When Ralph Lauren buys in, he buys in big. And he has bought into Instant Fashion. In a major display of power, nimble production capability and most importantly, creative mojo, on Wednesday night Lauren showed his second full collection for fall, available immediately online and beginning on Thursday at five flagship stores around the world.
Though sprung from the populist obsession with fashion and the burgeoning industry yen to feed that beast right now, on the supply side Instant Fashion is far from democratic. While quite a few New York designers are doing it, those garnering the most attention have heralded their participation with big, flashy shows. It takes a lot of money to resurrect the Four Seasons for a night (Tom Ford), install a carnival on a pier (Tommy Hilfiger), or, in Lauren’s case, close down four lanes of an entire block of Madison Avenue for four days, under the watch of the NYPD. It also takes deep pockets to do a full-on Take Two on a season. Lauren committed to Instant Fashion after his show in February, but saw no point in runway regurgitation. Given his brand’s own retail structure he didn’t have to. He could make a whole new collection. He did.
First, the venue. As the clothes will be available at the Madison Avenue women’s store, he wanted to show there — sort of. Actually, he wanted to show outside the store, but wouldn’t risk a weather issue. He thus commissioned a glass extension from the building’s facade out toward the street. This protected both the sidewalk-runway and the seating: thick white cushions atop sisal-covered risers.
Getting there wasn’t easy — no such thing as a hassle-free street closure. Once inside the glass edifice, the typical Lauren refinement was in play — warm greetings, plenty of rear-end room on the sisal, post-show Champagne.
On the runway: a real statement collection. There was a great deal riding on this fall lineup. With the first one done and in the stores for weeks, Lauren had to produce something distinctive and signature. Of the favorite themes in his repertoire, he chose the American West, handling it with a savvy balance of flamboyance and restraint.
Lauren introduced the motif with a buffalo plaid shirt and pants with demonstrative embroidery running the length of the leg at the side. From there, it could have gone wrong, had the cowpoke curlicues gotten too much play. Instead, he pushed forward and pulled back on literal references, introducing disparate elements while keeping it all very rich. Although some looks were all-day (smart pantsuit with jacket based on a Western shirt) or all-evening (second-skin column of micro paillettes with cut-out waist and rustic leather straps), others unsettled norms — a buffalo plaid shirt atop a shimmering silk fringe skirt; distressed leather jacket over a gown in a silvery-bronze print. Patterns derived from Southwestern motifs, and he went overboard only occasionally, with a mega-embroidered rhinestone cowgirl pantsuit. Conversely, a gown with a single graphic near the hem dripped with chic, and an intarsia shearling wrap over a lace dress was drop-dead gorgeous.
One goal Lauren sought to accomplish here was to highlight his brand’s luxury quotient. To that end, the materials impressed, particularly the hand-dyed ombréd micro sequins in a range of vibrant colors and an intricate embroidered, engineered jacquard inspired by an old blanket. This was used for a full-sleeve top and long skirt worked in a beautiful, complicated swirl of pattern and fringe that would look great at the Emmys. But it won’t make it. It’s too interesting.