ralph lauren kids clothing Ralph Lauren’s Revised Guest List
THE Ralph Lauren amusement park has a new attraction. Head past the false front saloons of Roughwearland, breeze by the tawny postcolonial Safari land and turn left, just after Gatsbyland, and check out Multicultural Urbanland. Hang out with the homeboys. Project attitude. Or be fabulous and downtown, in that special New York way.
New and unfamiliar influences have crept into the Lauren vision. They are on full display in the fall advertising campaign for Polo, the heart and soul of Mr. Lauren’s grand reinterpretation of American life as a series of styles. It’s a 25 year project as ambitious as, and remarkably similar to, Walt Disney’s, or the Golden Age Hollywood films in which Jewish immigrants projected an idealized America back to itself.
Image No. 1. A beautiful 12 year old black girl, swathed in wool and cotton tartan, strikes a tough, confident pose. In her right hand she clutches a book bound in a traditional African kente cloth pattern. She wears her hair in thin braids. She’s cool, and she knows it. The ad is for Polo for Boys, a line that has always sold well with girls, hence the slight sexual ambiguity.
Image No. 2. A 13 year old white boy sits on a Fender amplifier, hunched over a Gibson guitar. As the Lauren people might say, his look broadcasts individuality, character and a point of view. He wears a tartan necktie around his waist. A buffalo check scarf is thrown, with studied carelessness, over a checked tartan shirt.
When he grows up, he may look like the man in image No. 3, a swarthy, brooding, long haired hunk who inhabits a black chalk stripe suit. He wears this archetypal banker’s uniform with insouciance, with impudence, with attitude.
In one ad he wears the suit with a black T shirt and in a bold bit of layering throws a leather motorcycle jacket over the suit jacket. In another ad he wears the suit with a buffalo check flannel shirt.
As with most life style advertising, in which mood or image matters much more than the actual product for sale, several questions arise. Questions like: why?
A cold, commercial answer pops up its little head, raises a tiny hand and waves frantically. Mr. Lauren is simultaneously doing a Benetton shuffle, throwing in some hip hop and Malcolm X ju ju, and covering his bases with the cultural netherworld that begins below 14th Street.
In other words, the world has turned a bit since the mid 80’s, when Mr. Lauren conjured up his beautiful dream of preppie affluence. And Mr. Lauren has turned with it.
“I think that the era when an image equated to very, very expensive and super premium prices is waning and is no longer fashionable,” said Clive Chajet, the chairman and chief executive of Lippincott Margulies, an image consulting firm in New York. “For that reason, many, many high fashion, highly expensive brands are seeking to broaden their image without sacrificing the special characteristics that catapulted them to fame and fortune in the first place. Polo is an example.”
Barbara Lippert, a critic for Adweek magazine, puts it a little more bluntly. “Ralph is leaving the monarchy to embrace the Benetton nation,” she said. “It’s garmentic determinism. He knows he has to address multiculturalism, and that the whole idea of the high WASP white man icon is gone.”
At Lauren headquarters on Madison Avenue the talk is of evolution and consistency. Buffy Birrittella and Mary Randolph Carter, who are responsible for the company’s advertising, remind you that Mr. Lauren has always scrambled fashion syntax and played with traditional icons, from the moment in 1974 when he stepped forward in one of his own ads wearing a tweed jacket, denim jeans, chambray shirt and cowboy boots.
“We’ve always tried to show an eclecticism and a stylish way of wearing clothes that go beyond fashion, that show an individual way of looking,” Ms. Birrittella said.
Take the man in chalk stripes, “Count Greystoke di Polo,” as Ms. Lippert calls him. “We’re trying to show the different aspects of this man’s life,” Ms. Birrittella said. “He’s young, hip, modern, and he can be dressy or casual, uptown or downtown.”
When asked if they genuinely expect to see men wearing a chalk stripe jacket over a thick plaid shirt, both women looked shocked. “Definitely,” Ms. Birrittella said.
The implied narrative seems a little strange. Both Ms. Birrittella and Ms. Carter said they thought he could be a banker or a stockbroker, despite the rather obvious fact that he can be nothing other than a male model, or perhaps a fashion photographer along the lines of Steven Meisel.
“He looks like someone slipped the suit on him when he wasn’t looking,” said Holly Brubach, the fashion critic for The New Yorker. “This is the opposite of what you’d expect from Ralph Lauren. And that watch chain at first glance it looks like it falls in the category of hardware. It has a slightly tough edge, with S M overtones.”
Ms. Brubach says she finds the new ad campaign a perplexing departure for Mr. Lauren, whose protagonists the vaguely threatening Count Greystoke, the aggressively cross dressing women wearing his Dandy line, the hip street kids make a daring new family for the 90’s.