Ralph Lauren was born into a family of little means and no clothing budget. Today he is designer royalty and heads one of the world’s greatest fashion empires.
By Theresa Valbæk
“I have always had a clear vision. I wanted to develop quality products that didn’t exist and create a whole world around that. It means taking risks, going with what you feel, but never losing sight of your vision and conviction.” – Ralph Lauren
With these words, Ralph Lauren defines the philosophy upon which he has built a global lifestyle brand representing the best in American design, exemplified by understated sophistication and the utmost attention to detail.
Hand-me-downs and history
Born Ralph Lifschitz (later changed to Lauren) in New York on 14 October 1939, Lauren was the son of Russian immigrants and a typical boy from the Bronx, playing stickball in the street and idolising Yankee greats like Mickey Mantle and Joe Di Maggio. Though his boyhood friends and the environment of the city had an influence on Lauren, his family and home life played the greatest role.
The youngest of four children, he often was the recipient of hand-me-downs, which he saw as the passing down of family history, and this made things incredibly special. Lauren appreciated these items, which he felt embodied a unique timelessness and improved with age. Always searching for individual pieces with that particular patina, he enjoyed making statements with his clothes. He was recognised by his peers for his strong personal style, which he always wore with an instinctive elegance and confidence – reminiscent of his Hollywood heroes Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.
The world was not ready for him
Armed with a distinct sense of style, taste, and intuition, Lauren went on to study business at City College and to work as a salesman at several menswear retailers and tie manufacturers. Having developed an innate approach to fashion, he pioneered a new tie in direct opposition to the narrow and conventional styles of the time: his handmade ties were wide and in flamboyant, opulent materials. However, when presented with his ideas, his employer rejected the innovation, and told young Lauren ‘the world was not ready for him.’
Lauren stuck with his instinct, and soon enough another tie manufacturer agreed to let him develop his ideas. He designed the ties, oversaw their manufacture, packaged them and, most importantly, sold them. Shortly after, thanks to his determination and perseverance, Bloomingdale’s agreed to carry Lauren’s line of ties bearing the Polo label. Igniting the ‘wide-tie revolution,’ and marking the beginning of his brand, the designs instantly broke new fashion ground.
From men to women to children
Always championing the importance of timeless style over popular trends, Lauren’s later men’s and women’s collections continued to reflect the core of his sensibilities, while recalling the various inspirations that fascinated him as a child. Today, the company is a leader in the design, marketing and distribution of premium lifestyle products in four categories: apparel, home, accessories and fragrances. The brand names, which include Polo by Ralph Lauren, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Ralph Lauren Collection, Black Label, Blue Label, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, RRL, RLX, Rugby, Ralph Lauren Childrenswear, American Living, Chaps and Club Monaco, constitute one of the most widely recognized families of consumer brands. Polo Ralph Lauren operates over 300 stores worldwide, with recent international expansion in Moscow, Istanbul, Dubai and Seoul. 70-year-old Ralph Lauren still lives in the USA with his wife Ricky. They have three children, Andrew, David and Dylan. David Lauren is an executive at Polo Ralph Lauren.
Ralph Lauren cherishes his privacy and has not wished to have his portrait featured as an illustration to this article.