My name is Jill. I am a matriarch. We try to keep quiet about this, to preserve the illusion that no one notices. We are, however, one of the newest, most powerful generations on our exhausted planet.
I wake up early to the chimes of my cell phone. Time to toss on the Speedo, throw goggles in Hennessey + Ingalls canvas bag, and take off to swim. HOWEVER - A DISTRACTION ON CELL PHONE: No, it isn't about Freeways or Ben Affleck being an idiot, or usual interference. This is about fashion: FASHION? I started out to be a designer, spent most high school days as a wardrobe trainee at MGM working with Helen Rose, trying on costumes, watching fittings (the constant enlarging of Mario Lanza's Student Prince outfits).
My friends and I loved putting on outfits, reading Vogue. We had our favorite models, photographers, and designers. Elsa Schiaparelli, who invented Shocking Pink, and the iconic Gilbert Adrian who got us talking about shoulders rather than legs. Young girls then did talk about favorite designers, "who you'll look great in..." We assumed our favorites were here to stay. It was unsettling when Christian Dior died, and was replaced by Yves St. Laurent who seemed so anxious, even to us, so very young.
But then, at some point, when most of us weren't just calling ourselves "career women" (a chic way to cover the fact you needed, dared, or preferred to work). We did stop talking about clothes, as our lives changed.
During this time, a young designer emerged who made clothes for our actual lives. They were enormously appealing to those of us who didn't live in Manhattan; those of us in L.A. who really missed the cowboy clothes we liked as kids when we rode horses, hiked through canyons and went to the Last Frontier movie theatre to see Westerns. Ralph (and we referred to him as 'Ralphie') made clothes for our real lives, picking up kids, washing dogs, clothes for writing, for artwork and for a world where glamour had a tough panache. And we wanted clothes we could take off with ease. And put back on fast.
So, to return to this morning: Here, on my cell phone, is a thrilling video: Ralph Lauren's Home Store. It's a place to be. There's a coffee bar. Acres of great clothes: Western clothes (in case it gets cold someday). The first Home Stores are not in L.A. But we do NYC. Even if just for the weather.
The video itself is a moving tribute (with its high powered film score) to a designer who has kept up with his customers - and, therefore, prevailed. He knows who goes out, where, and how we really live.
Back to this video: Very much like a salute to the alluring mix - the style of our time. There are Polo shirts (very nice for those of us who used to sit on the hillside above the Will Rogers Polo Field with Sean Flynn, watching his dad, Errol Flynn play real polo).
Ralph Lauren creates clothes my granddaughters cherish, and clothes which give my new vigorous matriarch generation a strong acknowledgment. Lauren's style grows because he tips his cowboy hat to our memories and encourages us to explore today's dashing inventions. I am not wearing crepe and pearls to my grandson's wedding in Phoenix. I am wearing lean Gap jeans, a black jacket, a tux shirt and bowtie, my Ralph Lauren cross body mini-bag, Converse sneakers. And yes, The Watch.
Here's my favorite episode in my Ralph Lauren miniseries:
This was a serious birthday. Two years ago. I was writing a book, working with writers, sending tirades to HuffPo on How Not To Write Anything At All - and so the way to feel better is to go to Ralph Lauren, I told myself. See what you'd like for your birthday. I'd already seen it in an ad. This big silver linked stirrup watch. Equivalent of wearing a Jaguar. I looked at it. Tried it on. Again. Thanked the people who are always easy on you (which is why I come back). "I'll think about it," I said. "A lot."
Two days later I called my son. "My birthday is coming up."
"Do you want to know what I'd like?"
"Yes." Do not waste words. "The big Ralph Lauren silver stirrup watch."
He cellphones (new verb) me a picture.
"This?" he texts.
"Exactly." I retext.
So it's my birthday. I am walking in Beverly Hills, picking up eyeglasses. I still like looking in windows. My son works near here. He will call later. Or maybe out of town. Matriarchs excel at dire scenarios. Have trained myself to trash them.
Phone rings. "Happy Birthday," my son says, "Would you like lunch?"
We meet around the corner. He hands me a grand deep navy blue box, with gold letters. A black satin ribbon.
It is The Watch.
I try to say fashion doesn't mean much to me now. I am my own person. I need only the Speedo, jeans, my late husband's bowties, Equinox running pants, t-shirts. And This Watch whose weight reminds me symbols do matter in this time of life, gestures of recognition count, and mean even more when they're expressed in the language of one's favored time.
I had not come back to Ralph Lauren since The Watch's arrival; well, once, for the crossover mini-bag. But then, after two years, The Watch stopped. I must have asked too much of it; showed it off, invading its loner hauteur. I took it back to RL. Tender. Care: "It's the battery." Those were tough days without The Watch. I had to get up. Look at cell phone. My arm felt detached - abandoned. The left arm lorded over the right again, writing big letters with its pen. But now The Watch was ready. "Yes, of course," I didn't have to say why I was there, "The Watch!" Everyone always says hello. That's not just L.A. That's called style. Aloof is passé. Beth presented "The Watch," I'm certain I heard heartbeats matching mine.
Ralph Lauren knows when we shop, it's for a bit of theatre and luxury. When we save up for the one thing we really have to have, the staff knows not to push. What they do, at least in Beverly Hills, is give you somewhere soft to sit. You meet a couple of other women, such as Marilyn and Sammie, who I met last week. We glowed at The Watch. Had Ralph Lauren tea and agreed these were the very best cookies we ever had.
The Watch, obviously, acknowledges time - its authoritative presence implies time to come. It also gives a nod to a creative designer who has the insight and initiative to understand the customer who is very much still here and has the edge to wear these clothes very well.