Form, function, colour and combining practicality with beauty. When you’ve nailed those things, you’ve made a great bag."

You talk a lot about functionality. Can you share examples of how you’ve integrated function in Mulberry’s bags?
Designing a bag is not dissimilar to building a house. If a house is not functional it is unliveable, and that applies to handbags, too. When I reworked the iconic Mulberry Bayswater, the functionalities I improved included moving the inside back pocket onto the inside front of the bag, so when you reach inside to get something it is much more convenient. The tweaks are little but they have made our designs more practical. 

Where do you position Mulberry’s bags?
We keep prices accessible. The price of Mulberry’s day bags normally fall between £500 and £900.

How do you justify those prices?
Women are happy to spend money on good quality, great style and, most importantly, the practicality of our handbags. They can be used every day to carry around essentials and, at the same time, they make a great fashion statement.

This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of L'Officiel Singapore (out now on Magzter and newsstands). Click here to subscribe.

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