By the time I arrived at Ralph Lauren's runway show at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Madison Avenue was quiet and dark, but the illuminated greenhouse-like structure attached to the exterior of the women's flagship store was a bright beacon of light. Police had barricaded the entire block, which I imagine was a taller order just two hours earlier, when the first of the evening's back-to-back shows took place.
The company spent three days building the structure — made up of 75 individual glass panels — inside which guests sat on two sets of risers right off the sidewalk-turned-catwalk. It was certainly a dramatic and impressive way for Ralph Lauren to debut its first ever "see now, buy now" show, and the brand took the runway-to-retail term literally. Models including Stella Tennant, Carolyn Murphy, Liya Kebede, Kendall Jenner, Taylor Hill and Bella Hadid first walked up and down the sidewalk and then into the store. Over 150 items went on sale immediately after the show at flagship Ralph Lauren stores around the world, as well as on its own website, at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Mytheresa.com and Russia's Mercury.
"I have always been inspired by the rugged beauty and romance of the American West," Lauren said in a statement, and that aesthetic was clearly on display in the new collection. As the new CEO Stefan Larsson explained in May, the company wanted to refocus on its core DNA: the classic iconic style inspired by Ralph Lauren himself, a man who is connected to both New York City and his Colorado ranch.
So what does American West mean to Lauren in 2016? Shirts and light coats with stylized yokes and contrast piping; studded leather belts; beacon and "southwestern" print dresses, shirts and a metallic suit; fringed suede on every kind of piece; ponchos, both solid and patterned; puffy feather and fur coats (one in shades of brown, one in bright pink); silver bib-necklaces and fringed earrings; and many black cowboy hats. The show concluded with eight monochromatic evening looks in bright pink, purple, blue, yellow or red, made from satin or sequins. They were sleek, simple and red-carpet ready.
My favorite piece was coincidentally worn by Kendall Jenner: a boxy, vintage-looking leather jacket with armor-like shoulder detailing. The combination with black jeans and a white popped-collar blouse was the most modern look of the collection, but still retained that classic Ralph Lauren sensibility.
To drive home the shoppable angle, Lauren invited the audience into the store after taking his bow (which was received with warm applause, especially when he did a quick dance and pointed at his name engraved on the limestone arches on either side of the entry). Over champagne and hors d'oeuvres, guests could explore the first two floors of the women's flagship, already featuring the new collection in its windows.
Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Julianne Moore (with her daughter, Liv Freundlich) mingled with the high-profile editors and Lauren family. At one point, Vogue's Tonne Goodman was thanked enthusiastically for styling an editorial in the magazine's October issue featuring the new collection. Its release online on Monday served as the company's announcement of the change in strategy — just another way in which Ralph Lauren seems to have left no stone unturned in its full throttle embrace of the "see now, buy now" movement.