When Emma Hill left her post as creative director of Mulberry in 2013, no one expected the job to go unfilled for very long. But for more than two years, the U.K.-based luxury label had no one at the helm—a serious amount of time to go without leadership in any industry, but especially in fashion, where the right or wrong (or lack of) personality can make or break a brand. In Mulberry’s case, the pressure couldn’t have been more turnt. Plans to go super-ultra-luxe had bombed to the tune of two-thirds of the company’s market value (prompting then CEO Bruno Guillon to resign in March 2014), and the hunt was on for a creative director who could not only live up to Hill’s legendary Midas touch when it came to it-bags (hello, Alexa satchel!) but also breathe new life into the beloved but beleaguered English heritage brand.
Enter Johnny Coca. A complete unknown, but, as Céline’s former head of accessories, his pedigree (think Luggage tote, Trapeze bag, Belt bag) sent purse expectations flying. His debut fall ’16 collection might best be described as an it–hit parade: studded shoppers with colour-block panels, yellow and green snakeskin cross-bodies with chain straps, primary-hued fishnet totes that flicked (to everyone’s delight) at Céline 2014. It was one home run after another. Meanwhile, ready-to-wear rocked structured military trenches, pleated leather minis and heavy-metal-embellished motos. In other words: kind of amazing.
The new Mulberry muse was tougher, cooler and a little more street-smart than the quirky, feminine uptown girl of yesteryear, but the starting point hasn’t changed. It is, as ever, Britishness—an idea that, for Coca, revolves around two things: heritage and rebellion. “On one side you have tradition, the queen, classic tailoring, woolly fabrics; on the other, you have this punk attitude,” he explains. “You see it everywhere you look in London. Whenever I take a taxi, I pass my time looking outside to see what I can catch; it could be styling, colours, treatments. British street life gives me all the references I need.”
But the sidewalk is more than just inspiration: it’s a final destination. “I’ve put a lot of focus into making the line cooler, stronger, more modern—but it has to be accessible. If not, it’s so much work for nothing,” he says. “I’m not designing to have things sit in a window: I prefer if they are running in the street.”