Ralph Lauren is a genius. There is no other way of describing it. I like to think of myself as a hardened shopper, inured to the blandishments of the brands and deaf to the siren song of the outlets. But all it takes is a bit of Ralph’s genius for the mise en scène to breach my defences. He has mastered the great American wardrobe in the way that others have mastered the great American songbook. It is all there, from Gatsby to The Grapes of Wrath, and with my customary contrapuntalism it is to the latter that I am drawn at the moment.
A year or two ago, when I was in New York, I went to visit the great American designer. He took me up to the floor above his office and showed me into a cavernous space somewhere between a large barn and a respectably proportioned aircraft hangar in size (quite impressive on Madison Avenue, I am sure you will agree).
In this echoing hall he had recreated the world of George Milton and Lennie Small, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, recalling the style of a vanished epoch and lending it an Elysian lambency, while managing to avoid the slightest evocation of the pain and misery that came with the Great Depression of the 1930s.
This vast movie set of a room was a sort of blueprint for the RRL concept. I came home raving about it, and the other day I gave in to my younger son, who had been wanting to visit the RRL shop on Mount Street. Happily, I am blessed with the sort of children who would rather I took them to The Wallace Collection or Ralph Lauren than to the football – so the spending of quality time is really not as tough as it would be were they interested in sport (although, that said, the younger one does like shooting).
What harm could there be in a quick stop at the Double R L? And so it was that we pulled up in the ancestral Jeep Grand Cherokee (the one with the fashionably distressed rear end, artfully scuffed leather seats and shabby-chic interior) and entered for a five-minute tour.
Of course, on the way out my eye was drawn to an old Cartier watch nestling in a display cabinet along with a few other vintage pieces. Lethal. I was like a Weight Watcher locked in a patisserie. As you can imagine, my waking hours – and some of my sleeping ones, too – have been haunted by that vision of horological elegance from an earlier time.
Only Ralph could use dust-bowl chic to sell a vintage Cartier watch. Like I said, the man is a genius.