A show that was also a timely statement about welcoming inclusion; accepting immigration and respecting all cultures by the man who is unquestionably America’s most significant designer.
Dressed in his classic Waspy blazer and worn jeans, Ralph took his bow, hand in hand with a young black child with dreadlocks. Holding back tears, he practically had to fight his way down the runway, as the audience whipped up a five-minute ovation.
A grand show where Hillary Clinton came to pay homage. Where Oprah Winfrey proposed the toast in a wonderfully witty speech; where multiple movie stars rubbed shoulders with a plethora of VIPs. Where Bruce Springsteen posed with Ralph, Jessica Chastain drank with Imogen Poots, and Tom Hiddleston hobnobbed with Pierce Brosnan; where Hillary Clinton chatted with Tony Bennett.
“Hello, my name is Oprah. I’d like to propose a toast to Ralph Lauren. What a triumph to be able to encapsulate in a half hour 50 years of extraordinary fashion. The real reason we are all here is not the show but to celebrate you Ralph Lauren for 50 years of designing our dreams, 50 years of you stimulating our ambitions and 50 years creating a sense of value and wholesomeness to glamour. Your story is also our collective story. The fact that you, a boy from the Bronx, was able to have an idea about big ties, and not to let Bloomingdale’s steal it! And turn it into a gigantic company that has tentacles all over the world,” said Winfrey, to much laughter and applause.
The show was staged inside the tiled glory of Bethesda Terrace in the center of Central Park. Soaring neo-classical arches and a catwalk of worn carpets, coherent with the leitmotifs of Lauren’s DNA – faded gentility and tattered elegance.
He opened with a single look that encapsulated his own fashion concept: American optimism embracing all its roots and recent arrivals. A faintly worn bold Scottish plaid Western cardigan, over a sexy silver slip dress dissected by a New Mexican cowboy belt and – with a nod to downtown – finished with faux leopard booties.
Only in Ralph Lauren is a slinky velour dress topped with a slouchy cardigan and beanie. Or beautiful patchwork velvet skirts accompanied by Sioux warrior cloche hats. For Ralph’s amalgam of casual and opulent, ethnic and patrician, will never be matched by any other designer.
For men, patchwork blanket coats over leather biker pants or baronial tartan coats and vests, based on hiking boots or velvet dinner party slippers. Many tops and track pants featured the graphic Class of 67; in reference to the year he sold his first tie collection.
Lauren also included his Polo and Ralph Lauren Sport lines. As the show built to a climax many of the models marched with children, some of them their own offspring, many of other races, roots and origins.
Without doubt, his cast – young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian, African, some aged or others gilded with all the possibilities of youth – made a very political statement, an inclusive counterblast to the vulgar burlesque of today’s Washington. The current president was never mentioned, as if his very name were an expletive.
Practically designer gridlock – Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Diane Von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and John Varvatos.
“It wasn’t just about the clothes it was about a statement that had to be made,” said Von Furstenberg. While Hilfiger added: “A beautiful collection, and I loved every look. And agreed with what Ralph was clearly saying with this show.”
One day after Barack Obama had spoken out against the “politics of fear and resentment,” this was a beautiful visual statement through fashion of inclusiveness.
Even the soundtrack spoke volumes, from Bob Dylan’s She Belongs to Me to Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer to a remix of Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden, featured in the soundtrack to the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire. All perfect expressions of the longing, love and brutally honest realism of American music.
Post show, some 500 guests dined on tables laden with flowers, candles, fine china and crystal glasses, even as rain fell on the famous park.
Fashion may only be about clothes, but like all creative endeavors it is also an expression of our times. And Lauren, albeit never making any direct political statement, summed up the mood of the greater New York; that divisiveness, and finding scapegoats for today’s problems is not the done thing.
In a word, this show was a noble expression of the American Dream, in all its optimism. It felt like New York Fashion Week’s equivalent of John McCain’s recent funeral in Washington, where decent people stand up and do the right thing.
“Central Park is New York. I live in it and I love it. I felt that’s what I do. This is the life that I love to be part of,” Lauren told FashionNetwork.com.
“I had something to say about America. It’s not the clothes but the spirit that I feel,” said the designer, turning to reflect on his career: “I never had any master plan. I just knew I had to work hard. I wanted to do my own thing and make a living so I could have a family. That’s all. I didn’t have a master plan. I was lucky. I am modest but arrogant. Maybe make that not arrogant, but self-confident. Enjoy the night!” he said.
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