The past few months have been challenging for Ralph Lauren the brand. Revenues across the diverse set of goods that are branded by the company haven’t exactly been stellar. Then, company CEO Stefan Larsson abruptly left a couple of weeks ago after apparently facing considerable resistance to his plans for the company.
While the see-now/buy-now concept worked quite well at first last September, there’s a definite sales curve that fell off dramatically toward the end of the last quarter as shoppers decided to delay purchases in advance of the February show. That put a lot of pressure on this season’s presentation to create something that would fuel sales all the way through to September. That’s a long time to try and keep this collection exciting. A resort and/or pre-fall collection would help, but Lauren doesn’t always create a mid-season collection and when he does it’s sometimes quite small.
At the same time, there is still some public backlash from Lauren’s decision to dress the First Lady for her husband’s inauguration. Lauren himself has been pretty quiet on the subject, but it’s generated enough buzz to take up a chunk of the conversation as the team at SHOWstudio reviewed the collection.
None of that was evident as one walked into the brand’s flagship store on Madison Avenue. In place of the lit glass shelves were walls covered in live orchids. Those with allergies to live plants were in trouble as there was no place to sit that didn’t put one in close proximity to the flowers. There were even butterflies, real ones, flitting about here and there. The fragrance was lively and we did notice a few people having to politely excuse themselves before the show started. Still, the setting was like being placed in a beautiful garden where none of the nonsense from outside could get in. For a few moments, there was nothing of concern except fashion.
On the company website, Lauren describes the February collection this way:
My February 2017 Collection was inspired by a nomadic spirit, an exotic sophistication contrasting pure shapes with rustic textures, burnished golds, shades of the desert, and artful, one-of-a-kind jewelry. It embodies the spirit of the woman I design for, always seeking a style that is bold and personal.
To that end, there is definitely some boldness in this collection and in the show itself. First, let’s take note of the fact this is the first time a black model has started a Ralph Lauren runway. I double-checked the archives all the way back to 2001, which is as far as the digital collection takes me, just to make sure. This is by far the most racially diverse runway Lauren has ever had. We were extremely pleased. This season’s collection screams for that kind of diversity and benefits strongly from being show in this manner. Sure, he made room for the Instagram crowd with both Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner in the mix, but neither were given dominant ensembles. All the dominant pieces were given to women of color and it was a beautiful thing.
Second, being that this is more of a spring/summer collection rather than the autumn/winter stuff that everyone else is showing at the moment, Lauren gives us a reprieve from silhouettes that cover everything from head to toe with loosely flowing gowns and dresses that have deep scoops and low plunges in the back and frequently in the front as well. There are a few times I’m sure double-sided tape was all that kept models from a “wardrobe malfunction.”
Third, let’s talk about color. In a sea of golds, taupes, tans, and brown, Lauren’s last eight looks invoke a level of deep, rich color that we’re not accustomed to seeing with this label. Okay, there were those strangely colored polo shirts back in the 1980s, but we’ve forgiven him for that. What we see in these last few looks is a boldness that at times feels absolutely royal and we’re pleased that those pieces are so strong. The final four even have floral prints, making them all the more surprising for a Lauren collection.
All that being said, there is also a great deal here that is perfectly normal for a Ralph Lauren collection. Cotton button-down shirts? Check. Leather jackets? Check. Men’s tailored suiting? Check. For all the newness in the collection, there is a lot here that is the same. He never wanders too terribly far from the looks and silhouettes that have kept him popular all these years. He knows what works for his base customer. At the same time, however, he’s not afraid to mix things up with a sharp leather mesh or a crocheted lace here and there. He even throws in a pair of brown leggings that look as though they may have been tossed into the wash with just a touch of bleach. He managed to keep the collection lively at every turn.
At the same time, however, he’s not afraid to mix things up with a sharp leather mesh or a crocheted lace here and there. He even throws in a pair of brown leggings that look as though they may have been tossed into the wash with just a touch of bleach. He managed to keep the collection lively at every turn.
The one thing that was noticeably missing from this collection is denim. On one hand, I can understand backing off the material a little bit given its dominance in last season’s collection. At the same time, denim has always been the designer’s go-to fabric. It is even a significant part of his personal style. He was wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt with his boots and leather jacket at the show last night. Yet, the collection was almost void of anything blue at all.
I say “almost” because it does make one appearance in the final look, although that may be a style choice rather than part of the design. We’ve looked at this piece several times and can’t decide if it is supposed to be a cover, a dress, or possibly a robe. What you can’t see from this angle is that it is hooded, as are a few of the other looks. While the loose silhouette matches the gowns shown right before it, the snaps down the front give it a more casual look. When paired with the jeans, we’re not sure what the intention might be. However, we are sure that it is an interesting look no matter where one chooses to wear it.
No matter how much we like this collection, though, I’m not convinced it is strong enough to carry the label through until next September. This is a slightly smaller than usual collection with only 36 looks to the whole thing. Perhaps a pre-fall collection is in the works for June or so. There’s been no word from the label in that regard. What we see here looks really good and offers the label a chance to reach out to a more diverse customer than with previous collections. Whether that’s enough to keep the storied brand afloat, though, remains to be seen.