After last falls tweed/cotton-heavy 50th anniversary collection in Central Park, Ralph Lauren returned to his Madison Avenue flagship store, turned it into a quiet little café where everyone gets a corner booth, and ramped up the old style glamour to a level we’ve not seen in his ready-to-wear collections in several years. While Lauren is not a stranger to the world of high glamour, he pushed that aesthetic so hard that the only denim seen all morning was the pair the designer himself was wearing. His collection bore not a single stitch of the trademark blue fabric.
After last season’s down-to-earth collection, this hardly feels like the same designer but is a strong return to his earlier Hollywood-styled aesthetic, the looks based on the glamour of stars such as Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Taylor. Ramping that glamorous feeling was the fact that models sauntered rather casually through the café, pausing in front of tables as though they might stop and have a conversation. They didn’t chat, of course, but there were frequent smiles as they encountered well-known editors and stylists. One had the sense that this was a very privileged setting for which one had to demonstrate a significant bank balance before entering. Common folk need not apply.
Offsetting the obvious glamour were pseudo-military trimmings, from the epaulets of a naval officer to decorative use of gold braid on several of the opening pieces. The look was interesting to a point, and some questioned whether the designer had perhaps served in the Navy. Sorry, wrong branch. Lauren did a brief stint in the U. S. Army before turning his attention to neckties. The silhouettes themselves, however, were far from sea-worthy. From the very first model to slink down the main staircase, this collection was all about being the best-dressed woman in the room.
Gold factors prominently throughout the collection as well, starting as the color of trim and accessories and eventually moving into metallic gold gowns, one of which looked suspiciously like a certain gold statuette one might receive for Best Actress. This much gold dramatically ramps up the sense of luxury, something that matches the house’s new retail program that minimizes the number of sales held annually and emphasizes the quality of the products.
Even when the silhouettes are perhaps a little more casual, such as a black pantsuit, the trim, well-tailored approach keeps everything in a high-end, red carpet aesthetic. There is no “down” moment. Each piece builds on the other until the final black dress covered with a shimmering gold cape makes its sweeping pass through the room, letting everyone know that coffee service is over and guests should please show themselves to the door.
Here are a few samples of the looks from this morning’s show:
There are a couple of leftover trends from last season seen in this collection. The most dominant is the frequency with which we see crop tops on this runway. This is a significant choice as it elevates the bare midriff to an acceptable place among highest society and speaks strongly to the continued desire of those buying luxury wear to look and act young. The second is the well-tailored pantsuit. Lauren has always preferred a trim look and he doesn’t back away from that the slightest.
One standout point in the collection is the large floral prints about half-way through the show. There is an elegance in the layering that is reminiscent of the late Oscar de la Renta. While Lauren only includes a handful of these pieces, one cannot help but wonder if he’s testing the water to see if any of the designer’s customers might jump ship.
Ralph Lauren loves a well-brewed cup of coffee in the morning and the relaxed elegance of this show went well with the large cups and delicate danishes served with this morning’s show. What may be most important, though, is that Lauren has chosen old-school glamour over more street-influenced looks. That may well be a sign of a shift in fashion’s love affair with street style. We’ll wait and see.