In the early seventies Ralph Lauren was just beginning to find his way as a designer. He’d won an award for his collection in ’70, then a couple years later he debuted his signature line of polo shirts, but as far as most people were concerned he was still just another menswear designer who hadn’t really made his mark yet. All of that changed in 1974 when Ralph received an offer to work on the costume’s for Jack Clayton’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Ralph constructed dense outfits for Robert Redford and the rest of the male cast that captured the style of the Jazz Age. Even though the movie’s head costume designer Theoni Aldredge went on the win the Academy Award for the film’s costumes, and never really gave Ralph any credit for his work, he got what he needed out of the project. At the time The Great Gatsby went on to gross over twenty-five million dollars, and helped to propel Ralph into becoming a household name. The movie is largely forgettable, most people classify it as a misdirected adaptation of the book, but the costumes are still remembered for giving an early glimpse into Ralph’s prowess as a designer.
Forty years later, we all know Ralph’s record. He’s become arguably the most important American menswear designer of all time, never compromising, instead thriving off the consistency of the “Ralph Lauren” look, a Northeast meets Southwest, preppy by way of heritage aesthetic that reflects his personal style. Ralph’s always known when to experiment and when to reel it in, when to look forward and when to allude to the past. It’s this reference to the past that I couldn’t help but think about as I scanning through the photos of Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2013 collection. It’s not to say that the entire collection is reminiscent of the costumes from The Great Gatsby, but certain looks, especially in the more formal areas, seem like they’re ripped straight from Ralph’s sketch book from the seventies. It’s the chalk white stripes, the two-tone spectator-esque shoes, the low button stances, the double-breasted waistcoats, the patterned ties, the cream colored suits, the pastel shirts, the contrast white collars, the club collars, all of these characteristics of Spring ’13 remind me so much of The Great Gatsby ’74. With interest in the Great Gatsby obviously peaking again thanks to the new movie, and the inevitable return to the formality and details of the Prohibition Era, it only makes sense that Ralph would take a literal page from his own design book right now.