It's Monday night, exactly two days to the hour before Greg Lauren's spring 2016 runway show — the first to solely showcase womenswear — and he's still not quite sure about the order of it. Should the group of indigo warrior looks come out before the shirts and pants and skirts made with the same nylon used to produce parachutes? Where do the military outfits fit in? The eveningwear? The white looks? Hell, can he even use all of these?
"Without edit I could do 75 looks," he tells me. "Maybe 100. But for a show, 50 seems to be the magic number."
Lauren, a Los Angeles-based artist and fashion designer (and, yes, the nephew of Ralph Lauren), has rented Go Studios's penthouse space in Manhattan's Garment District in order to put the final touches on his spring 2016 clothing and accessories. He likes it here because of the large indoor and outdoor spaces it offers. "We have to oxidize bracelets and paint hats," he says, pointing to 20 or so bracelets that hang outside on a wire hanger. "Plus," he adds, "I want some of the hats to sit out in the sun for a while so they fade."
The show he is working on aims to celebrate women's strength and diversity. "Women," he begins, "are leading the way in so many areas today that I wanted to do another show that represents them as these strong, powerful beings that are self-sufficient and independent." But unlike his previous collections, the character references are not specifically iconic. No tarnished Marianne Faithfull. No jiggered Grace Kelly. "I felt liberated because in some respect the women's show felt like a chance to really play with the styling and accessorizing, to mix ideas: to mix a straw hat with a dress shirt with destroyed army pants. The references were less about a character and actually blending them into one ensemble. Maybe on one level, that's me saying, women are so many things. There's no one thing that defines women today."
As he did for his men’s spring 2016 collection, Lauren has decided to show at the official New York Fashion Week venue. There's thinking behind this decision. "After my first two shows were off-site," he says, "I liked the idea of showing as part of the fashion community and then having a challenge, creatively: taking a given space and still aspiring to transport people in some way with a more minimal approach."
Shortly after I arrive at his New York studio, an African-American model named Samantha walks in and is greeted by Lauren. After exchanging information, he asks to see her walk. A little nervous, but with the confidence of a woman who's done this many times before, she does an about-face, struts to the far side of the room, turns again and expertly saunters back to Lauren and his team. Lauren's response comes in the form of one word, an utterance they both seem happy to hear.
"Cool," he says.
Samantha is asked to change into one of the looks — a white linen shirt over cropped linen pants — that will make it into the show. (I know this because when I ask Lauren what the yellow and red stickers on the Polaroids of his runway looks stand for, he answers by saying that they indicate "a maybe," or a good chance that the look will be edited from the show. Samantha's all-white look has no such sticker.) While Samantha changes, another model — a blonde — comes out in green military pants and a jacket. Maybe, Lauren wonders, her pants need something more. He grabs a six-inch brown leather strap with a buckle at the end from a nearby table and holds it to the side of the right pant leg, by the outer side of her knee. An assistant fastens the strap to the pants with a safety pin. Shortly after, a similar strap is fixed to the left side. Lauren steps back to study the additions. His face says that what he's done is prudent. Then, after a few more glances, he spots a long section of a white tank top extending over the top of the blonde's pants. Something's not right. He pauses and thinks, asks an assistant for a pair of scissors. In less than three seconds, the excess shirt fabric is cut — confidently, unevenly and to his satisfaction.
Watching Lauren execute these last-minutes touches is like witnessing the finishing stages of a puzzle with no image on the box showing what the final product should look like. As a spectator, I can see that something is about to come together, yet I can't quite explain how or why. I don't see the missing corner pieces, the obvious fits. But Lauren doesn't have any qualms. He only sees solutions, even if he has to make or alter those missing pieces himself.
After the blonde model is done with her fitting, Samantha comes out from the dressing room and is instructed to put on a white hat with a wide brim. As they always do, Lauren and his hired art director, Peggy North, examine the full outfit thoroughly. The clothes look good but the hat needs some work. Too plain. From a pile of scraps, Lauren cuts a square out of a gauzy, raw silk–like fabric and fastens it to the front-left side of the brim. From the same pile, he selects another white fabric, steps on it and tears a long, thin strip with his hands. He wraps it around the hat a few times, and again steps back to examine. It is still not ready. Sitting in plain sight is a gold-plated leaf. Lauren grabs it and tucks it into a corner of the thin white fabric he just wrapped around the bond of the hat. Even though there is no mirror, and she's never met Lauren before, Samantha appears aware that the touches are now complete. For a quick moment, something intangible passes between designer and model, something only they seem to recognize. By simply waiting to see the hat on her before he started the design, perhaps Samantha feels that the final product is unique to her. She smiles and thanks him. And this is when Lauren gives Samantha, the latest addition to his tribe of nomadic warriors, a high-five.
Homepage Photo: Andrew Swartz