by Daniel Penny

In the opening pages of Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud spends a great deal of time describing Rome. It’s meant as an elaborate metaphor to convey the variegated layers of consciousness and memory that make up the human psyche. He writes:

Now let us make the fantastic supposition that Rome were not a human dwelling-place, but a mental entity with just as long and varied a past history: that is, in which nothing once constructed had perished, and all the earlier stages of development had survived alongside the latest. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars were still standing on the Palatine and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus was still towering to its old height; that the beautiful statues were still standing in the colonnade of the Castle of St. Angelo, as they were up to its siege by the Goths, and so on.

For Freud, human consciousness resembles this impossible space, in which the many iterations of the past and the present exist simultaneously next to and on top of one another. The passage occurred to me when I saw photos of Ralph Lauren walking the red carpet and delivering his acceptance speech at the latest CFDA awards show a few days ago.

Like Freud’s vision of Rome, Ralph has been around for what seems like millenia, and his outfit that evening was similarly sedimented with layers of style. On top, he wore a classic 6 x 1 double-breasted tuxedo jacket, white shirt, and black satin bow tie. Beneath his jacket was an incongruous pair of faded Western-style jeans. For Lauren, the juxtaposition between evening dress and workwear has become practically uniform, but what surprised me was his choice of footwear. Lime green and black with elasticated laces, his Salomon XA Pro 3D trail-running shoes were a significant departure from his usual cowboy boots, operating in their own distinct valence that threw the whole outfit into new territory.

Though Lauren’s physique seems to have hardly changed in 50 years, (except perhaps the whitening of his hair and a slight hunch) his lewks have varied drastically: neo-prepster and yacht captain, farmhouse Hamptonite, swaggering cattleman, lux garage mechanic. But these styles come from particular periods and occasions within Lauren’s life and career, and run in a mostly chronological manner. And though all of these ensembles may uneasily share some massive storage closet in Lauren’s New Bedford estate, they don’t usually appear on the man himself all at once.

What’s more unusual about Lauren’s outfit that night, and his trail runners in particular, is that they aren’t a historical rehash - which both the man and the brand have long favored - but rather, a totally contemporary, technical shoe. They’re meant to be functional rather than pretty, and when a doyen like Ralph Lauren wears something so purposefully heinous to an event like CFDA, one must assume some kind of brash intention. Many other commentators have praised the bold combination, with The Cut calling him “the Most Modern-Looking Man at the CFDA Awards,” but to me, it feels like building a Starbucks in the Colosseum.