Despite the trappings of a multi-national company with the turnover of a small African principality, Ralph Lauren would hasten to add to any summary of his label that he is, at heart, a frustrated romantic. Nostalgic at heart, his collections are a bi-yearly chance to express yearnings for simpler, better times - and, perhaps, to remind everyone that the mainstream retro shtick was given a great kick-start back in the seventies by Lauren's Great Gatsy costumes.
Just in case you had suffered aesthetic amnesia, Lauren's Autumn/Winter 2010 collection revisted that light at the end of the pier, layering drippy jazz-age georgette in Bloomsbury foliate prints with lacy cardigans, puff-sleeved jackets and flowing mid-calf skirts. The languid, sinous and long-long-long feel hinted at the late-twenties early-thirties Depression era Lauren celebrated (aesthetically at least) in his last show. This offering, however, was pepped up with a touch of the naughty Nineties, hence the taut, feminine and almost Edwardian tailoring, with cropped vests darted tightly to the breasts, S-line redingcotes and leg-o-mutton sleeves galore. Short jackets in donegal tweed or pinstripe with front and back pointed like corsets had more than a touch of the Gibson Girl to them - even when teamed with narrow buckle-strewn poacher's trousers in tweed or suede - likewise a sinuous balloon-sleeved ballgown in slippery mauve velvet. Speaking of nineties, some of those flowing, bias-cut layers of sprigged chiffon which owed a not inconsiderable debt to John Galliano - likewise a few fantasy flapper frocks in sequin-encrusted tulle. Following Galliano's lead through to the mass-market, many of these evening frocks have become a cliche - reminiscent of Laura Ashley rather than Ralph Lauren, in all honesty - but halfway through the parade I must confess the gored, swirling layers of prints and soft, fluted ruffles began to look appealing. Plenty of designers have been toying with these lengths and shapes over the past few seasons, but Lauren's thirty (or is that forty?) years in the rag trade have made him a master - after all, he's done them not a few times before.
This collection could have done with some editing, at least for the catwalk. The daywear sometimes looked lumpen, namely knitted kimono-line cardigan coats teamed with chunky tweeds in washed-out shades, the whole lot cinched with burnished brass belts that managed to make the teenage models look heavily middle-aged. Likewise, there were just too many of those floor-length fluttering frocks to focus on, especially when they didn't all passed the grade - a mermaid-line evening dress smothered in black tulle seemed inevitably destined for an Oscar's worst-dressed round-up. Nevertheless, tighten up the edit and the message, and this show is an unexpectedly attractive propostition for next season.