Monday, October 25, 2010


While best known in the motoring world for his collection of exquisite cars, Ralph Lauren is one savvy character, and it's merely a matter of time before we see his silver-haired visage at Pebble Beach, standing beside some outrageous two-wheeled acquisition.

The only speculation will be, 'which bike?'... and judging by the recent Men's File magazine party at the flagship RL store on Boulevard St. Germain in Paris, I have a pretty good guess what his first purchase might look like.

As noted in these pages previously, not since the late 1960s have the disparate worlds of motorcycles, fashion, art, photography, publishing, and film/video collided in such a spectacular manner.  There's motion afoot, and two recent parties in completely different parts of the world illustrate my point.  The scene in LA (see my Comune post) has already well integrated the vintage and custom motorcycle scene into the world of 'swimming pools and movie stars'; the Men's File party was a checkered flag planted on new soil, the ultra-chic 6th Arrondissement, right across the street from legendary cafés de Flore and Deux Magots.

The connection between Men's File and the Double RL ('RRL') boutique atop the chez Ralph is a natural, as RRL is the 'vintage'-inspired branch of the Lauren empire...yes I know all RL is 'vintage inspired', and some lines fairly dated and bourgeois, but the man has recognized and seized on the late-capitalist-era desire for 'authenticity' and 'heritage' more successfully than any other company. Sticking true to a uniquely Anglo/preppy aesthetic, he has become the authenticity he sought to create, transforming himself in the process from Ralph Lifshitz, a poor Brooklyn immigrant's son, to the scion of American clothing culture.  Such is his success, and such the state of American culture, that no paradox is seen between the 'heritage branding' of the man and his business, and chimerical creation of that heritage from whisps of air and inspiration....such is his genius, and his exemplification of the uniquely American promise of a renewed identity for any striving individual.

Men's File, having recently pressed its third issue, is treading similar ground to Double RL, exploring the worlds of cars, motorcycles, fashion, surfing, bicycling, et al, from a distincly 'vintage' perspective, in search of the Timeless.  As RL has done, MF is digging through grandfather's trunk to find what is relevant today - and that old fisherman's sweater or Red Wing boots or '66 Triumph still looks pretty damn good.

The photography is exceptional, especially the work of Nick Clements, who has a knack for setting up 'situations' with models and vehicles which have the feel of the past, yet are completely contemporary and use mostly clothing which is available in stores, occasionally even designed/sold by Nick himself.  [As I've been privileged to witness one, I'll dive into a Men's File photo shoot in another post].

If you're reading this, you're interested in exactly what Men's File is offering; it's the best magazine printed today exploring how our 'magnificent obsession' can be contextualized in our modern world.  Shameless plug - support quality publishing!

Now back to the party:  the miracle of the situation was the easy mix between very different worlds, from the bemusement of the ladies from 'bonne familles' shopping for the latest RL fashion, to a horde of 60 bikers who rode in for what was clearly a novel event.  The crowd was international, with visitors from the US, England, and all of Europe. The stars of the evening were the motorcycles, which included a plinth display of Yves J. Hayat's beautiful little Velocette MAC sitting beside what is perhaps my favorite production design of all time, a 1928 Brough Superior 'Pendine' with straight open pipes and no street gear.

Three other Broughs, provided by Mark Upham of Brough Superior, sat outside the RL store, lending heavy-hitter caché to the party, and looking completely at home on the Boulevard with the fancy ladies walking by in their minks.  Even rough-knuckled and staggering 'Basil' Brough, swilling a heady brew of pure alcohol in great gulps through wide open bellmouths.  Basil was built for sidecar racing and wears heavy boots, his brawn held in check by steel straps and bars, like Kong.  The ladies got a secret thrill from his 'gorilla in a tux' demeanor.

As the evening wore on, the street began to fill with the creme of the Parisian vintage bike scene, especially the Triton Club of France, whose members brought out some very impressive machinery.  First to arrive was a proper Triton in green, second a covetable Triumph Thruxton - and I'm not talking about a new one, this looked the proper business, ca. '67.

The atrium of the RL compound, as well as the bar and Ralph's restaurant (yes, a bar and resto at retail...civil!) filled completely with hundreds of revellers, and the store was open to browsers, especially the Double RL salon in the penthouse, which had an exhibit of Nick Clement's photos plus other contributors to the magazine.  The photos of course looked completely at home nestled between vintage horsehide 'D' pocket jackets, reproduced shawl-collar sweaters, and native American jewelry.  In truth, RL should just buy Men's File and make it the coolest 'house media organ' imaginable...but for now, we can treasure MF's independence of vision, and the fact that they feature plenty of interesting suppliers of clothing, gear, bikes, accessories, etc.

Highlight of the evening was the 'forbidden' firing up of the Pendine, its sharp crackling thunder banging on the stucco walls of the great House of Lauren, filling the atrium with liquid sound, rattling the thin glass separating fine cashmere and pearls from the healthy roar of motorcycling Life, declaiming to the full moon itself, 'We are Here'.