QUICK TIME

Im­me­di­acy is Ralph Lauren’s cur­rent modus operandi, with new col­lec­tions avail­able in store the same day they show on the run­way. But that’s not so sur­pris­ing from a man who pioneers change, writes Mark Hol­gate. Pho­tographed by David Sims.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

Im­me­di­acy is Ralph Lauren’s cur­rent modus operandi, with new col­lec­tions avail­able in store the same day they show on the run­way.

Ralph Lauren is no stranger to cross­ing fron­tiers: he’s been do­ing it for years, decades even, but the ter­ri­tory he’s just lit out for doesn’t come with any sign­post­ing. In Septem­ber last year, Ralph (as with Hil­lary or Kanye, the first name alone suf­fices) pre­sented a col­lec­tion that was avail­able to buy nanosec­onds af­ter it was walked down the run­way, and glob­ally at that, in his own boutiques, on­line and in stores dot­ted around the world. Maybe the gar­gan­tuan scale of the un­der­tak­ing sub­con­sciously in­flu­enced the de­sign process, be­cause what he showed is a vir­tual ode to vast­ness – from the wide-open vis­tas of the mythic West (fring­ing, buf­falo plaid) to the tow­er­ing, twin­kling me­trop­o­lis that is New York (fluid jump­suits, art deco bead­ing that gleams more than the Chrysler Build­ing around mid­night) – co­a­lesced into a col­lec­tion that’s as much of its time as it is time­less. New­ness-wise, the col­lec­tion has legs, and Ralph knows how to use them: he’s cov­ered just about ev­ery cur­rent way to wear pants, which (if you haven’t no­ticed al­ready, you will very soon) are hav­ing a mo­ment.

Ob­vi­ously, he’s not alone in think­ing about im­me­di­acy. Tom Ford, Tommy Hil­figer, Burberry’s Christo­pher Bai­ley … they are all in the here-and-now game too. But this is Ralph. That’s ma­jor. Still, the man him­self, sit­ting one par­tic­u­larly hot and hu­mid af­ter­noon in his sixth-floor of­fice at 650 Madi­son Av­enue, seems un­fazed by the tec­tonic shift his com­pany has un­der­taken. Guess it’s the pi­o­neer mind-set: think only of the des­ti­na­tion, not the jour­ney. Re­vis­it­ing the early

con­ver­sa­tions about this mon­u­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion – not to men­tion hav­ing to work on two col­lec­tions at once to get this one ready for Septem­ber ’16 – he in­sists that his de­ci­sion was driven for­ward by a sin­gle thought. “Show­ing clothes, then de­liv­er­ing them six months later … it’s over,” he says with a mea­sured fi­nal­ity. “With the in­ter­net, so­cial me­dia … you have to change.”

These days change is not an un­fa­mil­iar con­cept at Ralph Lauren. Ralph’s morn­ing had started with a town-hall meet­ing to re­veal his com­pany’s first-quar­ter fig­ures, which were en­cour­ag­ing, af­ter a re­cent less-stel­lar tran­sit in the com­pany’s for­tunes re­quired a sub­stan­tial re­think of how it op­er­ated. Ste­fan Lars­son, the young Swedish pres­i­dent and CEO who was in­stalled in late 2015, dis­cussed the Way For­ward plan that he’d for­mu­lated for the near-50year-old com­pany, and where it was tak­ing Ralph Lauren, the brand. (On an up­ward tra­jec­tory, he was happy to re­port.) Ralph spoke of his new way of show­ing from Septem­ber on­ward. “I’ve al­ways looked at the busi­ness as an evo­lu­tion,” he said. “We’re never stand­ing still, and we’re never chas­ing any­one. Ev­ery­thing is a new chapter.”

In a way, his re­sponse to ev­ery de­signer’s chal­lenge to­day – to make peo­ple re­con­nect with the plea­sure of shop­ping and to speak to our need for in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion – is text­book Ralph. For­get the din and clam­our of in­dus­try hand-wring­ing and just cut to the chase by en­gag­ing with those who are ac­tu­ally buy­ing. “I’ve been through it be­fore, when noth­ing moves,” he says. “When ev­ery­thing is avail­able, how do you do spe­cial­ness? How do you cre­ate magic?” Part of the dilemma, he freely ac­knowl­edges, is find­ing a place for fash­ion at a time when it is sim­ply one el­e­ment of an ever-ex­pand­ing reper­toire of what we rely upon to give a sense of ex­pres­sion to our lives. “Where you see most of the ex­cite­ment now is in food,” he says. “Restaurants, where to go, what’s healthy: that’s the sen­si­bil­ity that’s hap­pen­ing. There are more di­verse ideas about liv­ing. The world is into ex­pe­ri­ence, so you’ve got to give ex­pe­ri­ence.” He’s do­ing his part for that: at the time of writing he was en­vi­sion­ing two shows tak­ing place on Madi­son Av­enue: one for the usual in­dus­try types and one aimed at la­bel loy­al­ists – and both in the shadow of his em­pire, so those right-off-the-run­way clothes are tan­ta­lis­ingly close. That night, even fa­mil­iar ter­rain will be­come a new fron­tier.

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