One of the compelling oddities of a life in fashion is the way it unifies people of vastly unlike off-duty realities in situations to which most of us would never otherwise be privy: walk-through of Coco Chanel’s apartment on Rue Cambon; cocktails at Bob Hope’s Lautner spaceship house in Palm Springs; supper atop the Temple of Venus in Rome, the Colosseum the backdrop for floating aerialists in billowing red silk. And while we’re listing, sitting this close to a girl in a purple storybook cape walking a pair of wolves on leashes in the Conciergerie in Paris.
Tuesday night’s extravagant New York Fashion Week detour to a garage in upstate Bedford courtesy of Ralph Lauren exemplified this phenomenon. (You thought Annie Hall was a made-up character? Me, too!) In a sense, it was a more dramatic display than those above; Lauren doesn’t merely have the power to deliver such access, he is the access — he owns the site.
For those of the working persuasion, the trek north presented challenges, and, intriguing though the invitation sounded, it was a command performance. Yet upon arrival via impeccably appointed chauffeured car, it held up to the hype: the Porsches; the Ferraris, the Jaguars; the McLarens, yes, that Bugatti, a dazzling display not only of wealth, but of a powerful dedication to aesthetic and functional perfection. It was within that context that Lauren’s claim of connection between clothes and cars resonated.
Unlike some of the cars, revolutionary when created in terms of design and performance (or so it would seem to an auto-ignoramus), the clothes didn’t attempt reinvention. Rather they oozed the timeless chic in which Lauren believes deeply and which, as the surroundings indicated, has worked well. The show opened with the tony men’s wear fabrics he loves — mixed tweeds, checks and plaids. The extensive passage featured a women’s range of dressed-up (bustier over pants) and dressed-down (relaxed jacket, pants). Men’s looks included a re-fabricated motorcycle jacket over shirt and tie and a double-breasted coat belted over lumberjack plaid sweater. While Lauren tinkered with car concepts — stripes; grill-work motifs; “Monte Carlo” signage and a car pictorial on a men’s jacket — he wisely avoided overstated connections. The most obvious — those bright red and yellow color pops matched exactly to car bodies — won’t matter when the clothes step into real life. Speaking of reality, as Lauren negotiates his customers’ increasingly casual lifestyle, he’s looking for new evening options. One coed idea: the puffer jacket, over a sparkly minislip and over-the-knee boots for her, and an elegant tuxedo for him. As for those delightfully flamboyant patent-over-tulle gowns — occasion dressing hasn’t vanished completely.
The dinner menu featured Polo Bar burgers — brilliant. They were served by a legion of young waiters in “Ralph’s Garage” mechanic’s jumpsuits. Unlike the cars, they proved neither efficient nor fast. They were certainly as pretty.