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New York Fashion Week: Greg Lauren's debut collection is a hero's wardrobe -- no cape required

February 10, 2011 |  5:12 pm

You don't need to know anything about Greg Lauren's artwork to appreciate -- or wear -- his debut clothing line that hit retail shelves of Barneys New York on Madison Avenue on Monday (as well as Barneys' doors in San Francisco and Beverly Hills and smaller boutiques such as Maxfield in West Hollywood). 

But if you've previously seen his crumpled-paper creations at art exhibits (like the one in West Hollywood last spring), you'll instantly realize that those exquisitely tailored yet wholly unwearable menswear pieces  -- painted paper tuxedos, military jackets, three-piece suits and superhero costumes -- were the blueprints for the collection.

The Superman insignia is there -- in crumpled and weathered graphite gray on a  white T-shirt (yes, legally -- Lauren struck a licensing deal with DC Comics), the tuxedo is there -- as soft and unstructured as a fleece hoodie with silk faille lapels that have been washed into crumpled ribbons. And there's a veritable platoon of military-inspired jackets; cropped women's jackets made from vintage snow camouflage fabric, dusty brown coats crafted from vintage military duffel bags, darker-colored coats made from military tent fabric, and a soft cashmere coat that closes with a regimental row of brass blazer buttons -- straight down the middle of the back along the spine.

"I'm continuing to look at that obsession we have about wanting to dress like a soldier without having been in a war," Lauren said as we walked through the collection. "About male archetypes and the idea of IMG_0220 the emotional connection of wearing somebody else's clothes."

In addition to T-shirts and jackets, Lauren's line launches with scarves and footwear -- a thigh-high, olive-drab boot for women and a leather ankle boot for men. "It's my take on an English ankle boot," Lauren explained. "Growing up, I was taught to love English shoes, and I saw my dad wearing boots like this all the time. These are based on the beat-up pair that I wear around my studio all the time."

The retail installation at Barneys is set up to look like that studio -- and now atelier -- in full mad-scientist mode. A Singer sewing machine sits on a plywood table resting on a pair of sawhorses; pencil sketches of Batman, Superman and Cary Grant are tacked to the wall; and the table spills over with the tools of the trade, fabric, thread and a disposable coffee cup filled with the remnants of dried paint.

That the paper coffee cup in question happens to hail from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf -- the L.A.-based coffee chain without a store any closer to Manhattan than the state of Michigan -- provides a clue as to the collection's provenance.

"Yeah, that's an actual coffee cup from my studio," Lauren says with a grin. "I use them all the time and they're always scattered around." He explained that the entire collection is made in his studio space near Highland and Melrose in Hollywood.

The inaugural collection (since it's in stores now that would technically make it Spring / Summer 2011 -- though Lauren eschews that label and says he doesn't envision or design with seasonal deliveries in mind) ranges in price from $1,800 to $2,750 with smaller items such as the scarves selling in the $470 range.

Oh, and there's one more thing you don't need to know about Greg Lauren to appreciate his clothes but are probably wondering about just the same: Yes, he is related to Ralph Lauren (his father, Jerry -- Ralph's brother -- is executive vice president of men’s design at Polo Ralph Lauren).

And with his debut collection, Greg Lauren manages to deftly pay homage to the family business that has built an empire on the vintage aesthetic -- but in a way that doesn't feel like a kid playing dress-up in the oversized business suit of his elders.

No, Greg Lauren has found his own strong suit.

-- Adam Tschorn in New York

Photos: At top, pieces from Greg Lauren's debut men's and women's collection that rolled out to retail this week. At bottom, Lauren's version of the English ankle boot. Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times.