Kanye West, as usual, nailed the fashion zeitgeist. In the week when West declared himself to be $53m in debt, New York fashion week jettisoned its familiar high-rolling, wealth-signalling aesthetic in favour of utilitarian layering, dialled-down eveningwear, grunge and deconstruction and utility. Off the catwalk, unusually low temperatures put a brake on the peacock tendencies of the audience, and saw beanies and boots dominate the front row.
But when Ralph Lauren’s turn on the catwalk comes around, the good times still roll. Ralph does not do gritty. The brand sells a lifestyle of comfortable, discreet affluence that will never lose its appeal to consumers, even (or especially) when it is more fantasy than aspiration. The entrance to the catwalk venue was dominated by a floral arrangement the size of a tree, a white urn filled with hundreds and hundreds of perfect red roses. As a mission statement celebrating the enduring power of traditional aesthetic values, it said it all.
The show opened with Karlie Kloss, the all-American supermodel who has her own brand of cookies, wearing a taupe cashmere cardigan over a matching silk blouse and elegant wide-legged flannel trousers. The look set the tone for a seductive series of 21 daywear outfits that never strayed from the Ralph Lauren rulebook.
This was a brand message rather than a fashion message. Ralph Lauren, who is 76, last year stepped down as CEO of his company, replaced by Stefan Larsson, previously of H&M and Old Navy. Larsson’s strategy for the company, which recently published a disappointing set of financial results, is to continue to expand the more affordable Polo brand, which now offers womenswear as well as mensand is set to open a large London flagship this summer. With Polo tasked with bringing in cash as the youthful, trend-sensitive line, the function of Ralph Lauren Collection clothes shown on the catwalk is to reinforce central brand values.
In contrast to the sleek daywear offering, eveningwear was uneven. Tight metallic jeans and rock band frontman brocade fell well outside of patrician elegance for moneyed middle age but did not convince as clothes for youth. But sculpted evening gowns in matte black, scarlet or amethyst velvet were Oscar-night perfect, with the clean simplicity of American glamour at its best.
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