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Ralph Lauren makes his cars the stars in elitist extravaganza
14 septembre 2017
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Ralph Lauren makes his cars the stars in elitist extravaganza

The late 19th-century arbiter of Manhattan society Samuel Ward McAllister coined the phrase “The Four Hundred” to describe the number of people who really matter in New York at any given time. Ralph Lauren, who has built a personal fortune of $5.8bn (£4.4bn) by distilling the top notes of affluent east coast society into blazers, polo shirts and perfumes, revived this concept on Tuesday evening with an ultra-exclusive runway show, bucking the inclusive, consumer-facing direction that has defined most of New York fashion week.

In contrast to Alexander Wang’s Saturday night event, staged guerilla-style on downtown streets, Ralph Lauren selected just 300 guests to be chauffeur-driven out of the city for one glamorous evening, staging a runway show and black-tie dinner upstate among a personal collection of valuable vintage sports cars.

It was a breathtakingly elitist move – and, at the same time, a brilliantly democratic one. Many designers try to elevate their clothes by referencing obscure sculptors, or little-known arthouse films, which are meaningless to most fashion consumers. Ralph Lauren, on the other hand, speaks a visual language everyone understands. The sports car is a universal symbol of affluence and success. Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo are car brands second, status symbols first. And while only 300 attended the evening in person, the show, guests and preparations were showcased on Instagram Stories for the brand’s 6.6 million followers.

The night was less a fashion show than a full immersion in the brand’s lifestyle, down to the jazz mixtape curated by Lauren himself which was played in the cars ferrying guests from Manhattan, and the troupe of dinner-jacketed aides on hand as guests navigated a split-level space linked by a ramp – handy for moving cars, tricky in five-inch heels. Diane Keaton, who wore Ralph Lauren tailoring in Annie Hall, sported a bowler hat in the front row next to Ricky Lauren, wife of the designer. Dinner came courtesy of the Polo Bar, where – if you are lucky enough to secure a reservation – a rib-eye steak with fries will set you back $66.

Lauren’s garage boasts a classic 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, and one of only two 1938 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic Coupes ever built, a car estimated to be worth $40m and which the industrialist Gianni Agnelli once made a personal visit to Lauren’s garage in Westchester, New York, to see. A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, said to be the most beautiful Ferrari ever made, has been temporarily moved to the Madison Avenue flagship store, where the see-now-buy-now clothing collection will be on sale from today.

When Lauren found himself reaching for automobile terms to describe this season’s colours – Ferrari red and yellow, for example – the idea of including his vehicles in the show was born. “When someone gets into a beautiful car, it enhances their world. If you get into a racing car, it’s sexy,” the designer told Women’s Wear Daily. An opening symphony of Prince of Wales check tailoring was followed by Bella Hadid in a red vinyl corset, and Kendall Jenner in a Donald Duck yellow ball skirt.

The stunt is easily dismissed as a rich man’s showboating, but there is a poetic symbolism to cars in US culture which Lauren celebrates. They are icons of freedom, road trips, and of teenage adventure. And, ahead of the brand’s 50th anniversary next year, the event sent a clear message that Lauren – who has regained creative control after internal wrangles and implemented a turnaround plan to modernise the business – is back in the driving seat.

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