At Ralph Lauren, Intimacy Is the New Luxury

Ralph Lauren’s runway bow is one of the most eagerly awaited in the fashion business, number one to see what he is wearing, and number two to see how warmly he acknowledges his family, always his most enthusiastic cheering section.

On Monday night, everyone felt like family at his offices at 650 Madison Avenue where the designer, clad in a turquoise and black Western shirt, presented his fall/holiday collection to an audience of just 100, and then danced a little jig down the runway with wife Ricky, with whom he is soon to celebrate 60 years of marriage.

More from WWD

Several people got choked up, including executive vice president of men’s Jerry Lauren, who with his brother has been shaping American style for more than a half century. “I tell him every time, Ralph, it’s the best one you ever did,” he said afterward.

Sensing perhaps a certain fatigue has set in around big luxury in the hands of that dynastic fashion family in France, with its itinerant runway shows and hoopla, and collections that often crib from American style, Lauren thought small and reminded us all why he is the king of American sportswear. He did it by going back to the beginning, recalling his first women’s ready-to-wear collection in 1972 when he talked editors through the collection and felt, as he said, like “Mr. Couture.”

“I wanted to do something very simple and easy,” he said during a preview. “It’s not one story, not one statement. I don’t think young women dress that way today, or anybody. They mix it up, they want to be casual and eclectic and have a voice.”

In beautiful clothes that are unmistakably Ralph Lauren. “I don’t have trendy statements….We’ve always been quiet and luxury. And we’ve always done menswear; menswear is big or cowboy hats, Western, all of those are part of us,” he said.

There was something refreshing about clothing that wasn’t trying so hard to be cool, or cleave to the latest celebrity. (There were just a handful of stars at the show, which was not even livestreamed.) Ease was the message, which has always been Lauren’s calling card, this season with elegant, lived-in luxury and subtle nods to the menswear and cowboy trends the designer has been doing for decades, which have been all over the runways in Paris and Milan the last few seasons, from Louis Vuitton men’s to Prada.

Christy Turlington opened the show like an old friend, still fabulous in a gray overcoat, tonal shirt and tie, trousers and cowboy boots, which looked great teamed with tailoring.

There was an art to the mix of a silver beaded backless T-shirt over gray suede pants, a blazer patch-worked from 12 different fabrics over chocolate brown leather pants, and a busted leather rancher jacket and pants with a cowboy hat and a short bandana necktie that managed somehow not to look costumey.

Looking at the subdued palette, the cable-knit sweaters over bias cut silk or layered tulle skirts, and glittery accents like a crystal mesh polo shirt, Brunello Cucinelli came to mind. But Lauren was already deep into ready-to-wear when Cuccinelli was just a line of colorful cashmere sweaters. So who is influencing whom? It’s time to remember the source.

After the show, everyone decamped to The Polo Bar for dinner. There were sprinter vans, but it was warm and some people walked, including a gaggle of models who were also a snapshot of a time when the fashion world was small.

Still in their runway looks with their street clothes in brown paper shopping bags, they laughed and smiled the whole way, nearly stopping traffic on Madison Avenue. Was it a stealth social media campaign? Did Ralph tell them to hit the street? “No, but it would make a great ad,” one of them said.

Yes, but even more charming that it was not.

Launch Gallery: Ralph Lauren Fall 2024 Collection

Best of WWD