Celebrities

From Ralph Lauren, a Vision of America Seen from a Fast-Moving Car

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“Come on!” Jessica Chastain said with a degree of awe that was not uncommon among the few hundred fashion week guests who had been chauffeured to Ralph Lauren’s garage in Bedford, N.Y., on Tuesday night for a fashion show and dinner. “Look at this,” she said. “To be in this environment, surrounded by all these beautiful cars, it’s beautiful.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone describing a garage as beautiful, but in the world of Ralph Lauren, even the porta-potties have to be elegant, which they most certainly were. And by “garage,” what Lauren really means is a vast, modern warehouse with multiple floors of hot rod, classic, and antique cars that all gleam under spotlights, without so much as a smudge visible within its temperature controlled trappings.

Up a chicly black-topped ramp, guests arrived to find a runway had been established around a strip of fabulous speedsters, with two rows of perforated leather seats as supple as the inside of a Maserati. Chastain caught her husband, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, eyeing a black Bugatti positioned near the photo pit.

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It’s fair to say that this has been one of the more anxiety inducing fashion weeks in New York in recent history, what with editors falling from positions of power like monkeys from a tree. And even though the drive from Manhattan took nearly two hours in traffic, it felt like an escape, which is probably how Lauren intended it to be. Calgon has nothing on a designer who outfits his cars with a soundtrack of smooth jazz and Voss water. Do-be-do-be-dooo-boop-bop-beep-beep-beep.

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This year happens to mark Lauren’s 50th anniversary in business, and while numbers were never discussed at the show, especially not the cost of such an extravagant affair (or the liability to those cars!), the event did have all the trappings of a milestone celebration. Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes and Armie Hammer all turned up and posed perfectly in their Ralph Lauren attire. And what I think was most fabulous about the whole affair, even with all that history in the room, is that it did not for one moment feel nostalgic.

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Lauren’s new collection, which is also being celebrated in his stores on Madison Avenue today, took its sleek, modern lines, and the glossy blacks, yellows, and reds, directly from the cars on display. Leather racing jackets and even a tuxedo with red racing stripes looked souped up in a super fresh way. I could have watched this show for a few more laps, but given the unusual nature of a fashion show that required a commute, Lauren sped things along to a lavish dinner staged on the floor below, where lacquered black tables dressed with red roses were aligned along the borders of a showroom the size of a car dealership. The space was so vast it would have required binoculars to see the guest seated across from you, and a pit crew of waiters were dressed in jumpsuits embroidered with “Ralph’s Garage” on the back, carrying plates of lobster salads and burgers so fancy that it seemed questionable to pick them up by hand, although, reader, I did.

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It all became quite a heady experience, as if intoxicated by engine fumes, and not a few people asked Lauren if we couldn’t be driven home in the classics from his collection.

“If I was driving a vintage convertible, I would dress for the car,” Chastain said.

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This, of course, is Lauren’s master skill: He created a vision of American luxury that is so utterly believable and seductive that it spawned an empire. And it’s interesting to watch it continue today amid a new view of American fashion that includes many different perspectives from outsiders who have taken on the megabrands. There is Raf Simons at Calvin Klein, of course, and Stuart Vevers at Coach. Vevers, who is British, has been sampling American archetypes throughout his collections, which have been inspired by his own journeys throughout the country. For spring, he was seduced by the “glitter and shine” of a downtown art scene, particularly that of Manhattan during the 1980s era of Keith Haring. Haring’s squiggle figures played prominently in this Coach collection, which translated the glitter into lavish sequins and the contrasting grit into separates so dark they remembered a New York where everyone used to only wear black.

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In another sense, he captured the decadence of the era with a little memento he gave each of his guests. As the runway was literally strewn with glitter, most of us left the show with bits of silver stuck to everything.

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