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Ralph Lauren on Why Being “In” Isn’t Everything

Leandra interviews the iconic designer

09.13.17
Fashion Week
Fashion Week

It is easy to get caught up in Ralph Lauren’s world — to think you can belong, even become one of its regulars. You know this if you have ever walked into one of the shops, or dined at one of the restaurants. There’s a narrow focus, an incredibly straightforward attention to detail and an intoxicating, aspirational energy about all of it that makes you think: I could be this person.

But when you are literally and rather intimately invited into his world, a car garage he keeps near his home in Bedford, New York, that sense of getting caught up completely changes.

Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.

The way we talk about fashion today, like it is a broken system in dire need of fixing that will require radical ideas — a revolution! — to make it come alive again, is a little hyperbolic. The beacon of change among a landfill of garments is coming out of the brands that are committed to developing communities alongside their labels, the ones that insist the lifestyle that correlates with the brand is just as important as (if not more important than) the product itself. This attention to community, to bringing the customer in and creating a viable lifestyle, is being touted as the new way to build a successful business in fashion. But this concept is not at all new. It is a page pulled directly from a playbook written by Ralph Lauren.

“I’ve never felt what I did was about fashion, about being in,” he told me a day before his runway show. “What I do has always been inspired by living.” I took that to mean being true to yourself, which speaks nicely to very popular advice that is often doled out at the familiar intersection of existentially confused and what-should-I-do-next: Listen to your gut, be honest about it.

For Fall 2017, that instinct took over 300 guests 46 miles out of Manhattan in the thick of fashion week. “Choosing the location to present your collection is a little bit like a playwright choosing the right theater to present his or her play,” Mr. Lauren said.

“After you’ve worked so hard to create your collection, you want your audience to experience it in the perfect environment. It was a few months ago, during one of our design meetings that the idea came up to actually show this collection with my car collection. I had a vision of how the clothes would come alive and connect themselves to the speed, style and beauty of those racing machines.”

Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.

What’s interesting is that nary a sigh was to be heard among the guests, who seemed genuinely enthused and even energized, to be out of the city.

As for the collection, it was exactly what you might expect from Ralph Lauren: never old, never new, signature Ralph with its houndstooth tailoring and smoking loafers and the layers of organza and slinky, rhinestone-adorned dresses.

But that was beside the point. As I sat and observed his peers: Diane von Furstenberg and Donna Karan, and his friends: Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes, and his family sitting around the uniquely opaque display of wealth baked into his car collection, a byproduct of the remarkable brand he built out of being inspired by living, I wondered if what made last night so special was the designer’s underlying tale of inspiration. Here ambitious and talented and excited designers are courageously putting everything they know on the line to launch their own brands in spite of the tumultuously uncertain and rapidly changing climate. But maybe it’s worth it.

“Never look over your shoulder. Never follow,” Ralph Lauren said when I asked what advice he would give to a younger version of himself starting in fashion now. “Believe in yourself, but always listen. Be inspired by what you love, and who you love. Travel, take it all in, but always come home and create out of your personal living.”

And never underestimate, I would add, the power of building a truly great brand.

Runway photos by Milk Digital; feature photo courtesy of Ralph Lauren.

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  • tmm16

    “What I do has always been inspired by living” – these words are incredibly refreshing and perhaps made me view his work and this collection in a different light. He does what he does best and doesn’t try to sugarcoat it; Authenticity at its core. Just reading his remarks made me smile because it was so honest and effortless.

    I love looks 8, 10, and 14.

  • Lindsey

    Dress #12 reminds so much of one Charlotte wore in a SATC episode. That neckline! I’ve always thought it looked classic and beautiful. What a great collection, and such lovely advice.

  • Arden

    The tuxedo look on Taylor Hill is everything – Victor Victoria vibes.

  • What a lovely interview. I am a young designer and I find it so helpful to read these interviews with amazing, successful, iconic designers. Their honest advice is grounding and guiding. This new fashion landscape is tricky to navigate, but sometimes I think it is so tricky to navigate because everyone is saying, “hey! This is crazy! I don’t know how you’ll ever make it!” Sometimes being true to yourself, your experiences, and what you love is the most revolutionary thing you can do.

    • Imaiya Ravichandran

      i took a look at your website (per the link in ur disqus bio) and everything looks amazing! so colourfu! (models and clothes alike). love it. keep following ur dreams girl. keep being revolutionary.

      • Wow, thank you, Imaiya! It means more than you know <3

        • Leandra Medine

          This exchsnge has made me so happy!

  • Wow, this is an incredible article. Very inspired by Ralph Lauren rn! Thanks, Leandra! x

  • Rebecca

    I work for RL and Ralph is truly so inspirational. There is just something so special about him and his POV, even when the clothes aren’t my style. I have endless respect for him and what he has built since his first job selling ties in a drawer our of the Empire State building.

  • ReadER451

    From the moment I saw posts on social media from his show all I could think was I cannot wait to read Leandra’s review. It is something I look forward to every season.

    The show gave me serious Bond villain vibes in the most chic way possible.

    • Selena Delgado

      Cathryn Horn described it this way as well

    • When he came out at the end of the show they played the Bond theme.

  • To me RALPH LAUREN is the quintessential American designer ! This definitely goes with his idea about traveling but knowing where home is .Ralph has a remarkable eye and can make simplicity exciting .
    Jandrew
    Dress The Part
    http://www.jandrewspeaks.com

  • Great interview, and such clear words of advice. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by other people’s ideas or judgement. Believe in yourself is the best advice!

    http://www.shessobright.com

  • Selena Delgado

    The strapless, chevron pleated dress was so dreamy. The evening wear was stunning, and the men looked flawless and demure. He seemed very sentimental, as if to take a moment and let it sink in. I loved that.

  • Jessica

    Oh my god that dress with the yellow top & black skirt, with the halter. I have way too many feelings about that.

  • TinySoprano

    I love how he shows in his garage and then manages to make his gowns look oddly car-like in themselves without being super literal. Could’ve been so tacky in someone else’s hands.

  • Allegra

    Wow that shimmery, liquid-like fabric is so gorgeous. Swoon!

  • Jay

    I actually liked his words more than what he showed… though I am kind of proud that I just got – like seriously before I saw the show!!! – a skirt with just that tiny Glencheck pattern that he showed… puh?! Am I ahead of times? Or nostalgic? Or just going for cute stuff on sale and not caring very much about fashion after all?!

    The latter would have been quite RLy if I get this right here… and thus kinda cool

  • Ralph Lauren is one of the most consistent designers of all time. From the beginning he studied the old moneyed Anglo world he aspired to and rebuilt it more perfectly than the original, in turn becoming the authority of the aesthetic. It’s difficult to think of a single brand with the exception of Hermes, which has been around even longer than Ralph, that has such a precise narrative. The Italian company, For Restless Sleepers, is one company that comes to mind for building their brand within the confines of a particular world. Like Ralph the founder of the company knows her world well and it informs every aspect of design (you can read about them here: http://www.primadarling.com/fashion/pajama-party/).

    You make a great point; maybe what the industry needs is to remember buying into the dream is everything, a good concept to come back to.