At the end of his long runway — well, the length of five Ferraris — Ralph Lauren took his bow and then signaled his well-dressed guests to follow him, as if to say, “Hey, the show’s over, let’s go eat.” The gray-haired man in the olive-drab mechanic suit strolled off. Despite his fame and wealth and not inconsiderable ego — Lauren ferried some 270 people to Bedford to view his clothes and dine amid his classic-car collection — one always gets the feeling that he is not a social animal. Give him a burger, a few close friends and family, and he’d be happy.
His awkwardness is touching, as is his evergreen impulse to imagine things as a movie. There are few topics that rev up Lauren more than the movies, and it’s safe to say that much of what he has created over the past 50 years has been based in part on Hollywood archetypes: the cowboy, the polo-playing scion, the glamorous socialite, the French bohemian. And so it was Tuesday evening at the immaculate facility where Lauren keeps and pampers his many Ferraris and Alfa Romeos. What other film franchise combines fast cars, impeccable English tailoring, and sexy female villains? Why, Bond … James Bond. Even the music was pure 007.
I loved getting a glimpse into Lauren’s hobby and his general obsessiveness, but I loved the clothes even more. For the past year, the Lauren company has been showing and selling its collections in the same season — the see-now-buy-now approach. And I’ve felt that its fashion has not looked as rich and special as it did in the past, when the design team was free to propose the most stylish pieces for the runway, without so much concern for sales. Lauren seemed to be relying too heavily on his image and a back catalogue of classic styles, and not leading with new, arresting fashion.
Well, that impression evaporated last night. The first dozen or so looks, all variations on sharp tailoring in black-and-white micro checks, were sublime. There were pantsuits with matching check stilettos, and a gorgeous trench with matching narrow trousers, followed later by a sleeveless glen-plaid dress with chevron-patterned pleating on the skirt, and a shimmery evening slip in a darkened version of the check. For years, Lauren has been dressing women in masculine suits, and in every manner of check and pinstripe, but here the total look came off as very fresh. Plus, the fit was sexy. The models, with hair ironed straight and cool rather than haughty expressions, looked like they’d have no trouble tossing you off a cliff if you got in their way.
If Ralph Lauren can keep its in-season strategy laser-focused on the latest fashion, with or without the gleam of sports cars, he should have no trouble navigating into the next half-century of design.