Ralph Lauren‘s greatest achievement was creating an all-encompassing aspirational lifestyle disguised as a clothing brand. His labels—Polo, Purple Label, Black Label, RLX—are best experienced in their immersive retail environments and through photographer Bruce Weber’s cinematic ads. The clothing is no less desirable than the styling—the lifestyling, if you will—of the ranches and yachts and rugby teams and shoppable “mansions” Lauren has built around the world.
But the aspirational lifestyle is an evolving concept. Now we find it in the most unlikely places, often via the frenetic streams of Instagram (where Ralph Lauren has 940K followers and counting), Tumblr, and e-commerce, platforms that are free from the confines of physical space. Everything is a brand. People are brands, and they are no less special than actual brands. Labels are as desirable as ever, but their worlds are somehow less vivid than the worlds captured in the more personal accounts we follow. So where does that leave Ralph Lauren?
In the case of Purple Label, the clothes have never looked better. The browns and creams of the haberdashery section were classic and timeless, even with the distinctly old-timey flair of collar stands exaggerated to appear removable. Throughout, there was an emphasis on textured, breathable fabrics, such as a chunky silk and linen twill that felt much lighter than it looked. The strongest statements in tailoring came in shades of blue—the vibrant, French blue double-breasted blazer with wide peak lapel and a lightweight denim three-piece suit that looked more like a rich navy linen were highlights. A selection of Purple Label sportswear could have been billed as Polo’s greatest hits, including bonded leather jackets and trunks in vintage French prints. The safari section—quintessential Ralph Lauren—was given a slight twist rendered in black and tan. Black Label, equally refined, proposed a European take on the Purple Label ethos. Suits were slimmer, softer, and minimally adorned.
The preppy, Polo-wearing jock, meanwhile, hasn’t changed too much over the years. He still layers his clothes with careful dishevelment, contorts his collars and cuffs to turn up at the perfect angles, and mixes his oxfords and blazers with his sports gear. Polo juxtaposed every trope of American masculinity—it was boyish and rugged, nerdy and jockish, preppy and rough-hewn. The real news here is that the Polo guy will soon be getting some female company, with a Polo women’s line and accompanying Fifth Avenue flagship slated to launch this month.
The appeal of Ralph Lauren’s lifestyle hasn’t faded, but the way we experience it is changing. Stores and ads, no matter how perfectly they’re styled, don’t have the impact they once had. Ralph Lauren’s challenge is to figure out how to control our desire in this brave new multichannel world. We consume differently because we see each other and ourselves differently. You imagine a pioneer like Lauren will relish the challenge. In fact, Weber’s portfolio for Polo women’s won’t just appear in print but will have an online life in the form of a video series on ralphlauren.com. It might be an acknowledgment that the guy from the glossy Polo spread isn’t real enough anymore, or at least can no longer stand alone. He may still exist, but you won’t find him only in the mansion.
Body-con is Dion Lee‘s signature, and it’s proven a huge hit at home in Australia. The 28-year-old designer opened a store in Sydney in December and his Melbourne boutique is set to open later this month. This week in Paris, Lee unveiled a Resort collection that explored labyrinths and the notion of connectivity through prints, textured fabrics, and deft patternmaking. There were plenty of his fits-like-a-glove dresses, but the collection was notable for the diversity of its silhouettes. At its most literal, the labyrinth showed up in white against a lawn-print background on a boxy minidress or a knee-length halter dress. Both looked easy enough to wear. Another halter-neck dress in leather and bonded jersey reproduced the maze’s geometries in a less satisfying way—it looked stiff. The most compelling looks in the collection featured twisted and folded fabric at the waist. Origami came to mind. It was a real marvel that all that extra material didn’t add bulk. Elsewhere, new proportions included shorts and skorts with a filmy skirt overlay. A swimwear line with twisted fabric details, meanwhile, had sufficient appeal to make even the most bikini-averse reconsider her position.
As far as inspirations go, it doesn’t get much better than psychedelic barbecue dad. If that description doesn’t do anything for you, think Don Draper on a weekend acid trip. That was Scott Sternberg’s vision for the Band of Outsiders Spring 2015 men’s collection.
Sternberg’s journey down the rabbit hole began with beautifully constructed, ingeniously twisted mackintosh raincoats. Trenches were turned inside out, covered in rivets, waxed, washed, and printed all over with abstract sailboats. No BBQ dad would be caught on the weekend without his sweats. The wavy, ombré Black Watch tracksuit was hallucinogenic. Tanks and crewnecks were made into surreal
mash-ups with dress shirts. Elsewhere there were plenty of far-out visuals—locker loops multiplied and took over shirt fronts, plackets disguised as ties were patterned from collar to hem, and the preppy-favorite embroidered whale morphed into a pattern of colorful geometric shapes.
As you come down from the Band of Outsiders Spring experience, it becomes apparent that there’s much more than trim shirting in fun colors behind the label. There’s a keen sense of humor—the hooded sweatshirt with a cartoonishly large zipper will be an Instagram like-monster—and an uncanny ability to create classic menswear that refuses to fall in line.
Sarah Burton toiled alongside Alexander McQueen for years before his sudden death in 2010. Now at the creative helm, she’s uniquely qualified to intuit his vision, infusing it in everything she does at the house. Which, by all accounts, is a lot—she’s heavily invested in every one of the collections, whether big or small, women’s or men’s.
In the label’s second line, McQ, presented in a showroom setting, the late designer’s favored themes of disruption and destruction became apparent in a compact array of artfully shredded and intentionally weather-beaten wares. The notion of squatting was big, seen in unsettling prints by the U.K. illustrator Fergus Purcell; concert tees had made-up names for legal reasons, adding to their mysteriousness. A silver foil-effect knit exuded a home-distressed quality, and a specially treated crinkled tee came with a bag to avoid any loss of crinkle in the washing machine. Some looks, like patchwork sweaters, were suitably slouchy and droopy, while others laid flat with an army-surplus crispness. Black sandals and clunky mosh-pit boots rounded out the underground appeal of the collection.
There’s no flaw to be found in these clothes; they’re perfect distillations of the house codes. Maybe too perfect, but Burton isn’t afraid to push buttons. Whereas the keffiyeh scarf as a fashion reference is fairly played out at this point, Burton diced and spliced it in novel ways, rendering it in the house’s signature razor-blade motif to unnerving effect.
Kenzo is finding its sweet spot. For Spring, still-new designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim—Americans in Paris who started the internationally adored shop Opening Ceremony—tapped into the great and gushy fondness they harbor for the two countries they now call home. “It’s an unapologetic embrace of America and France,” said Leon, whose partner was absent today, unable to board a plane due to her own happy circumstances. “It’s also about the historic relationship between the two,” he added, “as well as that sense of wonder when a tourist goes to a place like New York or Paris for the first time.”
It would have been très, très bon if the weather had cooperated, given that the show was held outdoors in a nook overlooking the Seine. Alas, the forecast insisted on a sullen drizzle, in high contrast to the sunny disposition that emanated from the clothes. Models walked briskly, so as to beat a sudden downpour, in a charm offensive whose highlights included macaroon-colored outerwear, scooter-ready parkas, tanks and tees in dueling bright stripes, body-cocooning canvas coats awash in modified nautical stripes, and matching polka-dot shirts and pants. Bags were square-in-circle zippered clutches overtly referencing the famed French architect Le
Corbusier—probably too adorable, and mod-like, for many men to actually tote around come spring. The clothes had more than enough prep appeal to make up for it.
We’ve seen some excellent intarsia pieces this season, but few as excellent as those at Kenzo. The optical-knit
technique—whereby various yarns are used to create a seamless patchwork of colors and recognizable shapes—was employed to re-create familiar images on sweaters of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and Les Misérables’ poster girl, Cosette. The show invitation was an enormous key ring clanging with little plastic Eiffel Towers, an unabashedly garish reminder of kitschy souvenir shops. It was also a reminder that the Kenzo designers are still able to view Paris with the touristy sense of wonder Leon spoke about, and that perspective is leading to great results.
As the name asserts, Comme des Garçons Shirt deals mostly in shirting, leaving the sweeping, beyond-poplin men’s statements to its more
established older brother, Homme Plus. Which isn’t at all to suggest that
the slightly younger line is less dramatic or revelatory. It, too, has a
unique place in the Comme universe, which has been steadily expanding since Rei Kawakubo founded the label in Japan in the early seventies.
It would be tempting to draw parallels between that psychedelic time and
Shirt’s hallucinogenic Spring collection, with its rousing kaleidoscope
of cornea-scorching colors, radical 3-D bursts on shirtfronts, and
intarsia knits every bit as busy as a Miró or a Calder. No, these men
were not hippies, but perhaps former ravers with degrees in French
literature and careers in art.
The challenging nature of Shirt’s shirts was carefully explained on a
tour of the collection with Kawakubo’s husband and the company’s
president, Adrian Joffe, following the runway show at Comme’s Place
Vendôme headquarters. He pointed out every extreme silhouette and complex geometry. “This shirt might look like a normal blue office shirt, but really it is a cape,” he said, revealing its double-take effect.
“We worked with the artist Mike Perry,” he added, in reference to the
Brooklyn-based Pop artist with a taste for the delightfully
puerile. “There are a lot of similarities between his work and the Comme
des Garçons vision.”
Sure, there were also mild—or milder—shirt options in soft blue and white with nary a kink to be found, save for a diagonal seam or random pocket, as well as a range of pants in safe solids and color-blocks. But once you’ve seen a rainbow-hued jabot with outrageously large ruffle
swirls, can you ever go back?
The fan-boy situation in fashion is endlessly mesmerizing. Marc, Raf, Hedi—all these grown men given huge resources to flex their adolescent fascinations. But king of the hill is Undercover‘s Jun Takahashi, because his fandom couples with what seems to be a natural Japanese impulse toward the curatorial. So he will latch on to one arcane enthusiasm, exploit it to the max, and, in the process, create an extraordinary cultural artifact.
The most extraordinary was Takahashi’s book on Westwood-McLaren’s label Seditionaries. It’s so hard to find that it has attained the status of urban myth. And that glorious period—the heyday of punk in London—seemed to be his prime inspiration for a long time, even as he took side trips into The Jesus and Mary Chain and Krautrockers. But for Spring 2015, Takahashi said he’d made a leap, from the overt fabulosity of punk London to the “inner life” of punk New York, specifically the band Television, whose main man Tom Verlaine was responsible for a spidery, spiraling form of guitar music that grows in stature as the decades wear on.
In an odd way, the fiercely antifashion Television loaned themselves to the revisionism of a designer like Takahashi. He used the starkness of their two album sleeves as an intensely visual graphic, and the cryptic poetry of their lyrics as running motifs across and around items of clothing. There was so much more—the plaid-printed biker jacket and the cable-printed coat being two examples—but the peculiar combination of Verlaine’s elliptical presentation and Takahashi’s bold reinterpretation created the entrancing prospect of Takahashites around the world greeting the day in the sleeve of Adventure, Television’s second album. Takahashi’s passion for music is such that all he wants to do is convert people to his cause. Seeing that Television is the current cause, can we recommend the tracks “Friction” and “Foxhole” as starting points? Then you may stand converted.
One of Chitose Abe’s womenswear signatures at Sacai is artful layering-which-isn’t-exactly-layered. It’s more of a trompe l’oeil effect. But in Sacai’s new collection for men, the layers were real. In fact, a new approach to layering was the starting point: a nylon blouson laid over tailored pinstripes, say, or a hoodie over a parka. That sounds like mere willful designer trickery in theory, but it didn’t look that way in practice, because everything was so light and casual and bare-leg sporty, with a new Birkenstock collaboration providing footwear to match.
A coat that self-belted to one side, fitted to the body there and loose on the other side, was quintessential Sacai, but otherwise, an appetite for utility took over the collection, with bombers and cargo shorts and camo. “It’s a uniform in a modern way,” said spokesperson Daisuke Gemma, “but we don’t like to talk about the army.” Still, it was the camo that provided the most special effects. Abe started with a basic Swedish pattern, took some things out, put other things in, and ended up with a very pleasing abstract, which was overprinted on pinstripes and herringbone for coats, tops, and pants. It was playful; it was Pop. It was, in other words, Sacai to a camo-printed T.
Something else for the record: Whether you are man, woman, or child, a Sacai parka will forever be a thing of joy.
Kris Van Assche opened his Dior Homme show today with three tuxedos in the same vibrant shade of blue mohair. The first was classic, the second was straight fashion, the third was edgy fashion (cropped, with a toggle fastening in anticipation of the show’s nautical subtext). The trio immediately established the dialogue between bohemia and bourgeois that would dominate the collection. But, as Van Assche saw it, that was akin to the inclinations of Christian Dior. “Though Dior loved Parisian nightlife, he also loved his escape into nature,” he said. After last season’s lily of the valley, here there were graffitied roses. But it was the seaside where Dior felt he could really let go, so, appropriately, the collection’s most striking elements had to do with the sea: the lifeboat-man’s bright yellow slicker, the gothic revision of the boat shoe, and all the sailor stripes. They had a real feel that contrasted sharply with the bland classicism of the tailored pieces, which is why Van Assche cleverly mashed them together—a buzzy bee-striped vest under a pinstriped suit jacket, for instance. He gave more artful expression to the bohemia versus bourgeois debate when he followed a totally unconstructed suit in washed denim with another suit in pristine white denim, unwashed and structured to a razor sharpness. The contrast was a little like the set, a crossroads where Van Assche imagined “different types of men could meet.”
Van Assche’s infatuation with tradition borders on the romantic. He was thrilled by a letter he found in the Dior archives, penned by Christian himself. “Traditions have to be maintained,” Dior wrote. “In troubled times like ours, we must maintain these traditions, which are our luxury and the flower of our civilization.” Van Assche loved the words so much he reproduced them as a scribble print on a shirt and a suit jacket. Dior’s sign-off was used as a detail on a shirt collar. Like Dior, Van Assche had letting go in mind, but in an elegant way. His models walked with hands in pockets. “This relaxed mood is new for me,” he said. But to be perfectly honest, he could relax a whole lot more. Hands in pockets? Try hands in the air like they just don’t care. Now that’s relaxed.
Awkward, askew, askance. Those might have been the three A’s knitted into baggy collegiate sweaters at Acne Studios, the increasingly refined Swedish label with the quotidian name. To be fair, the name isn’t so much a name as it is an acronym for Ambition to Create Novel Expressions, which sounds much better, plus it’s factually correct. Some of the novel expressions in Acne’s Spring men’s collection included plunging drop-crotch shorts; beaded, intentionally threadbare sweaters tied around the waist; giant-size knit caps; spray-painted stars on an oversize T-shirt; and a generous use of knowingly unbecoming browns.
In typical form for Acne, a former denim label approaching its twentieth year, there was also a deliberate, clumsy squareness in the small offering, which creative director Jonny Johansson attributed to a one-size-up approach. “We’ve always done dry menswear,” he said at the live presentation. “There might be a casual preppy vibe and we may work in masculine colors, but it’s always in our own unique way.”