I think it’s about time that I make a confession: I as an “adult” have never actually owned a suit. And yes I do realize that preaching about the importance of dressing well, while not even owning a suit myself is more than a bit hypocritical. So, after years of not practicing what I preached, I finally decided to take the plunge this weekend and head up to Ralph Lauren’s Rhinelander Mansion to pick up a suit. While I plan to follow up the suit story with a full post in a couple weeks once I get it back from the tailors, I’d like to shift gears now, because aside from riding that “I just bought a suit” high, walking through the maze of sub-labels throughout the Mansion, I was continuously impressed by the shawl collar cardigans that I saw.
Yesterday, as I watched the first crop of photographers raise their cameras up to snap their initial round of street style photos for NYFW, I began to think about all those New York icons that won’t be captured during this week. The scope of Fashion Week is actually fairly narrow in comparison to all how vital of a city New York is to the menswear world, and there are countless men who fly under the radar, or simply don’t pop up at all during NYFW, because they’re just working away in their offices far above the frenzy in the streets below.
What is it about the southwest U.S. that makes it so appealing to a Jewish kid from the East Coast? Now, I don’t have much in common with the mighty Ralph Lauren, but I can say that he and I do share this particular question. For the past decade or so, since my parents decided to purchase a vacation house not near the beach, nor the mountains, but in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this question has been on mind. At first I dreaded coming out here, yet as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to love the Southwest for the much needed change of pace that it provides. For Ralph, the southwest was an untapped well of inspiration, a region with colors, designs, and textiles that were unlike anything he could find in his homebase of New York. And so in 1978, with the west on his mind, Ralph Lauren launched a new side of his brand, a move that elevated him from being merely a designer for the natty East Coast mentality, to a designer for the American history books.
A couple days before Thanksgiving I found myself standing in front of a plywood wardrobe in the attic of my childhood house in Maryland as my Dad handed over a fistful of knit ties. As I received the stack of ties, I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen this day coming. The day when my parents would begin the great purge that all empty-nesters inevitably embark on once their children wander off. I graduated high school three years ago now, my brother’s was two years before that, so I was far from surprised when I came home to find my parents knee deep in a house-wide cleanse. Along the way they’d discarded all of our undersized furniture and (pre)teen books, which admittedly is of no great loss to me, especially considering that in their place my Dad was now passing down a pile of long-lost gems from his closet.
You know, I swore to myself I wouldn’t do it, but I suppose the time has finally come where I have to talk about street style. Since day one, I’ve always rejected the idea of giving any shine to street style photos on this blog, mainly because I feel that street style has evolved into this attention hungry beast that gets further away from itself with each subsequent fashion week. I watched this belief get validated over and over again this past week, as it seemed like half the people that I saw heading into the shows were painfully uncomfortable in their own skin. I say uncomfortable because I’m not going to dig into the whole “fashion Halloween” thing or whatever people like to compare street style to these days. I don’t mind that people dress in ways that I would deem ridiculous, it’s never been my place to critique someone’s personal style. But what does bother me is when I see a guy who can barely cross the street because his leather jeans are painted on so tight he can’t bend his knees, forgoing ability to function normally, all in hopes that someone will take his photo.
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.