“The automobile has become our national sex symbol,” wrote William Faulkner in a lengthy evidentiary musing on sex and cars in “Intruder in the Dust.”
Faulkner had but words and wits — and whiskey — to make his point. On Tuesday, Ralph Lauren will support a similar thesis with evidence of a more tangible sort when he shows his fall wear-now collection in the upstate garage that houses his world-class car collection. Three hundred guests will be transported by car — alas, those of the traditional car service variety, no vintage red Ferraris — to the event in Bedford, N.Y., 40 miles north of Manhattan. The collection has been seen before, in museum exhibitions in Paris and Boston. But this is the first time Lauren will open one of his properties for a fashion show.
Asked about the dramatic change of venue, Lauren told WWD that, in considering fashion focus on “experiences,” he thought this would make an interesting tie-in to his fashion perspective. “When someone gets into a beautiful car, it enhances their world. If you get into a racing car, it’s sexy.”
WWD: So Ralph, why Bedford?
Ralph Lauren: It’s one of those things. I was working on my collection and I had some thoughts about cars and colors. I wasn’t trying to match it up but I said, “You know what would really be interesting? If I did the collection in the garage.” In talking about experiences, I thought that might be a nice thing to do. People have asked me many times to see the cars, and I thought it might be [the right] time to do that.
WWD: Talk about the fashion-cars connection. The clothes came first and made you think of the cars?
R.L.: When I was working, there were some sensibilities about color and I said, “This is Ferrari yellow and the Ferrari red.” So I sort of referred to the cars, the colors of some of the exciting sports cars. But it’s not like I’m matching every color to every car; it was a little inspiration at the moment.
WWD: Let’s talk about the collection. It sounds very upbeat — Ferrari red and Ferrari yellow.
R.L.: I’m not playing coy, but I think it’s beautiful.
WWD: Is it very optimistic? What’s the overall mood?
R.L.: It’s modern. It has a modernity and a sense of timelessness. I’m just working on putting it together so I haven’t really defined it. I don’t know how it’s going to come out, but I think it’s going to be good, contemporary and beautiful. I think the cars represent forward-thinking, contemporary-looking styles and sensibilities.
WWD: How will you integrate the cars with the clothes?
R.L.: I have rearranged them so that you can have a runway. I’m also showing men’s and women’s; I don’t think I’ve shown men’s wear at a fashion show here since the Seventies. So it’s the first time in a long time.
WWD: Why did you decide to do that?
R.L.: It’s about the energy and the excitement. I think this has got the energy and it’s got the speed and the sensibility. I’ve shown my cars in Paris and in Boston at the Museum of Fine Art. I see cars as art. And I see clothes as art.
WWD: Some designers say that doing women’s and men’s together is extremely challenging because each must be cohesive on its own, and the two must look good together. In addition, here you’re adding the cars. Were these very challenging collections to design?
R.L.: Basically, cars and clothes and watches and jewelry are part of the sensibility of how people dress, how they [live]. Getting into a beautiful car with a beautiful gown or a beautiful suit — it all goes together. Cars are part of our culture. They’ve been ignored in terms of the fashion world. This is part of the world that I enjoy and love. This is very personal to me; it’s not about a trend or anything like that. It’s about the extension of beauty and quality and interesting things that are contemporary but also timeless.
WWD: Other designers have done “location” shows — Cuba, the California desert, the Great Wall of China. This is different in that it is personal. Talk about that personal element.
R.L.: These are cars that I love personally, that I have collected over the years and drive all the time. They are not static. They’re not just paintings, they move. What makes them exciting is the movement. That movement, the speed, the handling, it’s the same [as] how I see clothes. It’s abstract, but it’s what I see and what I think is exciting. It’s not stagnant. When someone gets into a beautiful car, it enhances their world. If you get into a racing car, it’s sexy.
WWD: Are you at all afraid of the cars trumping the clothes?
R.L.: I am not afraid of it. My collection is bought by people who love Ralph Lauren. Whatever products I make, whether it’s a watch or whatever, it adds to the clothes. This is an interesting place. I think going to be a very interesting and beautiful. I think it will be a nice evening.
It’s very obvious: If people look at cars, and they don’t normally look at cars and they know about clothes, they’re going be interested in seeing the cars because they’re unusual and they don’t see them every day. So I think that adds a little excitement. A Ferrari is a Ferrari and a Porsche is a Porsche; the cars are beautiful. You want to see them. When you go to the museum, you’re excited, you see beauty. I think art and clothes and fashion and cars — they’re all connected, as far as I am concerned.
WWD: How important is the Instagram moment, the social media moment to you?
R.L.: I don’t know. I don’t count on what the moments are. I’m not that contrived in my thought process. I first do what I think is going to be beautiful and interesting. I’m not considering anything except that I have a job to do, to present my clothes and my company in an interesting way.
WWD: Let’s talk about that in the context of the CFDA and NYFW. How does doing what’s best for Ralph Lauren work within the context of a traditional show season?
R.L.: I think you’re going to see the clothes, and those who love Ralph Lauren will respond to the whole ambience and the beauty of the evening. I have a job to do for a company, a professional job to make our clothes exciting and interesting. And also, [you must] stay to true to who you are and what you stand for. I’ve done that.
WWD: Did you think about how the trip to Bedford would impact NYFW? How did you approach the CFDA with this idea?
R.L.: We made sure that we were OK with the calendar. We made sure that we were doing the right thing and we weren’t stepping on anyone. I’ve never done [that]….I’ve always been very careful with everybody. I’m always aware: When is the time I can do the show? What would be a good show?…Everyone is trying to have a nice presentation, to make it exciting.
WWD: As you and others look at alternative ways to show, alternative places to show, what do you think is the future of the traditional “fashion week?”
R.L.: I think fashion week is exciting. I don’t think that’s going away. Fashion has grown and is changing every day, and there are many different elements of it. It’s challenging to be able to make a great presentation if you can. I have always made presentations in the places that I feel were appropriate, and over the years I’ve done them in different places. I’ve done different things in Milan and in a villa. It looked beautiful. It was different.
I think fashion week is exciting. I don’t believe it’s the presentation that makes the clothes. [The cars are] like showing art work, as far as I’m concerned. Now I’m hoping that it’s as good as I think it will be.
It’s about showing my private hobby and passion. I’ve been collecting cars for many years. I drive them; I’ve gone to racing school. So there’s a lot of passion as far as that. It’s not just showing something on a whim. It’s part of my life.
WWD: Are you putting your toe in the water here? Is this a step toward joining the itinerant-show set — Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Vuitton — with a location extravaganza for resort or pre-fall?
R.L.: I really don’t think it out that clearly. I go by what I’m inspired by at the moment. I don’t follow, I do what I feel at the time. I thought this was a great idea and I want to do it. The clothes will have to speak for themselves, the evening will have to speak for itself. It doesn’t mean that next year I’m going do the same thing or I’m going to do it somewhere else. I thought this was a good time to have an exciting statement about the elements and the connections in art and fashion.
WWD: This is a buy-now collection. Are you dedicated to buy-now-wear-now going forward?
R.L.: I think it’s an interesting concept to be able to purchase at the moment when you’re excited and when you see something at its best light. It’s wonderful if you can do it. The scheduling is not easy. To design the lines and keep them consistent and interesting — the wear-now is difficult. It’s proven to be difficult for many people, and it’s not easy for me, either. But I thought it was interesting and I’m [still] trying it. But the clothes are the most important thing, whether they buy them now or they buy them later.
WWD: How will the evening unfold?
R.L.: The show will be first and then dinner will be after.
WWD: In the same space?
R.L.: No. There are two spaces.
WWD: How do you top it for the 50th?
R.L.: I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it right now. Right now is now. My goal now is to make sure the show is beautiful. Like any year, no matter when I do the show, you try to do your best, to make it look as good as you can. Sometimes people love it, sometimes they don’t. Some people love it and some people don’t, you know?
I’ve been doing this for 50 years, going by the same rhythm of what I was doing and not being the trend of the moment. I have always done my own thing, and I’ve had success doing that.