How Lil Nas X’s Big Coach Campaign Came Together

lil nas x coach behind the scenes

Frank Terry

Stuart Vevers is fascinated by the way youth culture shapes culture at large. The executive creative director at Coach since 2013, he has plumbed that fascination for the last nine years to help transform a once-ailing brand into something that once again speaks to the people who so inspired him.

“Coach has certain preconceptions for a lot of people, and a part of what I love to do is to challenge those preconceptions,” Vevers explains, noting that some folks might see it as tinged with nostalgia, or have been introduced to it by their parents. “And I thought a partnership with Lil Nas X—and all the things he represents—I was hoping it would surprise people.”

Certainly in the musician Vevers and the rest of the crew at Coach have found someone who’s got no problem smashing preconceptions and surprising people. Lil Nas X’s ascendency—from the virality and controversy surrounding “Old Town Road” to the smash-hit success of Montero—didn’t just ignore the rule book, it seemed predicated on the idea that there simply is no rule book, at least not for the man born in Little Springs, Georgia, under the name Montero Lamar Hill.

“In his work, he’s just managed to find that rare thing of doing something that hasn’t been done before,” Vevers says. “That’s what really drew me to him.”

a behind the scenes shot of lil nas x onstage

A behind-the-scenes shot of Lil Nas X onstage.

Frank Terry

At the end of the summer, Coach announced that the connection was official: This fall’s Long Live Montero Tour would feature the musician decked out in custom Coach throughout. “It took me a while to get my head around it,” Vevers admits. The settings were theatrical, over-the-top, immersive fantasy tableaus with Lil Nas X at the center. The costumes needed to match that degree of theatricality, something in which Vevers—who sees the day-to-day realities of New York as a big part of the inspiration for his work—was not exactly well-versed. “We were stretching who we are as a brand, who I am as a designer,” he says.

Still, the project came together in a way that everyone was happy with, and then it as time for the next step: A declaration of the fledgling partnership at New York Fashion Week. Lil Nas X walked the Coach runway in a look from the spring/summer 2023 collection specially styled by Vevers for the musician. The reasoning? He’d never been on the catwalk as a model before. “The idea of walking really came from the fact that he’d never done it before,” Vevers says. “So, the idea of a first to unveil our partnership felt instinctively felt right.” (If you’re wondering if people were freaking out backstage or being hounded by paparazzi, as one might expect, the answer is no; according to Vevers, it was a “very controlled environment.”)

Which brings us to today, which marks the third and arguably biggest moment in the partnership thus far: Lil Nas X’s debut as the face of Coach’s latest campaign, “Courage to Be Real.” The centerpiece is a video, directed by Petra Collins, set to his new song “Star Walkin’.” It shows Lil Nas X’s journey from the Atlanta suburbs to superstardom, illustrated by his movement through a series of doors.

“This campaign is about having the courage to express your true self,” Lil Nas X told Esquire in a statement. “People either love and appreciate that or they won’t. But that’s okay, you just have to have the courage to keep going and doing you. Each door represents a really important transitional part of my life.”

lil nas x in the "courage to be real" campaign

Lil Nas X in the “Courage to Be Real” campaign.

Petra Collins

“I hope it inspires the world to transcend their limits like he has and express who they really are,” says Vevers. “It’s really a call to action to encourage courageous self-expression.”

It’s also, as it happens, a pretty damn good way to plant an earworm. “You know when you go to sleep and a song is playing in your head and you wake up in the morning and that song is still playing in your head?” Vevers says. “’Star Walkin’” is that song right now for me. I think it’s the only song in my head right now, and it’s a great song, so that’s not a bad thing.”

Jonathan Evans is the style director of Esquire, covering all things fashion, grooming, accessories, and, of course, sneakers. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. You can follow him at @MrJonathanEvans on Twitter and Instagram.

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