Illustration by Ben Beechener
Even as someone who places almost no value on modernity in art, I must admit that the Museum of Modern Art looked amazing the other week. I’d argue that Lauren’s classical decoration and inspired interior design made the place worth stepping into, but that is neither here nor there. For his comeback show in New York, Ralph Lauren recreated his Fifth Avenue living room in the middle of the museum. From the black and white photos surrounding the museum depicting the views from his apartment, to the coffee tables and white couches, we are transported to Lauren’s comfort zone, his inner sanctum. A timeless and classical place, perfectly on brand for the ethos of Ralph Lauren. A classical yet casual setting, filled with a star-studded cast of audience members such as Lily Collins and Jessica Chastain, whose colourful reaction certainly made the show a lot more entertaining.
Nothing about the 2022 fall collection was a surprise from Lauren. Classical and formal looks dominated the show. No wheels were reinvented – not that they needed to be. Lauren told Vogue in 2019 that he designs for himself, not catering his designs for anyone else; what we see out of Lauren is purely himself, with few external influences accepted. His new fall collection touches base on all of his classical designs.
The show opened with one of his favourite designs, a monogram sweater and shirt combination, which set the tone for the items to come. Throughout the show, a myriad of classical Ralph designs made an appearance: equestrian red jackets paired with riding boots, blazer and black turtlenecks, men’s ties on women, all very classical and tried-and-true Ralph looks. There was a special emphasis on black and white design this year, which I appreciated, but I suspect my closet will not. I also enjoyed the pops of red sprinkled throughout, which kept the collection from being too monotone. This being his first comeback show in nearly three years, nothing was out of place with all classic Ralph Lauren designs.
I preface this by a quick calculation of my own closet, where Ralph takes up about 35% of real estate. From sweaters to turtlenecks to casual shirts, I do not and cannot even begin to calculate the amount of wealth that I have contributed to his designs. To say that I am a Ralph fanatic would not be out of place. Even a Ralph fanatic like yours truly, cannot help but question two main things throughout the show. One, why are some designs derivative? And two, is Ralph getting predictable, and do the ‘classics’ of fashion need change?
By saying a design is derivative, it is simply just a nice way to point out that a design is similar or completely copied from a previous design. There were three looks in particular in this show that even I, an amateur fashion enthusiast, can tell are derived from other designers. Take look 17 for example, the black tuxedo and silk cravat design look eerily similar to another tuxedo and cravat design from Yves-Saint Laurent’s Spring 2013 collection. The original spring 2013 YSL look was updated somewhat recently in 2019 by YSL themselves, with a similar striped tuxedo.
Another example was look 53, a red bowtie dress. Comments about The Devil Wears Prada aside, this is an exact copy of YSL’s original Fall-Winter 1983 dress, which then went through two more updates and has been seen in the middle of media spotlight thanks to red carpet appearances by Zoe Kravitz and Zoey Deutch. I cannot speak as to if Ralph took inspiration from these designs or outright copied them, but to an untrained eye such as myself, it appears to be the latter option.
If I had to describe this show in one word, it would be predictable. Now, I appreciate classic and design stability as much as the next person, and you can hear me shout the loudest at the redesign of classics from Burberry and Hermes, but at what point does innovation need to come through? The entire show for Ralph was extremely in tone, nothing was changed, no revolutionary design was shown off. I know that Lauren is capable of doing new things, but the deliberate choice not to, even for one or two items, continues to puzzle me. I understand the desire for Ralph to remain a classic brand, and I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, however the line between classical and predictable is a line that needs to be carefully navigated for Ralph Lauren if it wishes to retain its market share in the coming years. RL at NYSE opened 3 points below closing, and dropped even more throughout the day, before a small rally at the end of the day led to RL closing a point below opening, which is the signal of a pretty clear lukewarm reception.
The classical at Ralph needs to stay, its identity must be retained. I hope upcoming collaborations such as a rumoured new collection with Lewis Hamilton, and their collaboration with the New York Yankees, will give the collection a breath of fresh air.