The scene opens on a young heroine emerging at the top of a grand staircase. Dressed in a gold cocktail gown, the ingenue walks slowly down the stairs, leaving onlookers gasping at her beauty. Parisian café music plays as she makes her entrance into what will be an evening of visual extravagance and glamorous romance.
And so goes the script for ‘Ralph’s Café’, a thematic, yet mercantile, blending of fashion and lifestyle for the new season. This morning, at his autumn winter 2019 brasserie-set presentation, Ralph Lauren welcomed in what will be the 51st year of his heritage label. Last year, he celebrated half a century of polished, preppy Americana fashion with an extravaganza show in Central Park, one so well-received that today’s show was particularly anticipated.
Like many in his shoes (though few that have been in them quite so long) Ralph Lauren knows the balance between customer demand and creative couture. In year’s prior 2017 the Ralph Lauren juggernaut was reporting declines in sales across all areas, grappling with store closures and staff lay-offs. So, the period since, has been a time of supreme marketing, pun intended. The company has invested more than US$300million into promoting the label in creative ways, a quest to lure the youth market, a genre now busy in the “hypebeast” zeitgeist. While Lauren’s sporty Polo arm of the company has always been its everyday-wares money spinner, he knew that to entice this generation he needed his own version of a Supreme collab or a Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton. In addition to partnerships with Opening Ceremony, Ralph Lauren released a quirky micro-collection collaborated on by skateboard uber-brand Palace. It’s scarce release worldwide made it a mass-elite success.
And mass-elite is what Ralph Lauren is all about. The past 12 months has been a turning point for the label. Learning youth antics when you’re nearing 80 years old can’t be an easy task. Luckily for the tried and true Lauren client, today’s collection (classic, sophisticated, cruisy, evening-wear) is Ralph Lauren quintessence. No hidden hoodies, no unexpected trainers, no disruption to the status quo. In fact, it’s just status. If the SS19 Ralph Lauren woman was busy on her ranch in plaids and boots, then the AW19 woman serves as the next scene, one where she transforms into a vision of evening beauty.
Today’s show was held at 10am in Lauren’s swanky flagship Madison Avenue store. A Hôtel Particulier of sorts built in 1898 by Gertrude Rhinelander to rival the Vanderbilt mansion of Rhode Island. Lauren acquired the lease over 35 years ago and has been the refurb-master ever since. In a more commercially lead version of Karl Largerfeld’s Chanel AW15 Parisian brasserie show, ‘Ralph’s Café’ today was less of a setting and more of a venture reminding visitors that his brand completes all facets of lifestyle, coffee notwithstanding. While guests like Karlie Kloss and Rosie Huntington-Whitely sipped on cuppas of Ralph’s finest brew, models of their same vintage glided across the marble flooring. Anja Rubik, Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls and Lauren’s modern muse Taylor Hill sashayed in mature glamour far surpassing their years. White, black and gold completed the limited colour menu, with smatterings of brocade and florals on jackets and gowns. Wide-leg palazzo trousers were paired with slick blazers given the Lauren treatment in the form of captain-of-the-ship shoulder lapels. Nods to an 80s Balmain and YSL were present in gilty-gold and glittering bandeau dresses worn with gold and velvet sky-high T-bar sandals. Dramatic golden Art Deco earrings shoulder-brushed models whose loose-brushed or slick-ponytailed hair completed his enchanting, and iconic, all-American vision.
Ralph Lauren is balancing his two worlds very delicately. Enticing the youth market who may not have grown up wearing Harvard sweaters on acres in Connecticut while pleasing the black-Amex-holding mature customer who probably shops Ralph Lauren exclusively. It’s not easily done, but there is something intoxicating about his style, whatever “market” you sit in. Once inside his world, you want to be that woman. The woman at the top of the stairs, in that beautiful gold pleated gown. Refined, sophisticated, pedigree. You imagine yourself in that dress, those heels, that jacket. Perhaps there’s something in the coffee…