Fashion designers, generally, aren’t a Zen kind of people. They enjoy accumulating, surrounding themselves with objects of their affections. The art collection of Yves Saint Laurent is one of the most extreme examples – as an art haul containing works by Ingres, Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian, Goya (by no means an exhaustive list) tends to be. Raf Simons is also an art buff; Karl Lagerfeld has amassed collections of Rococo and Memphis furniture. Azzedine Alaïa acquires vintage couture, and Jean Prouvé. But Ralph Lauren’s collection of vintage cars could, possibly, top them all. It is estimated to be worth over $300 million – the prized model, a Bugatti 57SC Atlantic of 1938, is worth an estimated $50 million by itself. It is one of only four ever made – only two survive, the other being in the collection of the Mullin Automotive Museum in California. Glossy and black and Gotham-ish, with a tugged-out, snub-nosed bonnet and an arched back, it kind of looks like Batman’s run-around. It’s a beautiful thing.
All of Lauren’s cars are – with their glossy pumped-up colours and aerodynamic shares – running the gamut from the retro-stylish models of early 20th century styles that would look smashing on set in The Great Gatsby (Lauren did suit Gatsby in the 1974 version starring Robert Redford), through to latest built-for-speed hybrid racers. The roll-call is a litany of automobiles’ finest: Bentley, Mercedes, Porsche, McLaren, many a Bugatti. Scarcity is key – besides that almost-unique Bugatti, there’s a 1996 McLaren F1 Le Mans (one of five); a 2010 Lamborghini Reventó (one of 15); and a Mercedes-Benz SSK “Count Trossi” roadster from 1930 (one of… well, one).
They were all on display at his garage in Bedford, Westchester – a two-hour drive from Manhattan (probably faster in one of Ralph’s motors) where Lauren opted to show his latest collection. Incidentally, for Ralph that collection is not Spring, but Autumn/Winter – on the see-now, buy-now model. Garage is perhaps a misleading term: the interior is pristine, black and white, more akin to a photographic studio or an art gallery – which it kind of is. It was designed by Alfredo Paredes, executive vice president and the chief retail creative officer at Ralph Lauren – but doesn’t resemble Lauren’s nostalgic, home-away-from-home retail aesthetic in the slightest. Like the cars, this is streamlined, elegant, and functional – an engine of a space. The repository is officially, called D.A.D. Garage (the initials of Lauren’s three children: David, Andrew and Dylan, according to a 2010 Vanity Fair profile of Lauren’s love-affair with automobiles). But, for one night only, it was rechristened the slightly-less ambiguous “Ralph’s Garage,” a slogan embroidered across the back of the mechanics’ boiler suits worn by not-so-greasy greasers who served cocktails and, later, burgers and fries from Lauren’s acclaimed restaurant kitchen to 300 or so guests, including long-term Lauren fan Diane Keaton, who wore his mannish jackets and ties in Annie Hall, and has been doing so ever since.
In between the drinks and the eats in Ralph’ Garage there was a good-old-fashioned fashion show: and in-between the models were a bunch of major works of automobile art. They weren’t just for show, just as Lauren’s cars aren’t just playthings – besides being valuable commodities, they inspire his clothes in much the same way that Saint Laurent referenced Picasso and Mondrian in embroidered haute couture dresses, or the manner Alaïa’s ingeniously engineered garments reference the beauty through form of Prouvé’s purism. In fact, Ralph Lauren’s latest spring show was a combination of both approaches; translating both the aesthetics and the sleek, streamlined design integrity of a whole bunch of his cars into fashion. “My cars have always been an inspiration to me,” Lauren said before the show. “I see them as moving art. My women’s collection for Fall 2017 connects the elements of the speed, style and beauty of these handcrafted vehicles with the very modern, yet timeless spirit of the clothes.”
“My cars have always been an inspiration to me. I see them as moving art. My women’s collection for Fall 2017 connects the elements of the speed, style and beauty of these handcrafted vehicles with the very modern, yet timeless spirit of the clothes” – Ralph Lauren
As soon as the models started to careen out, with revving engines on the soundtrack, you got it. There were literal connections – a couple of ballgowns had shiny patent leather bodices, which was also used for a shiny, Porsche-scarlet slicker mac; others were in high-gloss silks so reflective they seemed enamelled. But overall, it was the sleek shapes that drew the strongest affinity with the cars – a slender trench or double-breasted coat, even in tweed, looked streamlined like a roadster chassis, while evening dresses glistening with bugle beads were cut along the slim line of classic American sportswear – a tugged-out turtleneck, a short slip, a floor-length tank-top embroidered with silver, that wound top looking like a high-tech engine component. Precious, but practical, elegant, but hyper-modern, their forms eminently geared for the function in hand – dressing a woman well, and making her look great.