Clothes are secondary. Almost everyone admits this, including Ralph Lauren himself, who has long been vocal about not considering himself a fashion designer.
“I’ve never been into fashion,” he told The New York Times in 2021. “I like things that get better with age.”
Mr. Lauren’s world-building is why he has stayed in the industry for 56 years — his ads could be mistaken for movie stills; his stores pretend to be country estates; his restaurants make you feel like you’re at an equestrian club. , even if you’ve never been within 10 feet of a riding club.
But how does Ralph Lauren build these worlds? That’s the question being pursued by several young American fashion founders, desperate to seize the formula (not to mention the revenue, which the company says will be $6.2 billion in fiscal 2022) and build a niche for what they call a life Way brands inject nostalgia.
The founder of Aimé Leon Dore believes that when customers buy a piece of men’s clothing, they “enter a world,” and she writes a thank-you note to Mr. Lauren every year. The founder of LoveShackFancy, a brand whose world of floral prints is rapidly expanding—perfume, suitcases, sheets, pool floats—has transformed her shop into a hyper-feminine, Victorian-meets-Versailles living room, inside Filled with antique furniture and family photos.
One theory behind the Ralph Lauren formula for these brands and many others: it’s about combining familiarity with desire.
Lauren built the latest world for his Spring 2024 womenswear show on Friday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, modeled after one of his homes — a Colorado ranch, with logs lining the walls and a fireplace Rocks, Native American blankets hanging from the house. The property features leather furnishings and guest tents.
He’s done this before. Last year, Mr. Lauren had a replica of his living room at the Museum of Modern Art’s Fifth Avenue residence, where models he has worked with since the 1990s, such as Tyson Beckford (familiar), Made smoldering, sparkling eye contact with him. Attendees of the program (wishes).
The Brooklyn barn version of the Old West mythology created for the show had a familiarity: distressed wooden frames and purposefully mismatched white chairs, a style known to anyone who’s watched five minutes of the HGTV show.
And it’s dripping with desire: The slender figures in these chairs belong to Julianne Moore, Jennifer Lopez, Diane Keaton and Amanda Seyfried, sitting side by side like the world’s most enviable ’s group of besties (or, as the internet might say, a dreamy stilted spin). VIP guests wore Ralph Lauren attire in keeping with the limousine theme; there were cowboy hats, pinstripe suits, fringed dresses, buckled belts and bolo ties.
It’s the perfect blend of familiarity and longing: At the end of the show, Mr. Lauren emerges wearing an outfit for a Saturday errand—an olive button-down shirt with the sleeves slightly rolled up and tucked into pants. beige overalls — and waved to the crowd. (Familiar.) At that moment, the barn door behind him opened, revealing a lavish dining room: candlelit tables stretched beneath glass chandeliers, wine glasses waiting to be filled, and the filet mignon on the menu was prepared from a man who once lived in Made from Colorado ranch cattle. (desire.)
“He captured this mysterious American moment that might not even exist, but he knew what it was like to want it,” said actress Keri Russell. around her neck. “I grew up in Colorado and Arizona, all these places with big skies, and I knew what he was trying to sell, and it felt very American to me.”
For Sheryl Crow, a musician who grew up in Missouri, this is her preferred outfit: “vintage, Americana, dirt track, tells a story,” as she plays Bob Dee on the speakers Bob Dylan and Cat Power. (“This playlist is like what they Googled for ‘Ralph Lauren playlist,’” says art curator Brooke Wise approvingly.)
Ms. Crow said her wardrobe includes Ralph Lauren jackets and boots, which she has owned for 30 years. On at least two tours, she’s worn studded, fringed and leather jeans from Double RL, one of Ralph Lauren’s lines for a more rugged, distressed take on clothing inspired by military and workwear. famous for its appearance.
At a fashion week dinner a few days before the Ralph Lauren show, I asked Stellene Volandes, editor of Town & Country magazine and a regular at Mr. Lauren events, if there were any elements of Ralph Lauren’s world-building that set him apart. . After all, Mr. Lauren shares similarities with designers such as Brunello Cucinelli and Giorgio Armani, who, as Ms. Volanders noted, “created A very specific point of view and a very specific story, and sticking to it and thriving on it.”
Ms. Volanders said that when it comes to Ralph Lauren, there is “purpose” in the way the brand invites people into his world, designing guest lists and seating arrangements with political precision. Many supporters have remained loyal for decades, like Diane Keaton, who wore Ralph Lauren when she played the childish Annie Hall. Ms. Keaton sat next to Lauren at a dinner she hosted in California last year.
“Fashion week feels like a free-for-all,” Ms. Volanders said.
But not at these tables, where more than 20% of the 250-person guest list might be considered celebrities, and not necessarily from TikTok.
Not at any of these tables, the percentage of people wearing Cartier watches seemed higher than at any other event I’ve attended during New York Fashion Week.
Not at these tables, Laura Dern repeatedly expressed her appreciation for Mr. Laurent’s “humility” — he described himself in an interview with The Times two years ago as “what I consider a normal people”—and how “real” the clothes felt to her.
Truth is an interesting concept when discussing a brand so devoted to fantasy. But among the assembled celebrities, this thought kept coming up: “We don’t do anything fashion-oriented, we’re very boring and shy,” Ms. Russell said of her partner and former co-star Matthew Rhys Said, also attended. “Maybe it sounds awkward or stupid, but it’s really hard for me to do anything that makes me feel like it’s not real.”
Despite this, she decided to participate in the show. “I don’t think we’re going to pretend,” she said. “What he stands for, what he sells, I understand.” Familiarity and longing.