Get ready for The Grapes of Ralph. The only theme-appropriate touches missing from Ralph Lauren’s show on Thursday were a dilapidated truck and a heartfelt Henry Fonda voice-over. With its Depression-era emphasis, Lauren’s stated celebration of the American worker made for interesting and, at times, uncomfortable viewing, radiating as it did the designer’s earnestness while crossing over to the overly folkloric.
Certainly there is something wonderful about Lauren’s unabashed romanticism. In an industry rampant with cynicism, he’s proud to be American and believes deeply, as his show notes reminded, in this country’s “resilient spirit.” And there was news here. Whatever Lauren’s depictions of that spirit over the years, they have always been positive, beautiful and aspirational. This time out, check, check on those first two line items — his working-class heroines radiated can-do gumption of the most graceful sort, everyone looking pretty as a (Twentieth Century Fox) Dust Bowl picture. But savvy as he is, Lauren is surely aware that the woes of the past are more enthusiastically romanticized when one is not wallowing in current hard times. Thus, he made some risky choices; It’s unlikely many designer customers will aspire to shredded jeans and faded shirts, no matter how perfectly arranged the decay. As for their feminine counterparts, floral house- and sundresses, charmers for sure, but late-to-the-party kind of frocks that have flooded the contemporary market for some time.
Still, there was plenty to stock the racks. One passage featured snappy pin-striped suitings; another, lovely variations on shirtdressing in white organdy and voile. And Lauren’s moody blues for evening (minus the crystal-encrusted wrecked jeans) bore a serene elegance.