Sometimes, we just want something stable and lasting in the world where everything changes so instantly and abruptly. That’s Ralph Lauren‘s allure, which seems to be going through a sort of renaissance in the last couple of seasons. Over the years, Lauren has shown us his New York – a show in Central Park, the café society show presented at his uptown store, the swanky supper club he erected near Wall Street and last season’s soignee affair at MoMA. While there’s no denying he’s a New Yorker through and through, nothing gets the creative juices flowing quite like a case of wanderlust. And so the designer looked farther afield for spring-summer 2023. Specifically to Southern California – shockingly, the first time he’s shown here. He could have gone anywhere he pleased, but Lauren landed on an unexpected choice – the Huntington Library, a museum and botanical garden just northeast of Los Angeles proper, founded in 1919 by an industrialist family that made their fortunes in railroads and real estate. It was against the museum’s Mediterranean Revival style facade that Lauren presented his vision to his Hollywood pals – Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, Diane Keaton, Laura Dern, John Legend, to name but a few. The cushioned loungers and twilight cocktail hour set the tone – this was California casual, done the Ralph way. “California has always been a land of dreams and contradictions – rugged coasts and red carpets,” he said in his show notes. You could sense that those contrasts fascinate him. “For the first time ever,” he continued, “I bring my dream of living here, sharing my worlds in an experience that celebrates a way of life I have always believed in – a mix of grit and glamour, energy and inspiration.” In his six-decades-long career, there’s nothing in the American psyche that Lauren hasn’t addressed in some way. And yet, the West and its mythos, has been particularly transfixing. So it’s not surprising that he found ways to wring out new insights from archetypes and codes that he’s explored before.
The show opened with a trim, wheat-colored suit worn with an oversized cowboy hat, a Western belt, and antique-style jewelry. The effect was confident and assured – a mix of the urbane and rugged, of masculine and feminine. Floral-pattern bias-cut prairie dresses fluttering atop cowboy boots followed, adding a demure touch, while fringed knits became oversized cardigans or wrap skirts, imparting gravitas. Men, meanwhile, wore dusky denim suits, evoking the hardscrabble dignity of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, or, alternately, looked like suave frontiersmen of classic Hollywood westerns, the models tipping their hats and winking at audience members as they strutted by. The show shifted through different modes, first came looks in an easy key: breezy pleated pants worn with louche white button-ups, preppy sweaters tied around the neck, tennis shorts paired with a creamy brown turtleneck, a shimmering gold safari suit, all imbued with a sense of offhanded elegance. Next, it moved into a more eclectic, youthful beat: madras patchwork mixed with tailoring, athletic gear mixed with prep, polo shirts atop ball gowns or maillots worn with billowing nylon floor length skirts. Lauren seemed to be shaking off the formality of the East Coast, embracing the outdoorsy lifestyle of Los Angeles. It was a looser, freer collection, one that was a snapshot of the breadth and variety of the American style idiom (the wonderful casting of various ages and ethnicities helped tell that story beautifully). Instead of the normal final walk, the enormous cast came out and lined the stairs as Lauren, smiling, took his bow.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!