Ralph Lauren knows a thing or two about “designer denim.” When he tapped into the lore and iconography of the Southwest as worthy of fashion fodder, he elevated the trappings of cowboy chic, denim included. Throughout his career, Lauren has applied that most humble, utilitarian of materials across markets and collections. Nearly 50 years in, he still loves the fabric, reveling in its ongoing reinvention.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The latest expression of Lauren’s denim fixation came in his high-polish resort collection. He included a group of lovely, tony looks, all in a dark Japanese denim. “I want to experiment,” Lauren said. “I’m interested in what’s exciting — what you don’t expect.” The unexpected came in smart tailoring as well as chic eveningwear, graceful silhouettes with manageable fullness, all devoid of decoration so as to put the focus squarely on the fabric.

None of which happened accidentally. The fabric’s original hand is rigid and dry. It was laundered at 90 degrees and dried in a special machine. The dual process softened the hand to resem- ble silk cady while also darkening, rather than fading, the color. Lauren sought structure without weight, especially important for the gowns. To facilitate the lightness, he kept everything unlined, the inside seams thermo-welded to grosgrain.

“This is denim on the highest level, very sophisticated,” Lauren said. “I think it’s one of the most exciting things [in fashion] right now.”