Ralph Lauren is shorthand for a lifestyle. The fashion empire of the 91st richest American is built on selling a tastefully expensive American dream. So as an escapist fantasy from a chilly New York fashion week, Ralph Lauren recreated a vignette of his own holiday home in Montego Bay in a cavernous former rail depot in downtown Manhattan.
In front of an audience which included the actors Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank, the catwalk descended from the deck of a wooden beach house with white shutters, cane furniture, hurricane lamps and porthole mirrors.
Lauren “wanted to share the mood, the light, the blue and white freshness of my retreat in Jamaica”, he said. Barefoot models wore tie-dye sundresses with basketweave handbags, or sporty colourblocked dresses in the bright graphic blocks of regatta pennants. The style was reassuringly familiar. Casual white jeans were worn with expensive suede belts; crisp white shirts with collars flipped up to frame exquisite earrings. There were Breton stripe sweaters, deck shorts, and navy blazers with white piping.
The Ralph Lauren aesthetic edges at times toward parody. Mens’ outfits in the show teamed double-breasted suits with natty silk cravats and espadrilles. This drifted alarmingly close to the wardrobe of Shell Oil Junior, the boat-loving millionaire Tony Curtis invents in order to seduce Marilyn Monroe in the film Some Like It Hot. Here, perhaps, is a reminder that personal fortunes of $6.2bn (£4.5bn), at Forbes’ last estimate, are not made by an overemphasis on subtlety.
A more wintry take on Ralph Lauren’s wholesome Americana is currently being showcased almost 7,000 miles from New York fashion week in Pyeongchang, where the brand is the official outfitter for the US team at the Winter Olympics.
The kit includes what David Lauren, son of Ralph and chief innovation officer for the brand, describes as “the most technologically advanced jacket ever produced”. The inner lining of a red, white and blue parka features an American flag made from ink which heats up, activated by mobile technology the athletes control via their phones, with a choice of three heat settings. “The American flag will heat up the jacket – it’s a symbolic ode to our flag,” said Lauren. A pair of tan suede gloves with eye-catching fringing have also attracted attention.
The most recent set of financial results highlighted continuing difficulties for Ralph Lauren. Fiftieth anniversary celebrations for the brand, which was founded in 1967, are on ice while the company puts a turnaround plan into operation.
A strategy of allowing the name to be widely available on lower priced goods had raked in profit, but at the expense of a loss of cachet in the eyes of luxury consumers. The chief executive, Patrice Louvet, along with Lauren, who stepped down from boardroom leadership in 2015 but remains the creative force, are battling to restore crucial prestige to the Ralph Lauren name.