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New York Fashion Week review: Ralph Lauren does Depression chic

September 20, 2009 | 12:16 pm

Ralph lauren prairie dress

Do women really want Depression chic? Ralph Lauren thinks so.

His spring collection was inspired by "the resilient spirit of America," and "the character of the worker, the farmer, the cowboy, the pioneer woman of the prairies living authentically through challenging times," as stated in his show notes. "Hard times sharpen our capacity for idealism and our optimism that tomorrow will be a better day."

What Lauren knows about hard times probably amounts to seeing his net worth fall from $4.2 billion to $4.1 billion or something like that, and the authenticity of work wear -- jeans, overalls and prairie floral dresses -- must seem quaint to someone who doesn't have to wear it. The theme is a special kind of minefield because this recession has been about workers bailing out fat cats who made bad investing decisions. So it's not as if we all just have to buckle down and things will get better. There are plenty of people buckling down and still being fired.

That being said, remember Lauren's roots: His is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. And though he may rule over a fashion empire now, at heart he's still that insecure Bronx boy named Lifshitz who got his start hawking neckties.

Ralph lauren denim suit

Lauren has always riffed on Americana, and his genius is that he gave America permission to celebrate its own style, not Europe's. At the same time, his clothes have made it possible for anyone -- from the celebrity shopping at the high-end Ralph Lauren boutique in Malibu to the housewife shopping at the Ralph Lauren factory outlet in Camarillo -- to attain status, just by wearing a Polo pony

On the runway, there was a beautiful simplicity to much of his work wear with a twist -- the superbly tailored three-piece denim suit, the blue ombre silk charmeuse carpenter pants and work shirt, the sheer white organza bib-front shirtdress.

A sheer tulle beaded tunic worn over jeans was understatedly elegant, as was a metallic lamé work shirt gown in the most surprising metallic ice blue.

A pair of faded blue, ripped and beaded denim pants nodded to the '80s Balmainia still gripping fashion, and could no doubt find a home in Janet Jackson's closet.

The pop singer was sitting front row at the show with pal Dylan Lauren, the designer's daughter.

Say what you will about the wisdom of showing work wear -- including ripped jeans worn with crystal-studded stilletos -- on the runway now, when the unemployment rate is still climbing. But Lauren is a businessman through and through, with thousands of workers and investors relying on him. And as Emili Vesilind reported in Image last month, there's one thing that's still selling in this environment: bluejeans.

--Booth Moore

Photos: Ralph Lauren's spring/summer 2010 runway

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Photos: Ralph Lauren's spring/summer 2010 runway show. Credit: Peter Stigter and Jonas Gustavsson / For The Times
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