CNN -- Lew Frankfort is widely credited with helping transform a stodgy old leather goods company into a fashion icon. Coach was founded in New York City in 1941, an old-world firm cranking out hard leather brief cases. But it wasn't until a major overhaul in the 1990's that the company caught the eyes of the fashion world, introducing so-called "affordable luxury".
Lew Frankfort, CEO, Coach.
Since then, Lew Frankfort has expanded the brand from trendy hand bags to gloves, and other accessories, bringing his by-the-numbers management style to the fickle world of fashion.
CNN's Maggie Lake interviewed Lew Frankfort and started by asking him what had prepared him for a life in the fashion world and how much he cared about clothes and trends in his youth.
Frankfort: When I was young I didn't have the slightest clue about brands. I actually was more interested in the social movements of the 1960's, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and found myself in government actually for ten years after college before I came to Coach.
Lake: So, how did you make the transition to the world of fashion?
Frankfort: What I joined was really just a manufacturer of leather products. Over the years, we migrated to become a modern lifestyle fashion accessories brand and I guess I just learned along the way.
Lake: How do you stay on top in a very fickle world of fashion because that's what you're dealing with now?
Frankfort: One of the ways we think at Coach is as a company that is run as a blend of logic and magic. Magic is the touch and feel and instinct of good product, good looking product, of understanding trends, and logic is using all of the knowledge that is available to you, so you can really understand where consumers are today and where they're going tomorrow. So, for example, we do a considerable amount of quantitative research, measuring attitudes and trends in the marketplace, purchase satisfaction and satisfaction with our visits.
Lake: Some people said that you have democratized luxury, made it accessible to more people. Is that how you see it?
Frankfort: We actually see Coach as an egalitarian brand. America is really a melting pot of the world and we don't have a class system in America. Anyone can be anything in America.
Lake: Is there a risk by making your products very accessible that somehow you cheapen them? I mean if everybody has it, what's so special about it?
Frankfort: Some consumers perceive us as the penultimate luxury and other consumers step down to buy a Coach. We like it that way, and we like to have a broad array of price points that can appeal to an aspirational consumer who can just enter the world of Coach with a small accessory for as little as $28, or to the aficionado we offer $10,000 exotic handbags.
Lake: Do you think that recipe can work globally?
Frankfort: It is working globally. We are very successful in Japan, in Korea, and emerging markets such as Thailand and Indonesia and in developing countries. We're a very desirable alternative to the European luxury brands because our price points are less than half of their price points; yet, the materials are the very same materials that go into their products and ours are at least as well-made.
Lake: What do you worry about? What keeps you up at night?
Frankfort: Honestly, everything keeps me up at night, but I think I am primarily a serial worrier. I worry about the current situation and more often than not now it's about people, it's about the next generation in leadership, it's about how I can fill organizational voids. E-mail to a friend