On September 8, Day 1 of the New York Fashion Week, a group of fashion editors loaded into a sprinter with grins so wide you’d never know they were heading to Brooklyn. The outer borough’s appearance on fashion week invites often elicits groans, but yesterday was different because the trek was for Ralph Lauren’s first show in New York City since 2019.
The fashion landscape is in flux, with bigger houses ping-ponging between Milan and Paris for its runways. Despite the lineup of exciting new, smaller brands that the city is known for, Lauren's post-pandemic absence has left a hole in the New York calendar. So his return to the city he was born in 83 years ago felt like a warm hug—even if it did require a journey to the Brooklyn Navy Yards.
The venue was decorated like Lauren’s Colorado Ranch by way of the Big Apple, with plush white chairs, chandeliers hanging by ropes, and walls lined with empty gilt frames. “New York Fashion Week finally feels like New York Fashion Week, because of him,” said one guest. The surroundings were giving artist’s loft but the vibes were purely New York, illuminated by the sparkling lights, candles, and champagne glasses fit for a party straight out of The Great Gatsby.
It felt like New York because Ralph Lauren is New York—a boy from the Bronx who has dressed the city for decades and whose Polo Bar and uptown coffee shop have charmed a new generation. Before the runway began, guests beamed in their seats with the distinct pride of New Yorkers celebrating one of their own. His show felt like a declaration: Hey! New York’s still got it.
And if New York’s still got it, then New Yorkers still need glamour, which Lauren was more than happy to provide. The show offered punched-up iterations of brand staples, all designed for going out and being seen. On the runway, there was still denim—lots of it—but it was embroidered in beads, sequins, and floral prints, or lined with chiffon and tulle.
One stand-out look was a full-denim ensemble with a strapless, midriff-exposing corset top, styled with a denim maxi skirt covered in a floral print so delicate, it looked like a painted beam ceiling from the French renaissance. When it appeared online, commenters posted things like “omfg”; in person, guests showed their admiration by raising their phones to capture video. If you have followed Lauren’s work for years, it may remind you of a look from the spring 2003 collection, where a long denim skirt was worn with a floral corset top and gold fringed bag. Lauren often references himself, as all great designers do—his latest iteration feels on-brand but still perfectly crafted for 2023.
Another look that oozed cool involved a strappy tank top, black trousers, some dramatic accessories, and a flowing shawl, its fringed edges dancing like luxe hay. What followed was a slew of party looks, accessorised with layers of colorful beaded necklaces; bright, bold dresses that draped around the body before collapsing into a fringe that swayed with each model's step; and two gold looks that closed the show.
The first was a leather macramé gown detailed with woven patterns and tiers of gold fringe. It took 15 specialised embroiderers to make it, and they put in over 800 hours of cutting, weaving, and knotting the leather fringe. The second was a gold lamé gown modeled by Christy Turlington, another legend whose star hasn’t faded.
After the show, Lauren took his bow to a standing ovation before leading guests to a seated dinner in another room illuminated by the lights of yet more chandeliers. On four separate occasions, four different fashion editor friends described the show to me as “Very Ralph.” Period. And it struck me how the brand has turned a fairly common first name into shorthand for classic Americana. No elaboration needed; I knew exactly what they meant.
At the dinner, with long tables covered in vintage wine glasses and blue floral tablecloths, I struggled to find my seat. When I approached a server for help and apologised for being lost, he said, “Don’t worry, you’re Ralph’s guest!” And behind me someone turned to say, “God, I love New York!”
This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar USA