“I don't design clothes; I design dreams.”
It's one of the most memorable quotes attributed to designer Ralph Lauren, who for 50 years now, has defined not just the fabric of American fashion, but its very identity. The Bronx native started his line with a simple idea—wide ties—and from there crafted clothes for a universe inhabited by his own aspirations. He faked it 'til he made it, and became an inspiration for stylish people and designers all over the globe along the way.
This season's fashion show celebrated 50 years of the designer's namesake label, taking over Central Park just a few blocks away from the legendary Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo House, the French mansion-turned innovative concept store that didn't just sell clothes, but provided a context that made them feel lived-in and luxurious, as if you were purchasing readymade heirlooms for a casual weekend at the country club or a high-end suit for a gala you one day wished to be invited to.
The event began with a cocktail hour across from the show's venue, replete with giant vertical screens playing runway footage from over the years. There, it became evident that Ralph Lauren's legacy isn't just in the collections, but the careers of models like Tyra Banks and Tyson Beckford, and a myriad of other notable fashion figures who've graduated from the school of Ralph.
Soon guests were escorted to a grand staircase, revealing the posh venue underneath. Plush carpet, velvet seats, and time-worn frescos provided the ideal setting for such a momentous occasion. Attendees were encouraged to adhere to the event's black tie dress code, and many came out dressed to the elevens.
In addition to the usual New York Fashion Week fixtures of editors, Instagram street style stars, and industry insiders, Ralph Lauren brought out an eclectic crowd of A-listers. American designers like Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander Wang, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karan showed up to pay respects to Lauren, as did media superstars like Anderson Cooper, Martha Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey, who later dedicated a toast to Ralph Lauren at the dinner immediately following the show.
“We are here to celebrate you, Ralph Lauren. And 50 years of designing our dreams,” she said. Also in attendance were Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, two longtime fans of Ralph Lauren whose presence symbolized the gravitas of the moment. West showed up clad in a black Ralph Lauren tuxedo and a white T-shirt underneath, over which he threw an orange Prada Linea Rossa parka when the evening chill turned up.
The show reflected the cumulative nature of the evening. It showed several Ralph Lauren collections mixed and matched with each other, melding the Wild West tones of lines like RL Country with the throwback sportswear vibes of retro reissues like the Polo Hi Tech and Stadium collections. The past informed the present as well, as many of the mainline Polo Ralph Lauren offerings brought back the rebel prep attitude that has since seeped back into mainstream style. New outerwear, sportswear, and accessories channeled the covetable 'Lo head pieces of the past, like a reimagined Stadium pullover turned into a padded puffer anorak.
Set to a soundtrack that reinforced Ralph Lauren's roots, the show kicked off with a remix of Paul Simon's “New York Is My Home,” and featured other tunes like Neil Diamond's “America” and Bob Dylan's “She Belongs to Me.” Most surprisingly, one musical transition was preceded by the hook of “Ralph Lauren,” an otherwise obscure mixtape track by rappers G.I. Flow and King.
It signified that the brand was finally paying attention to the audience that elevated it to an icon, and in turn made its designer a legend. This was Ralph Lauren reflecting on the world as it is now. The multi-cultural cast spoke to the brand's legacy of diverse representation, and the fact that its rabid fanbase comprises all manner of ages and ethnicities.
A selection of looks featuring models-as-families gained applause, but definitely not as much as when the lauded designer approached the runway for the finale. He was greeted with a standing ovation and a legion of voracious fans and appreciators who stood up from their seats hoping to grab a social media pic, even getting in the way of the pit photographers simply trying to document the night.
As the last plates of the post-show dinner were served and guests began to exit the park, the celebratory spirit of the event and triumphant legacy of Ralph Lauren lingered in the air. So did another quote from Oprah Winfrey's toast that summed up the enduring relevance of the brand and its founder.
“Your work inspires the story of our lives. The lives that we lived and the lives that we aspire to,” she said. “We are here because you have lasted.”
For more New York Fashion Week coverage, check out the latest collection from Seoul-based brand IISE.