Stylish. Chic. Classy. Sporty. Understated, and yet elegantly unique. That’s Ralph Lauren for you. A brand that is the pride of many a star’s wardrobe, and the brainchild of one of the godfathers of the fashion world, Ralph Lauren himself.
This epitome of fashion and style has given over 45 of his 72 years to improving the way the world looks. Ralph Lauren’s designs stand apart from those of his contemporaries for the simple reason that he understands that style and elegance are not necessarily achieved by being over-the-top or by sacrificing ease and comfort.
Ralph Lauren, as an umbrella brand, houses numerous other brands that cater to every imaginable customer for any occasion — be it a regular day at college, or a red carpet event. The idea is to be elegant and chic in any, and every role. And he managed it pretty well. As he said in his own words in ‘The End of Fashion’ by Teri Agins, “I elevated the taste level of America.”
A RAGS-TO-RICHES STORY
This fashion guru’s journey to the top is an interesting, movie-styled, rags-to-riches story. Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz on 14th October, 1939 in New York into a middle-class family, with three older brothers and just enough to lead a simple life. At the age of 16, his older brother — and guardian — changed their last name to Lauren, with the exception of his brother Lenny, who still retains their original name.
Ralph’s schooling began at the Salanter Academy Jewish Day School, from where he moved to MTA (now known as the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy), and finally graduated in 1957 from DeWitt Clinton High School. Ralph, surprisingly, did not study fashion. Interestingly, he chose to study business at Baruch College but dropped out after two years, just short of getting his degree. He also served in the United States Army from 1962 till 1964. His humble background did not squash little Ralph’s sense of style though. He started working at a young age after school hours, and spent his hard-earned money on stylish, expensive suits. The designer in him saw light during his schooldays at the MTA, where his classmates knew him as the one who sold ties to them. These ties led to the birth of one of the most sought after brands in the world, Polo, a label originally trademarked with New York outfitters Brook Brothers, which Ralph later got the rights to use.
The world of fashion got one of its pioneers in the year 1968, when Ralph, during his stint at A. Rivetz & Co., began designing and creating a range of wide neckties. This innovation in style did not go down too well with retail giant Bloomingdales, who asked him to change the packaging without his name on it, and design the ties in the narrower style that were in vogue then. Not one to back down though, Ralph took his tie designs, and with a $50,000 loan from Manhattan clothing manufacturer Norman Hilton, began Polo Fashions, a brand chosen by him and his brother for the power and value it was associated with.
Needless to say, when his ‘wide ties’ caught on like wildfire in the fashion world, and every store was enjoying a piece of the cake, Bloomingdales was back, wanting to have Ralph’s creations gracing their stores too! The fashion lord had arrived.
From ties, Ralph Lauren went on to re-invent casual men’s clothing in 1970, with a smart and casual collection that was an instant hit with the Ivy League youth, also fetching him a COTY award. 1972 saw him foray into the world of women’s fashion, taking the world by storm with a range of women’s suits designed in the classic menswear style. This was also when the world saw the first Polo emblem. The same year, he launched the famous Polo short-sleeved mesh T-shirt, which, being available in 24 different colours, became a staple in almost every wardrobe. He went on to become a household name after he gained recognition for his design work for the movie ‘The Great Gatsby’.
Polo went on to cater to the everyday office worker, with a clothing line that combined style, class and comfort with the value of Ralph Lauren. An expanded line of women’s clothing followed, and then, in 1983, he went where no designer had stepped before. He was ready to redefine home furnishings, with a luxurious, sophisticated and elegant range of furniture, towels, bed sheets and more!
The 1992 American team for the America’s Cup Yacht Race also had the privilege of being dressed by Ralph Lauren. By 1995, he had many brands under his umbrella — Purple 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, Ralph Lauren perfumes and even Ralph Lauren paint — just so your walls don’t feel under-dressed!
What’s more, the brand has now even made its presence felt in the literary world with RL Magazine, a quarterly luxury magazine about innovations in the art and design world, and also Ralph Lauren restaurants, where the signature RL taste and elegance come together on a plate to tease your taste buds!
1971 was a landmark year for Ralph Lauren and Polo Fashions, getting its first store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. In 1984, it got its flagship store in the form of the transformed Rhinelander Mansion, former home of photographer Edgar de Evia and Robert Denning. It was just the beginning, and soon, Ralph Lauren had over 35 boutiques in the United States. By 1997, the company was selling merchandise worth over $ 5 billion per year, with 155 shops around the world and employee strength of over 3,000 people.
Ralph Lauren went public with his company on the New York Stock Exchange. The company now has more than 350 contract manufacturers globally, and owns around 400 Ralph Lauren stores worldwide. The brand has also been busy building its online impact, with Ralph Lauren’s son, David following in his father’s footsteps and joining Polo, bringing his fresh ideas to expand the company’s online presence.
Ralph Lauren’s unique designs came to represent the casual chic American, with each piece an innovation in itself. His 1980 collection was unique too, and it came to be seen as the ‘American Frontier’ look, with hooded capes, madras shirts, full skirts, ruffled blouses, and more.
Ralph’s designs take inspiration from different cultures and different times in history, without losing the signature sophistication and easy comfort that the brand represents. He also set new standards of marketing, with Polo being the first company to tell a story through multi-page ads. No wonder then, that celebrities like Tyson Beckford, Toby Maguire, Kate Bosworth, Gwyneth Paltrow and Debra Messing, swear by the RL style.
Ralph Lauren set out to change the world of eyewear, with glasses that would soon become a necessity for both, the famous and the not-so-famous. Innovative and futuristic shapes and colours were offered in designs that were comfortably stylish, all at a great price. From sunglasses to optical frames, they had it all.
The Ralph Lauren line of glasses for men has designs that range from sporty and rugged, to classy and sophisticated. The brand launched a range of glamorous mens eyewear under its Purple Label Collection, with luxurious materials and classic designs. Ralph Lauren also offers a great range of pilot sunglasses, differently designed under the same collection, as well as the uber-cool RLX collection. The male sport lover has been given quite a treat by Ralph Lauren this year, with eyewear inspired by the 2012 Olympics, where these designs play an important role as the official outfits of the US Olympic team.
Lauren’s eyewear collection for women is equally appealing, albeit more glamorous. Tints of gold and silver, glittering rhinestone embellishments and an interesting range of colours make this range of eyewear distinctly feminine. Round sunglasses still rule the Ralph Lauren women eyewear collection, and the larger they are, the better!
Ralph’s contribution to the fashion world has been recognized the world over, and been felicitated too. He received the CFDA award in 1995 and 1996, one each for Menswear designer of the year and for Women’s wear. In 1992, he received the CFDA Lifetime Achievement award. He’s also been honoured with the COTY Fashion Critics’ award seven times. In 2000, the city of New York honoured him as one of the greatest American fashion designers by placing a bronze plaque for him along 7th Avenue, the great street of fashion in New York, which came to be called the ‘Fashion Walk of Fame.’ In 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy decorated Ralph Lauren as Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in Paris.
THE DESIGNER WITH A HEART
Ralph Lauren has been socially responsible too. A brush with cancer in 1987 resulted in the foundation of the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer in Washington, USA, in the year 1989 by Lauren. The center works at raising funds to fight breast cancer through its numerous initiatives, and has managed to contribute millions to the cause.
Ralph Lauren knows how to have fun too! Everyone has their own little fetish, and with billionaires such as Ralph Lauren, these fetishes are worthy of a place in history! Like his amazing collection of over 70 automobiles, some of which have won ‘Best in Show’ at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance multiple times, and some so rare, they were displayed at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2005 and 2011 respectively.
As of September 2011, Forbes estimated Ralph Lauren’s wealth to be at $6.1 billion, making him the 173rd richest person in the world. Not bad for a boy who, on a whim, had mentioned his future plans in his DeWitt Clinton High School yearbook as wanting to become a millionaire!
Guess some dreams do come true, and if we get some great fashion on the way to these dreams, well, no one’s complaining!
1939: The master is born
1968: Started Polo Fashions
1970: Expanded sights into men’s clothing
1971: First store opened on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
1972: Reinvented women’s wear
1983: Entered the world of home furnishings
1997: The RL company went public on
the NY Stock Exchange
2010: French President Nicolas Sarkozy decorated him as Chevalier de la
– Sanam Khan