Gopnik, Blake, Newsweek
Byline: Blake Gopnik
The new magic of vintage Ralph Lauren.
sitting in a deluxe meeting room in an office in midtown Manhattan, Da vid Lauren, an executive vice president of the Ralph Lauren Corp. and second son of the famous designer, does something you wouldn't expect of a fashion executive: he reveals that the elegant suit he has on-- double-breasted and wide-lapelled in navy-blue wool, worn with a pin-dotted tie--is in fact 20 years old. He's not begging for a raise or showing off his thrift. He is demonstrating a truth about this moment in world culture: that the old is new and the new looks old and there's no need to choose between them--and that his com pany is on the crest of this cultural wave. The suit was designed by his father, and any wear that it's showing after all these years is like "the patina of a great pickup truck," he says, since the brand "is always rooted in the classics--it's about history."
That is, Ralph Lauren's fashion has what audiences want these days, in any art form. Painters are busy making abstrac tions with roots in the 1950s. Musicians can hit it big with songs that would have been at home in Liverpool in 1963 or Memphis in 1933. And David Lauren's 1990s suit looks perfectly up to date, may be because its style points even further back, to the 1940s. Vintage Lauren pieces are so much of this moment that they're getting an entire website to themselves, curated by the company that made them, and due to go live on Nov. 15. "RL Vin tage," as the project is called, will be "a shoppable museum of our archive," says Lauren fils, who is 41. The site will present luscious photos of classic pieces from years past, along with explanations of their origins. (David Lauren calls the ap proach "merchantainment.") Each season, the site will focus on a single theme chosen from four decades of Ralph Lauren creations, and Web surfers will be given the chance to buy vintage examples. This fall the spotlight will shine on clothing built around Western motifs (serapes, old silver, turquoise), but future themes might range from Jazz Age fashion to Ralph Lauren's Ivy League look. And each piece will come with a certificate of authenticity. A program called "Bring It Back" will give the site a crowd-sourced component: webizens will be invited to view a half dozen creations from across the brand's history--to begin with, six vintage versions of its famous "polo bear" image--and then vote on the one they most want re turned to production.
"RL Vintage" comes in response to a phenomenon that even David Lauren didn't know about at first. Five years ago, when the brand was looking to commemorate its 40th birthday, executives discov ered there were fans who might be celebrating harder than they were. They found a store in Tokyo that sells only vin tage Ralph Lauren, with pieces dating back to the 1970s. There was a Japanese magazine devoted to heritage Americana that had an entire issue on old Ralph Lauren pieces. …