Ralph Lauren back at cutting edge of fashion after New York show
Designer creates cosy winter wonderland in which to give crowds a masterclass in sexy-but-warm elegance, reaffirming his place as the king of all-American cool
Given that Kanye West last year told an interviewer “I am Warhol. I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh”, it seems fair to assume that the rapper is not easily starstruck.
But as Ralph Lauren greeted well-wishers at the end of his New York fashion week show on Thursday morning, West rose from his front row seat, approached the designer and handed a security guard his phone, gesturing to him to take a photo of the pair together. Lauren has a net worth currently estimated by Forbes at US$7.1 billion, is the only designer to have been awarded all four of the top honours given by the Council of Fashion Designers America - and Kanye West wants a selfie. Not bad going.
“It was just - wow,” said West, dressed for the show in a parka with a furry hood, of Lauren’s latest collection. “It was art."
The snowy-haired, 75-year-old Lauren, who belts his blue jeans with a cowboy-tough belt and spends his downtime riding horses on a Colorado ranch, might seem an unlikely role model for West - and for the young designer Alexander Wang, whose edgy collections teem with so-hip-it-hurts references, but who namechecks Lauren as the designer whose success he would most like to emulate.
It may be a long time since Ralph Lauren was at the cutting edge of fashion, but his gift for giving the American public what they want a season before they know they want it has made him an icon for a new generation of brand-savvy designers and entrepreneurs.
With this collection, Ralph Lauren once again showed how this is done. The show was staged in a cavernous studio backing onto the Hudson River, perhaps the coldest part of a city currently experiencing record-breakingly low temperatures.
An audience who have been battling with the challenge of how to look fashion-week-appropriate in the freezing cold arrived, colder than ever, to find themselves in a room as warm as toast, with three chandeliers the size of cartwheels lending a soft, candlelit glow to the whitewashed wood catwalk. And onto the catwalk came a vision as cosy as it was glamorous. There was only muted colour, little sparkle, and the merest hint of bare flesh: nothing to distract from the central message of wrapped-up winter polish.
Furry trapper hats were worn with the first look onto the catwalk - a knitted two-piece of turtleneck cashmere sweater and midi skirt the colour of expensive wild mushrooms - and with the last, a beaded, burnished-copper evening gown. (There was an abundance of fur in the collection - at the cuffs of sweaters, at the collars of jackets, and in draped shawls - but it was all fake, since the label has a longstanding commitment not to use the real stuff.)
It was a masterclass in how to elevate cold-weather dressing from necessity into compelling commercial proposition. Tone-on-tone layering, as in a creamy beaded cashmere sweater over a cream suede skirt long enough to graze the top of camel suede boots, kept heavy layers looking sleek and streamlined.
Embroidered shawls, capes and ponchos wrapped on top of sumptuous turtleneck sweaters gave a free-spirit edge to the utilitarian schlepp of piling on extra layers. At Ralph Lauren, not even frostbite can spoil the American dream.