A Scream Queen, a Seahawk and a singer — Emma Roberts, Russell Wilson and Ciara, respectively — were among the first to arrive at Ralph Lauren’s Polo presentation at his Madison Avenue headquarters. But for Roberts’ petite stature, they could have fit right in among the casting: a whopping 40 young women and 40 young men, all beautiful and beautifully diverse. Yes, they checked off all the PC ethnicity boxes. But more importantly, they weren’t just black girls, white girls, Asian girls (and guys); they looked like real individuals. True, the prevailing women’s beauty look was one of patrician discretion — Polo is a Ralph Lauren brand. But it was worn with different attitudes and hairstyles — natural hair, braids and ponytails peppered among the dominant center-part-and-straight — that allowed the girls to radiate their personalities. The guys, meanwhile, worked coifs from precision short cuts to waist-length tresses glossy enough to make Rapunzel jealous.
The casting nailed the message. The beauty of Polo lies in cohesive diversity, expertly rendered. So much so that the brand could adopt as its slogan e pluribus unum had another great institution not gotten there first. As for the unum, “this is the new Polo girl,” Lauren said during a walk-through. “She’s a little more upscale. She’s not a caricature.”
Indeed not. She is someone who wears good breeding with casual élan and a level of sophistication new to Polo. For fall, Lauren shunned anything remotely cute in favor of a refreshing, youthful chic. He worked in a mostly neutral palette — taupe, camel, gray, black — for the lineup of tony sportswear. Looks ranged from tailored tweeds that subtly referenced the English countryside to racy fare built on suede leggings with a bit of street. The pieces were fabulous — great outerwear, knitwear, dresses and pants. But the power of the collection was in its mixes. A countrified tweed jacket took on urbane allure over a shirt, tie and self-belted cropped trousers; silver lamé got dressed down, as a sweatshirt dress under a suede jacket and as a skirt worn with a flannel skirt and tweed topper. One girl wore an Aztec-patterned tunic over gray citified knits; another threw a rugged, Southwestern-style crossbody bag over a big sweater and motocross pants.
Amidst the abundance, Lauren launched Polo Sport for women. Rejecting high flash and flamboyance, he opted instead for ubercool performance and après pieces in a base of gray that radiated active style.
The men’s wear had a more sophisticated edge as well. While many still think of Polo as chinos and plaid shirts, “this is what Polo looks like [to me],” the designer said. “This is not preppy.”
Lauren offered up the unexpected this season, delivering tension between traditional and new, casual and dressy. This was evident in the tapered suede suits, a distressed leather jacket paired with tweed pants and matching vest, a sweatshirt under a navy toggle coat paired with voluminous tweed pants worn like sweats, and unconstructed and unlined blazers. There was also a worn-in chino suit. But Lauren’s roots still showed, as evidenced by the head-turning camel topcoat — a model that has traditionally been a statement for the designer. “It’s a whole story,” Lauren said. “There’s a newness in the cut, the shoulder, it’s unconstructed — young guys look good in that.” In terms of silhouette, there were two buttons and three buttons, again showing there are no specific rules for this new Polo man.
He was also well served in the Polo Sport collection, where Lauren seamlessly mixed high and low in looks that included everything from black leather jackets and skinny black chinos to high-tech outerwear. Lauren called it “modernist,” saying there are “many things happening at once. It’s about a diverse taste level and point of view.”