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A selection of cars owned by fashion legend Ralph Lauren will go on display in Paris this week, in a unique exhibition of one of the world’s most distinctive collections.
The collection extends to around 60 cars, kept inside a deliberately non-descript structure that keeps its secrets closely guarded. Inside, thanks to design input from the Polo Ralph Lauren interiors team, the collection is displayed in a truly reverent fashion, part Zen garden, part Rothko Room, with every car placed on a carefully lit pedestal, yet kept maintained and primed for instant use.
Ralph Lauren, who famously described cars as “moving art” in his 2004 book Speed, Style and Beauty, owns an extensive collection of vehicles which is rarely seen by the public – until now.
Seventeen of the most striking models, selected from the 1930s until the present day, will be on display in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs from April 28 until August 28, offering a unique glimpse at the tastes of a major name in the fashion world.
Among the exhibits will be the Bentley Blower of 1929, immortalised in Ian Fleming’s early James Bond novels, a Mercedes-Benz SSK from 1930 owned by racing driver Count Carlo Felice Trossie and A Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic Coupe, one of only four ever made (and only two that remain).
For its first presentation in Europe, the Ralph Lauren collection will be put on display by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who has opted for an intimate visual approach as these vehicles stand out both for their overall design and detail, as well as for bodywork, chassis and engines.
Among the cars on display for the Ralph Lauren Car Collection Exhibition:
Bentley Blower, 1929 – This car was designed by W.O. Bentley, but it was Sir Hilary Birkin, one of the “Bentley Boys” (a group of British gentlemen, all of them drivers and lovers of fast cars) which led Bentley to equip it with a compressor, hence its nickname “Blower.” With massive bodywork embellished with the English flag, the Bentley Blower was created for a single purpose: to win races. This is the car Ian Fleming chose for James Bond 007 in his first novels.
Mercedes-Benz SSK Count Trossi, 1930 – With its shark profile, the design of this Mercedes-Benz can be attributed to the talent of its owner, Italian aristocrat Count Carlo Felice Trossi, also a racing driver. The SSK is the archetype of the Mercedes of the 1920s, dominated by its colossal bonnet encompassing more than half of its length, with the radiator projecting out front as a windbreaker and exhaust pipes stemming from the sides.
Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe, 1938 – This is one of only four models ever built, and today only two are left. This fantastic car has visible seams and round-headed rivets running the length of its spine and mudguards. Power and speed are suggested by its doors cut out of the roof and ellipsoidal windows taken from the aeronautics register.
Ferrari 375 Plus, 1954 – Like all the Ferraris of the time, there were no specific plans for this design. Highly qualified and talented craftsmen created this magnificently rounded shape following the verbal instructions of Ferrari’s official car designer, Pinin Farina. Thus they were able to produce a magnificent spyder which won Le Mans 24 Hours in 1954.
Jaguar XKD, 1955 – No car from the ’50s embodies speed better than the XKD Jaguar, with three consecutive victories between 1955 and 1957 at Le Mans 24 Hours, and another at Nürburgring in 1956. It’s this car that enabled the driver Patricia Coundley to become the fastest woman in Europe in 1964. From the aileron at its tip to the elegantly rounded bonnet, its shape harks back to that of a fighter plane.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe, 1955 – The Gullwing owes its name to the doors which open upward, like wings. It was the darling of many celebrities including Sophia Loren, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Glen Ford and musician Skitch Henderson.
Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, 1958 – This car bears the mark of Sergio Scaglietti, one of Ferrari’s most talented coachbuilders. The Testa Rossa (red head), which takes its name from the red camshaft covers of its V12 engine, bears Scaglietti’s characteristic signature – a long chassis with a torpedo-like body, a headrest emerging from the bodywork and streamlined headlamps.
“Strangely enough, I really don’t like to drive the cars when people are around,” Lauren says. “As it turns out, I don’t really want to be seen in the cars. There’s a part of me that likes the privacy, so the more garish the car, the less I want to drive it. On weekends, depending on the weather, I love the Jaguars, the XK120 or XK140. I love the Mercedes Gullwing and roadster and the Porsches.”
Below is an exclusive look behind the doors at Ralph Lauren’s luxurious private estate where the designer takes us on a personal tour of his spectacular machines.