This season marked the return of Ralph Lauren menswear to New York Fashion Week amidst big changes at the company. Stefan Larsson, the first CEO of the Ralph Lauren empire who wasn’t Ralph himself, recently departed after spending two years trying to steer the brand in a new direction. For the past few years, the company has tried to create a greater distinction between its Black Label and loftier Purple Label lines that both cater to its highest-spending customers. This particular presentation put Purple Label on display and, so far, the efforts seem to be paying off.
Ralph Lauren is known to think cinematically, conceiving each collection around a narrative he and his team create. It’s a huge asset that has resulted in unparalleled world building when it comes to a designer label but it can occasionally come off a bit heavy-handed. Not here. Almost the entire collection was designed in various shades of black, gray and brown making for an entire wardrobe with pieces that are effortlessly interchangeable.
Themes from the American West (a dark sweater woven with a cream bull’s skull across the chest, the fringe swaying from the arms of a black blazer, prints inspired by traditional Native American motifs) were all present but seemed to blend holistically with the silhouettes Lauren devised. Evening wear was subtly updated with tuxedos in unusual fabrics like chocolate brown corduroy that brought an inviting texture to what can sometimes be chilly dress attire.
Elements of sport have long been a part of Ralph Lauren canon, but this collection took a fresh look at them, trimmed down the fit and shortened the length for a more contemporary feel that I think can draw in a younger customer without scaring off the older ones. Said to be inspired by Mongolian explorers, this portion of the collection had a sense of adventure that was romanticized but still came across as legitimate like an old 19th or early 20th-century photograph of someone who looks spectacular for no apparent reason and makes you jealous at the thought. A khaki trench with a wide collar on a model wearing chic sunglasses had a similar effect despite a different point of inspiration.
Mr. Lauren and his team deserve major kudos for putting together a collection that doesn’t feel costumey but, rather, wearable without getting bogged down in the everyday. There was a renewed sense of lightness and freshness that gave a hint of the brand’s extraordinary potential. The clothes had that particular Lauren signature (the way he sets a shoulder, the slouch of the pants, the rakishness of a great coat) but it didn’t feel like a club you couldn’t be a member of. You could be of any color, age, weight or background and find something that you could make your own. That’s a Herculean balance that most fail at tremendously but Lauren carried off with ease. That’s something everyone can get behind.
written by martin lerma