On the penultimate day (and the final night) of New York Fashion Week,Ralph Lauren shut down a stretch of Madison Avenue and cast his lot decisively with the see-now/shop-now, fashion-in-season-and-in-the-stores crusaders, whose cause — immediate gratification to reflect digital reality — has upended the traditional women’s wear season.
Three blocks away from the East 72nd Street limestone mansion commonly known as the Ralph Lauren store, a traffic sign warned motorists of “delays.” At the corner of East 71st Street, pedestrians trapped behind barriers vented their ire at waiting police officers or whipped out their cellphones to snap photographs of the structure just beyond: a transparent atrium constructed from 75 glass panels on the concrete just in front of the shop.
How high up in the city hierarchy did Mr. Lauren have to go to get the avenue closed? (Or at least half of it; one lane was still open for traffic.)
“To God,” he said.
What followed was a declaration of faith: In populism for the 1 Percent (they deserve it, too, apparently) and the need for evolution.
Select clients from around the world were invited to join the industry crowd, the Lauren family and assorted celebrities to perch on crisp cotton cushions atop sisal-lined bleachers. The sidewalk was the runway, and the store the set. “You are changing the way you live and the way you want to shop, and we are changing with you and for you,” read a note placed on every seat.
And there was some change on the runway. Though not too much.
Eschewing his usual tripartite themes, Mr. Lauren built a tighter-than-usual collection — nominally Fall, Part 2, but effectively seasonless (can we all just forget the pointless meteorological nomenclature now?) — on the inspiration from an old Navajo blanket he had in his house, soignée city evening wear in fruity shades and Savile Row suiting.
Stylized suede flowers, the kind normally seen on rodeo shirts, were embroidered up the sides of pinstripe trousers; a buffalo-plaid shirt was paired with a midi skirt dripping asymmetric tiers of silken fringe; and a hot pink Kashmir goat chubby tossed atop a slithery matching halter and trousers.
Some of the Western touches were a little heavy-handed (Stetsons and silk charmeuse?). But a sleeveless black column dress, the shoulders bordered in studded saddle leather that formed a harness at the back, and sporty tank sheaths covered in thousands — or, in the case of one gown, millions — of hand-dyed dégradé micro-sequins, had the efficiency of true elegance. It waited for no hand-tooled belt.
Still, what happened post-show was even more striking. Mr. Lauren stepped out in a faded denim shirt and faded jeans to take his bow, and then swept his hand toward the store’s big picture windows. The gray curtains parted and a video of a rearing wild horse played, framing mannequins wearing some of the clothes that had just appeared on the runway. Then the store doors opened, and the guests were ushered inside.
“What do we do now?” the actress Julianne Moore asked, looking at the waiters with trays of Champagne glasses standing in front of the handbag vitrines.
The answer: You shop, of course.
Still, not every designer thinks that’s the right answer. (Not the shopping part — every designer wants you to shop. The shopping immediately part.)
At Boss Women, for example, the creative director Jason Wu is slowly inching his way toward the experiment, this season offering his runway bag — a slouchy, soft leather number — for immediate purchase. Not, however, the very good Hockney-inspired rainbow of streamlined separates in primary colors it came with; not the transparent slipdresses with pleated skirts and tanks slashed by broken geometries and hung on the hip, skinny trouser suits with luggage straps shirring the sleeves, or organza tuxedo shells embroidered with overlapping petals to form the shape of the continents as seen from outer space.
But at the opposite extreme, Derek Lam is digging in and scaling back. “In this moment when everyone is talking about ‘what are the shows,’ I thought I would do something small,” he said at the first of a series of presentations in the Greenwich Hotel penthouse suite, in front of only about 20 people at a time. “That this would be my answer.”
His answer, to be fair, was actually found in the crisp white A-line midi skirts with big patch pockets paired with curving eyelet peasant blouses; the rust-colored pleated trousers and perforated, papery picnic dresses; and a one-shoulder white tunic poured over black trousers. He said they were sparked by the life and favorite looks of Georgia O’Keeffe (we’re in a painterly moment, apparently), who returned to the same subjects again and again. It is true that Mr. Lam does the same — he loves a bit of simple American arcana — which can read as uninspired on a runway but has a whispery allure up close.
He may be fighting a losing battle. But it’s also true that if you really want something, you should be willing to wait for it. Desire is the engine of fashion: If a dress is unforgettable, it should worm its way into your imagination until it becomes the solution to how you present yourself to the world. Waiting six months shouldn’t make a difference. Anticipation, as both Carly Simon and Heinz once told us, is a powerful thing.
Almost as powerful as the ability to shut down a city street. But maybe not quite.