Ralph Lauren’s valet girls
Ralph Lauren staged a fashion first Tuesday evening in suburban New York. He became the first designer to present his latest collection inside his own garage; and threw in a sit-down dinner to celebrate.
Lauren even called the show Ralph’s Garage, inviting 300 folks to a brightly lit auto warehouse inside his home in Bedford, a town founded by Puritans that was burned to the ground by the British in the American Revolutionary War. These days, it is a posh New York suburb where older celebrities like Glenn Close and Bruce Willis have made their home.
The show took place at a delicate moment for the brand – which has been hemorrhaging money for several years. Sales have now declined in nine consecutive quarters. The designer also suffered the acute embarrassment of closing down his giant Fifth Avenue Polo flagship store, business was so bad. A venue, let’s not forget, that Ralph only opened in September 2014, as the key vehicle for the development of Polo as a major force. No amount of fancy cars can distract from those hard facts. And, unfortunately, the runway set looked more like a vintage car auction that anything else, even if Ralph’s motors are valued collectively at over $300 million.
“A bold and powerful vision of femininity, combining sculptural silhouettes,” said Ralph, whose inspiration was his cars, mingled with menswear iconography revamped for women.
In the end, this was a fine – though definitely not vintage – collection by Lauren. It opened to the sound of a Formula One exhaust, and ended with James Bond theme music. The first looks – crisp Prince of Wales and houndstooth combos – the women in neat Eisenhower jackets or trenchs, the men in sweeping top-coats. One could even shop several hounds tooth accessories from the collection before they hit the catwalk. Before an excellent finale, with wonderful Great Gatsby tuxedo shirts; and a sensational set of tails worn with ironed leather motorbike pants.
For cocktail hour, shiny short dresses worn under gray flannel puffers, the sort valet parkers wear on chilly nights in LA. For red carpet moments – columns in silver boucle – the same hue as the classical Porsche in the middle of the catwalk. Sleek leather tunics and dresses mimicked the lean lines of the assembled autos, while a series of silver chokers recalled their metallic trim.
Even before the show began, Lauren showed nostalgic videos of himself racing a power car on the open roads of America. One black and white night-time drive was ingeniously edited as the dotted central highway line morphed into a pair of scissors cutting gray flannel. A private show, yet broadcast all over social media. “Take a front-row seat,” read the message on the brand’s own website; the house’s Instagram account had Ralph showing off his autos to Kendall Jenner; while Facebook featured the evening’s menu - lobster salad and Polo Bar burgers.
Thousands of people have, of course, seen 17 of these cars before – when Paris’ Museum of Decorative Arts held the exhibition The Art of the Automobile: Masterpieces from the Ralph Lauren Collection, as Ralph picked up the Legion d’Honneur from then President Sarkozy. And, quite frankly, at a time when Lauren’s brand has lost complete traction with ecologically conscious millennials, focusing on vintage cars seems wilfully nostalgic. Especially when one considers that the fastest growing auto marque in the USA is the electric car specialist Tesla.
Jessica Chastain – the face of Lauren’s latest fragrance Woman - arrived in a Bugatti Veyron. Beside her sat Diane von Furstenberg, Katie Holmes, Bruce Weber, Diane Keaton and Ricky Lauren (the latter two in near matching Annie Hall men’s suits and ties).
The 77-year-old designer, attired in an antique racecar pilot jumpsuit, took his typical languid tour of the runway, kissing his assembled family. Misty-eyed, almost regretfully leaving the runway, as if there might not be many more moments like this to savor.
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