(L) Miles Cahn and his wife, Lillian, in the 1960s. They founded Coach in New York in 1961 and sold the company in 1985. / (R) A promotional photo for the Coach Cashin Carry Collection (Fall 1969).
Miles Cahn, who with his wife founded the Coach Leatherware Company, which helped redefine the American handbag as both chic and practical, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 95.
His death was confirmed by his son-in-law, the chef Mario Batali.
Mr. Cahn and his wife, Lillian Cahn, founded Coach in 1961 after buying a small wallet manufacturer on West 34th Street and renaming it.
It was at Mrs. Cahn’s suggestion that they began producing their first generation of women’s handbags. She was impressed by the quality of a flexible cowhide used in baseball gloves.
“I scoffed at first,” Mr. Cahn told The New York Times in 2013 when his wife died at 89. “In New York, there were a lot of handbag companies, and at that time, stores were all buying knockoffs of bags made in Europe. But my wife prevailed.”
One of their biggest successes was Coach’s now-classic shopping bag purse, which was modeled on a type of paper shopping bag that Mrs. Cahn, as a girl, had used to make food deliveries from a series of businesses her family owned in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., during the Depression.
The company’s other innovations — the bucket bag, the tongue bag and ones with chains and coin-purse attachments and turn lock/toggle fastenings created by the designer Bonnie Cashin — took the American purse from a stiff, impractical, ornamental pocketbook to something that women could use in their daily lives as mothers, workers or travelers.
With their bright, attractive colors, the bags became staples in upscale wardrobes across America and helped promote a more active and progressive image of women. They cost up to thousands of dollars today.
The Cahns remained at their factory on 34th Street for years. Mrs. Cahn oversaw the showroom and promoted their products to fashion writers and editors. Sales reached about $20 million by the early 1980s. In 1985, the Cahns sold the company to Sara Lee Corporation for a reported $30 million.
Under Sara Lee, Coach opened stores around the world and expanded into a broader range of accessories, including perfume, sunglasses and jewelry.
Sara Lee spun off the company in 2000 for a reported $1 billion. The company reported $4.4 billion in net sales in its most recent fiscal year.
Coach designers continue to imitate Ms. Cashin’s styles, and many of the Cahns’ first-generation handbags remain classics. (Ms. Cashin died in 2000 at 84.)
Miles Cahn was born in New York City on April 18, 1921. His parents, Jacob and Fanny Cahn, had fled to the United States from Russia during the Russian Revolution.
Mr. Cahn graduated from the City College of New York and later served in the Army during World War II. He met Lillian Lenovitz in New York City, and they married in 1947.
While they built their business, the Cahns became involved in civic causes, including the New York Public Library and the Food Bank for New York City.
During the 1960s, the Cahns protested the war in Vietnam, including buying an ad in The Times addressed to President Richard M. Nixon, according to autobiographical notes that Mr. Cahn prepared before his death.
After selling Coach, the Cahns established the 600-acre Coach Farm in Gallatinville, N.Y., where they made fresh and aged goat cheeses. The couple sold the farm in 2006, and Mr. Cahn retired at age 85.
Mr. Cahn, who lived on the Upper West Side, is survived by his children Julie, David and Susi, all with the surname Cahn, and five grandchildren. Mr. Batali is married to Susi Cahn.
Mr. Cahn enjoyed writing in his final years, compiling hundreds of pages of what he referred to as “reflections.”
“Looking back at it, I can appreciate that life, for all its randomness, has dealt me a good hand,” he wrote recently. “I will surrender reluctantly when my time is up and will sorely miss it when I am gone.”