NEW YORK — Don’t use the word “classic” in front of Ralph Lauren.
“I don’t like the word,” the designer said during a walk-through of his fall men’s collection at his Madison Avenue offices here Tuesday. “It makes you think we didn’t do any work.”
Quite the contrary, Lauren hired 58 models to showcase an eye-popping, multipronged collection across all of his labels — one that included everything from a shawl-collar velvet tuxedo and double-face sweater/blazer in Purple Label to plaid pants and soft tweed blazers in Polo and a rough-around-the-edges assortment of leathers and denims in Black Label. There was even a double-face crocodile and cashmere jacket in the Purple Label collection with a ticket price of $100,000.
“I’ve never believed in just one thing,” he said. “Growing up, I liked a lot of things. Brooks Brothers was boring at the time, so I did Polo.” And over the years, the franchise has expanded into a string of labels with a variety of nuances that remain true to the Ralph Lauren sensibility but are still different enough to have their own personalities.
“There’s a spirit of moving through variations,” he said. “That’s what you can do in men’s wear.”
For this season, Lauren shined the spotlight first on his most luxe line, Purple Label, which he said is one of the fastest-growing businesses in the company. “We’re moving it along and it’s becoming a big thing.” The message is “low key and subtle,” he said, but overwhelmingly luxurious and modern.
The Purple Label man wants to define his “individuality” and is looking for “quality product. He’s wearing business clothes, but on the weekends, he wants to be luxurious and sophisticated.” This is especially true in Europe and the Far East, he said. “We’re an international company. We have stores in China, Paris and Milan, and Purple Label is becoming stronger and stronger.”
Key sportswear pieces included cashmere drawstring sweatpants and a coat with a shearling collar and lining that looked like fur. Double-face sweater coats, an unconstructed peacoat and leathers and suedes blended with gray flannel were among the standouts. There were also tweed gun-patch jackets, double-breasted lodens and plaid suits that made a “sophisticated statement about weekend wear.
“In this world, there used to be heavy fabrics,” he continued. “But everything here is lightweight.”
There was also a surprise within Purple Label’s clothing range. Lauren opted for a variety of dark, subtle plaid fabrics and antique stripes for his suit selection, many of which were shown as three-piece models. Silhouettes were slim with narrow pants and slightly shorter jackets. “Vests are definitely more important today,” he said. “And they’re more elegant.”
The patterns are “bolder” than in the past, he said, and work well with the chalkstripes and solids that remain hallmarks of the line. “It’s for the younger guy who wants fashion in a more elegant way.”
He said Purple Label is “the best clothing we can make in the world. It’s all handmade from the best fabrics and makes a strong statement.”
To complement the clothing, Lauren took a leap forward with very high-collared dress shirts that were reminiscent of J.C. Leyendecker’s illustrations for Arrow in the Twenties. “It’s not the Twenties,” Lauren stressed. “And it’s not copying any television show. It’s what’s new for the modern man to keep him interested.” Neckwear was also bolder, with graphic patterns that complemented the striped shirts.
Purple Label also included a smattering of formalwear, everything from full-on tails to velvet blazers paired with plaid pants for a “sport evening” look, Lauren said.
“Purple Label is expanding and growing,” he said. “This is a statement for luxury. Everything is a push — we don’t rest.”
Turning to the brand’s Polo collection, Lauren showed a wide-reaching collection of sportswear and clothing. “We’re building a store on Fifth Avenue,” he said. “And we’ve really broadened the line and are doing as many things as we think are right.” As reported, the company will open a 35,000-square-foot Polo flagship at 711 Fifth Avenue, between 55th and 56th Streets, in September.
Saying the Polo line is “for a guy with a preppier sensibility,” Lauren showed soft sport coats in slim silhouettes, suede pants, washed cotton canvas jackets, corduroy pants in an array of colors, bi-swing jackets, suede Indian-inspired jackets with fringe, traditional hunting jackets and Western shirts. “This is weekend wear, and it looks new and contemporary,” he said.
The offering also included pieces from the RLX activewear collection such as down jackets in neon colors and technical jackets and pants.
“Every piece is well thought out,” he said, pointing to a vintage-inspired baseball jacket, a leather motorcycle jacket and a toggle coat.
Polo clothing is also slimmed down this season and is targeted to “the man who loves his clothing and wants something authentic.”
Lauren’s Black Label collection remained true to its roots, offering “a little more edge, hipper, downtown” vibe. “This started with only clothing but has expanded to sportswear,” Lauren said. “It’s also been a very good seller for us.”
The offering ranged from suits in gray, black and navy to denim and distressed leathers.
Lauren also provided a peek at the RRL collection, which the designer called “very hip and very international. It’s blowing out at our stores in China and Japan,” he said. “We like to keep it quiet, but people are buying it.”
RRL’s selection of jeans and “roughwear” appeal to a “guy who has style. He’s theatrical, he’s an artist, a writer, an individual. It’s vintage, but not copied vintage, it’s modern vintage.”