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Move Over, Ralph Lauren. European Designers Are Co-Opting the ‘American’ Look

In 1936, New York department store Lord & Taylor made news when it offered its female customers a clothing collection inspired by iconic American looks such as cowboy garb and New England fisherman knits. It was an unusual move: Back then, Parisian taste overwhelmingly shaped fashion, even if the clothes were made in the U.S.A.

Eight decades later, Americana is as orthodox a style reference as bohemian chic or naval uniforms. Even so, many of the fall 2017 collections lean more conspicuously and notably American than those in recent seasons. Designers from both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly Europeans, tapped into the “Little House on the Prairie” look. Was it an innocently nostalgic nod to American style, or a pointed commentary on today’s politics?

Some designers ostensibly went for pure fashion on the runway: Belgian-born Raf Simons, making his highly anticipated debut as the chief creative officer of Calvin Klein, worked with a plethora of American tropes, from red-white-and-blue marching band ensembles to quilted top coats with no hint of a reactionary subtext. London-based Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, a British brand that shows in Paris, used a bandana-like print that looked like it originated in a dude ranch bunkhouse. Prada’s line included suede fringed jackets. Isabel Marant played with patchwork quilt prints. Stuart Vevers, an Englishman who’s been the executive creative director at Coach 1941 for four years, embraced buffalo checks and prairie skirts.

Others who opted for Americana this season were openly political. That was the case with Patric DiCaprio, David Moses, Bryn Taubensee and Claire Sully, the quartet behind the upstart, four-year-old New York label Vaquera, who sent a dress made from what looked like a deconstructed American flag down the runway. It was cut with a long train that dragged behind the model as she walked. “There’s a lot of anger and frustration,” said Ms. Sully. “We wanted to make an overt statement, to say, ‘Let’s talk about America.’”

Most of the latest iterations of Americana are quite distinct from the oeuvre of Ralph Lauren, who built a global empire out of his mastery of apple-pie imagery. The difference is their intent, said Bridget Foley, the executive editor of Women’s Wear Daily, who worked on Ralph Lauren : 50 Years of Fashion, a book about Mr. Lauren’s career, as documented by WWD. These current designers’ takes are more fleeting, less personal. “With Ralph, I think it’s a manifestation of a belief system,” said Ms. Foley. “It’s not a seasonal message. It’s a core value, an overall point of view. It’s who he is as a person and a designer.”

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