Coach, Italian Style - the Basic Facts
*by "Hyacinth" for Salearea
One of the biggest surprises for many Coach "newbies" is learning how many places Coach bags and accessories have actually been made. Shoppers who remember the name from years ago are usually aware that Coach once made bags in the US but are often surprised to learn that many of the products are now made in China. And newer buyers who have only recently discovered the brand usually have no idea that they were once made right in New York City. While both ends of the buyer spectrum have their favorites, a small but growing minority is discovering one of Coach's secrets - the Made In Italy styles that are making fans of many who have been lucky enough to come across them.
Before we narrow things down, let's take a look at a bit of company history and at the countries where Coach bags have been made. The Company started in the US, of course, and began making leather accessories right in Manhattan in 1941. Purses weren't added to the lineup until 1960 but quickly became the company mainstay once women fell in love with the thick, soft cowhide used in the bags. When fashion legend Bonnie Cashin came to work for Coach in the 1960s she introduced many styles and design details still seen in today's Coaches - she left Coach in 1974 but the company kept expanding its sales until by 1987 the Manhattan factory could no longer meet the increasing demand for its handbags. Several new plants in the US starting with Miami and eventually Puerto Rico were added, and the "Made in New York City, U.S.A." stamp on the creed was changed to "Made in the United States".
Since then, Coach bags have been made in Italy, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Turkey, probably Thailand, and most recently China, India, Vietnam, and will soon be made in the Philippines and eventually several other Asian countries. Smaller accessories like wallets have been made in even more places including France and Spain.
Once they'd decided to expand outside the US, Italy was the logical choice. Italian fashion (especially in leather goods) has always been thought of as some of the best in the world and Coach was eager to see what new ideas their Italian partners could come up with to freshen up the product line. The products of the first collaboration appeared in 1992 with the Dakota Classics and Sheridan Collections.
The Dakotas were mostly made in Italy of a unique "box grain" textured leather, thinner and stiffer than the regular cowhide and trimmed with a dark tan smooth leather trim to give them a classic Spectator look. The Dakotas were unlined and usually had a beige inside back pocket made of pigskin which carried a leather patch with the unique Dakota creed statement stamped into it but with NO serial number at all. They were immediately followed by the very similar Sheridan line, which proved hugely popular and was very similar to the Dakotas. The Sheridans were made in Costa Rica and the US as well as Italy and had a more rounded or pebbled leather grain, a taupe fabric lining, and a creed similar to the Dakotas. They were also mainly made in the 2-tone Spectator color combinations although some solid-color versions in colors like black, red and tan were also available.
Both styles were “rule-breakers” in that many Sheridan styles didn’t have serial numbers either, and although both styles used solid brass hardware they also made wide use of PLASTIC zippers instead of the more usual brass styles. Both styles sometimes used things like zipper pulls and turnlocks that were not used on any other style of Coach bag, and are often mistakenly identified as fakes because they break several (nonexistant!) authenticity “rules”. Care should be taken when buying them though, because some Sheridan styles have been counterfeited. Serial numbers in genuine bags are sometimes poorly stamped and code digits switched, but when they have serial numbers they will be in the standard Coach format of 7 numbers in bags from 1992 and 1993, and the 7-digit letter and number combo that came into use starting in 1994.
To balance out the more casual Sheridans, Coach introduced the Madison line in 1993. The designs were dressier, the hardware sleeker including a reshaped turnlock, the leather was a lovely “caviar grain” that was extremely expensive to make and that strongly resembles the caviar leather used in some Chanel bags and accessories. Like the Sheridans, the leather was stiffer than Coach’s regular glove-tanned leather and available in an array of colors unique to the line. And like most Italian designs, the styles never look out of place or outdated, just classic.
Coach brought out the Sonoma line in 1994 and while not strictly an Italian line, like the Sheridans many Sonomas were also made in Italy as well as Costa Rica and the US. This turned out to be another winning line for Coach, because of the huge variety of sizes, shapes, and especially colors, and the availability of most styles in either smooth-grain pebbled leather or a lovely soft Nubuc leather that felt like a cross between suede and velvet. The leather used in the Sonomas was also very soft and crushable compared to the stiff but incredibly durable and water-resistant leathers of the Dakotas and Sheridans, and the line still has many devoted fans to this day. The Sonoma styles were also faked, but a good authenticator can usually spot fakes easily. One thing that should NEVER be assumed fake though is a sloppy creed patch. For some reason, genuine Sonomas had probably the sloppiest, most poorly cut and most unevenly stamped creed patches in Coach’s history - don’t ever think that because the creed patch is a mess, the bag must be fake!
Coach’s love affair with Italian production and design took a slightly different turn toward the end of the 1990s. A few assorted styles would sometimes show a Made In Italy stamp but that Italian “E” plant was now producing much dressier styles, in classic shapes and unusual leathers. The Bridle line combined simple shapes and sleek silver-color hardware with smooth calfskin trimmed with pigskin for textural contrast and came in several roomy hobo and Tote styles as well as top handles and satchels.
The Bridle line was followed by what was at the time the ultimate in Coach elegance, the Gramercy styles. The leathers were classic black or soft pastels like Wheat and Powder Blue, the bags were lined with a soft suede, the styles were classic handbag shapes like the Hermes-designed Kelly Bag made famous by Princess Grace of Monaco, and the leather was a subtle woven linen-look that hinted at Vuitton’s Epi leather. And like other top-of-the-line collections from Coach they were set off by sleek hardware and their own special rectangular-shaped turnlocks.
With the major shift of production to China, the Italian designs mostly fell out of favor. Through the early 2000s the plant still produced some of Coach’s more unusual and expensive designs including some labor-intensive suede and leather hobo styles. The most expensive styles and exotic leather bags were produced at the Italian plant (now plant code “12” in the serial number instead of the original “E”) until around 2010. The plant has even produced the occasional all-leather key fob, although gift boxes for key fobs with Italian labels, descriptions or stamps are in almost every single instance 100 percent fake. Paper tags usually in silver or gray colors on standard Coach bags that say “Made In Italy” (or even Made In USA) are ALWAYS fake.
So tread carefully through the fakes, and keep an eye open for some of the classic Italian designs. You may find yourself turning into a fan.
(*guide written by "Hyacinth" specifically for Salearea Co. under paid consultant contract)
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Coach Italy Guide - Coach Italian Made Bags
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November 25, 2014
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