Thursday, April 2, 2020

Once upon a time Ralph Lauren

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Ralph Lauren and his wife, Ricky, in 1977 in front of their home in the Hamptons, near New York. Susan Wood / Getty Images

This is the story of a guy who, at the height of six feet, managed to embody the quintessential style of an entire American nation, in this case … The documentary broadcast on OCS November 16 traces the Ralph Lauren, a bushman from the Bronx, son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, who started selling his extra-large ties (while fashion was slim ties) at Bloomingdale's, one of New York's legendary department stores. At the same time, in the late 1960s, he also launched his brand, called Polo, sport he did not practice at all, but he found more chic than baseball.

Since then, the kid friendly and ambitious has become a billionaire octogenarian and respected, even idolized. A formidable businessman with a strong look and taste, he certainly signed the costumes for the film Gatsby the magnificent (1974) but also, and most importantly, the clothing of millions of men, women and children around the world. Often loyal customers, to whom he sold with a certain sincerity some of the American dream and a lot of lifestyle who accompanies him.

Ralph Lauren – a major player in the American fashion industry, a master of WASP and working class art, world champion all-rounder outlets that we track down in the United States with the same fervor as a Broadway ticket or an old Chevrolet – deserved a documentary.

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A style, with an imaginary

It turns out that in terms of VIP and other legends the director of Very Ralph, first film of the genre dedicated to the stylist, is not a beginner. Susan Lacy has to his credit the creation and production of the series American Masters, sum of filmed biographies devoted to "Greatest artists, born American or adopted by the United States". Since 1986, she has "seen" a lot of people … From Maya Angelou to Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon to James Dean, Jane Fonda to Steven Spielberg, the recipe is tried and tested: archive photos, voice over, personalities and friends who testify facing camera. Here, for Ralph Lauren, nothing less than Calvin Klein, Woody Allen or Robin Givhan (fashion editor at Washington Post and, incidentally, Pulitzer Prize).

The pope of American sportswear in his office.
The pope of American sportswear in his office. Zachary Freyman / Conde Nast / Getty Images

Whether one wears his chinos and shirts with devotion or is insensitive to the gentleman's obvious charm, what does it matter? As the documentary points out: it's not nothing when your name becomes an adjective. We say indeed of a garment or a look that it is "Very Ralph Lauren" (hence the title, Very Ralph). Understanding how this phenomenon can occur by tracing the thread of a personal and professional story is never uninteresting. Even for fashion people who think they know everything about it …

For Hepburn, evoking the Ralph Lauren style, is summoning "the country, misty mornings, horses, cornfields".

Ralph Lauren, himself, says that this film is "An important step in the vast enterprise of telling who I am and what I did". It helps to better understand how the RL cloakroom is, like few others finally, charged with a powerful imagination that speaks to the greatest number.

There is banter Yankee in his plaid overshirts and cowboy boots, and the sound of ice cubes tinkling against a glass of bourbon in his white tuxedo jackets. Bogart in his trenches and Woody Allen in his tweeds. Audrey Hepburn says it very nicely in the documentary: to evoke the style Ralph Lauren, it is to summon "The country, the misty mornings, the horses, the corn fields". It has been working pretty well since 1967 but, in recent years, the most striking thing for a French observer about the American pope in sportswear could be a paradox.

Classics always in the air

Ralph Lauren with two of his three children.
Ralph Lauren with two of his three children. Lauren Family Archives

The economic press was not spilling over the decline of the "laurenian" empire: in September 2016, the magazine Capital explained by the menu "Why Ralph Lauren fell off his pedestal," including profits divided by two and a difficulty to compete with emerging claws with a younger audience. At the same time, trendy Parisians began to swear by the classics of the brand.

"Ralph is recognizing that it looks vintage or mottled, but it's too perfect to be old. »Gauthier Borsarello, journalist

"Because he works on nostalgia, Ralph Lauren is reassuring and naturally attractive," supports Gauthier Borsarello, who worked five years for the American label as a vintage specialist and is today editor of the men's fashion magazine The label. "Every ten years he reworks the same time-tested pieces, such as the jean jacket, chino, trench coat, blazer … and adapts them to the times. He is not a designer who draws, cuts and sews like the others. He is an art director who searches in a great imaginary shop and adjusts proportions, materials or colors at the time. It makes accessible to everyone the second-hand dream: the one you have in mind and never find. We recognize Ralph that it looks vintage or mottled, but it's too perfect to be old. "

Purists will choose their basics in the Polo line or browse for halo pieces from a made in USA guaranteeing the excellent quality of the debut of the brand. Unless they opted for a black suit with a crossed jacket like the one worn by the master, on November 8, at the Elysee. When Emmanuel Macron – nine years after Nicolas Sarkozy made him knight – raised the most Rican designers to the rank of officer in the order of the Legion of Honor.

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