To call Ralph Lauren the American fashion designer of the 20th century is akin to perceiving that the Earth is round: over the years, both statements have become so thoroughly uncontroversial that they possess the character of a universal fact. But just in case you needed reminding, Ralph Lauren’s 50th anniversary show — held during Day 2 of this month’s New York Fashion Week proceedings — freshly contextualises the grandeur and optimism for which the eponymous designer has always been known. Both namesake and company celebrated 50 years with the ultimate “dinner and a show” package: an event which played out over two quintessentially New York locations inside Central Park; drawing celebrities and titans of industry from every corner of the globe.
Guests such as Pierce Brosnan and Oprah Winfrey arrived at Central Park’s world-famous Bethesda Terrace: its indoor spaces transformed (by Ralph Lauren Home designers) into a veritable runway decorated with over 50 recycled ever-so-slightly bohemian rugs. Here, on velvet cushions dyed a dusty, ancient turquoise — themselves another winking reference to Lauren’s home in Bedford, NY — fashion’s A-listers congregated to immerse themselves in the culmination of a lifelong creative process. From anchor brands like PRL to a reimagining of the Stadium collections, attendees were privy to almost every corner of Lauren’s imagination: an inimitable mindscape where the Old West, Ivy League and Brooklyn pavement stride in perfect lockstep.
The symbolism associated with sending models down a makeshift runway at Central Park was lost on no one. After all, over the years Lauren (a native and self-professed New Yorker) has repeatedly looked to his hometown for creative sustenance; a fact much in evidence from a highly global cast of multiracial models and clothing that remains universal in its appeal and yet unmistakably American. From the swaggering throwback sensibility of a RRL teddy coat to culturally resonant hi-tech POLO fleeces, the 50th Anniversary show was replete with apparel that reinforces Lauren’s uplifting and jubilant vision of America. Emerging to exultant applause, the designer received a standing ovation in his now-trademark uniform of dinner jacket and destroyed denim — still American fashion’s stylish guiding light at the considerable age of 78.
Following the show’s conclusion, guests were ushered outside to two rows of 30-foot tables at the adjacent Bethesda Fountain. Under the benevolent aura of the fountain’s sculptural centrepiece (“Angel of the Waters”, 1873), various individuals — all mighty designers, actors and creatives in their own right — paid tribute to Lauren once more, over a feast of produce flown in from R.R.L. ranch, the designer’s Colorado getaway. Even many days later, the buzz surrounding innumerable toasts made to America’s fashion king that night remains high (ListenFirst, a leading analytics firm estimates Lauren’s modest “dinner and a show” generated 4.5 million engagements across social media).
But one of the most fitting tributes undoubtedly came from Wei Koh — among the event’s more lowkey personalities and founder behind The Rake magazine. “During a time when the perception of America is miasmic,” said Koh, “Ralph Lauren [has] created a transcendent expression of the optimism, egalitarianism and inclusiveness that is the best of America — a magnificent multi-ethnic, multi-generational narrative of hope.”
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