Artist Greg Lauren enjoys a special perspective on the themes of men’s wear, male archetypes, style icons and authenticity. His uncle, Ralph Lauren, and his father, Jerry Lauren, who is Ralph’s right-hand man in men’s design, steeped him in their ideology from the earliest age.
“At eight years old, I could appreciate Cary Grant’s glen plaid, double breasted, peak lapel suit, which was a little unusual among my friends,” he said.
This story first appeared in the September 22, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Partly as a result of this education, he grew up to question the interplay of image and identity through his art. Whereas his previous show focused on the aspirations of brides, his current installation, called “Alteration,” takes on the style imagery that shaped his own development.
“I needed to take a direct look at the things I was taught to love,” he said, standing in a quasi storefront in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. He has arranged about 40 life-size sculptures of iconic men’s clothes, including classic uniforms and heroic costumes, that he sewed from paper and coated with black and white paint. They reference archetypes including soldiers, hunters and businessmen, as well as the wide spectrum of Americana that his uncle and his father have romanticized for decades. Some, such as a safari jacket, appear durable enough to wear, but that quality is illusory.
“Part of what I’m saying is this image is so potent, and yet it’s paper thin. It looks so powerful, so durable, so real, and yet it’s as delicate and disposable as the paper it’s made out of,” he said.
Each type of garment corresponds to a memory. For example, Lauren made a set of Cub Scout shirts like he and his siblings wore as kids.
“I learned to love the faded blue fabric and the graphics of the patches. But none of us were ever a Cub Scout, and I never wanted to be, but I wanted the shirt. There’s an irony that I’m now looking at, because I have conflicted feelings that I think are worth exploring. Now especially, we’re all consumed by creating our own image. I think it’s interesting to see where that comes from, especially in relation to clothing, because clothing seems to be the most powerful way that people do that,” he said.
If the work is tempting to view as a criticism of fashion marketers, Lauren said that is absolutely not his intention. “I’m less interested in how it’s distributed to people and more interested in our desire for it. I’ve experienced first hand the desire to project an image through something I’m wearing. It’s no secret that every brand, beginning with my uncle’s, [deals with] the branding and marketing and selling of a lifestyle. Now everybody is selling lifestyles, and nobody seems to want their own. I’m really fascinated by people’s desire to become someone else and figure out who they are, beginning with myself.”
Enter phase two of the project. A few steps from the paper sculptures, Lauren has hung real (i.e., fabric) handmade jackets that are as self-referencing as scrapbooks, some decorated with souvenirs and written memories. He wears these quirky “self-portraits,” willfully accepting their imperfections since he’s a novice tailor and plans to continue making them in this space for the duration of the installation.
“They’re all jackets because a jacket is what you put on to leave the house and face the world,” he said. “It’s especially symbolic of a man. These jackets are an attempt to get closer to who I am — not what character I want to be, but who I am really.”
It would be ironic but not surprising if someone saw these intensely personal designs and felt compelled to commercialize them. Lauren wondered, “What is it about our obsession with owning a garment that has someone else’s history instead of our own?”
The backdrop of the garment workshop is Lauren’s three-dimensional painting of Cary Grant, recognizable by the actor’s posture and the drape of his suit, even with his face cropped out.
“Cary Grant famously said that everyone wants to be Cary Grant; even Cary Grant,” said Lauren. “This is really about the conflicting feelings I have about this kind of persona.”
The painting, which would not look out of place at a Polo Ralph Lauren store, heightens the semblance of a boutique — quite disorienting in a neighborhood comprised of chic stores and art galleries.
“Someone stops by every 15 minutes, either wanting one of the real jackets or thinking the sculptures are real. They want to try them on” but they can’t, Lauren said. They’re meant to be viewed as art.
An opening reception will take place Thursday night, and the installation is at 28 Wooster Street through the end of October.