Home / Celebrity Style / ‘It’s not about fabric, it’s about dreams’: how Ralph Lauren combined an empire

‘It’s not about fabric, it’s about dreams’: how Ralph Lauren combined an empire

The story of how a second-generation newcomer tie salesman from a Bronx became a multibillionaire conform engineer is a essence of a American Dream.

This week, Ralph Lauren – who spent 48 years building his tie business into a tellurian conform code – has announced he is stepping down as arch executive of a association that brought a universe a thought that a engineer who dressed Oscar winners would also qualification bedlinen and bath towels, and a impression of American sportswear that continues to change fashion.

His brand, and all compared with it – a advertising, a stores – emerged in a 1970s and 80s, nonetheless it feels as classical as a leather bar chair. Lauren’s Americana sweeps from a furious west to a English-influenced nation club, from cowboy boots to preppy shirts.


Ralph Lauren spring/summer display during Milan conform week in September. Photograph: WWD/Rex Shutterstock

The selling talent is that his code conjures romantic, sentimental visions of turn women and imperishable wranglers, and clean, Ivy League privilege, nonetheless Lauren done his billions from costly polo shirts and denim. Last year, his association had sales of $7.6bn (£5bn) and he now occupies a newly combined post of arch artistic officer after announcing he was stepping down as CEO on Tuesday.

“He’s of a initial era [of designers] to make themselves domicile names,” says a conform author and editor Harriet Quick. “He’s in a same era as Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein. They are moguls, godheads of a contemporary conform industry.”

Lauren was innate Ralph Lifshitz in 1939, to Jewish newcomer relatives who had transient Belarus for a US. His father was an artist nonetheless done a vital as a painter and decorator. Even as a child, Lauren, a third of 4 children, had a mindfulness with garments and their ability to renovate people: he emulated a preppy demeanour of New York’s abounding kids and would after fret by preservation shops for authentically unsettled denim, cowboy boots and leather jackets. He was spooky with a glorious of Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, Fred Astaire and Katharine Hepburn.

When he was 16, he and his hermit Jerry altered their name to Lauren – nonetheless not indispensably to erase their ethnicity and pass as a kind of W asp a destiny engineer would so adore. Had his surname not sounded so unfortunate, Lauren pronounced once, “I never would have altered it.” He also pronounced he infrequently regretted a change since it has done people doubt his integrity. “Because we trust in authenticity, it seems inauthentic to have altered your name,” a engineer said. “And we don’t like it to be an issue, so when people write about it, it tilts what I’m truly about.”

But, some-more than anyone, Lauren has sole fantasy, not authenticity. His is a universe of antique sport rifles, glossy-flanked horses, wood-panelled bedrooms and ludicrously attractive people. “The universe of Ralph Lauren was a chronicle of pastoral,” writes Jonathan Raban in his travelogue of America.

In Lauren’s universe there are no peasants, inadequate plumbing, bad teeth or damp mansions. Raban’s speculation was that Lauren had depressed for a universe of Englishness from film and radio – Brideshead Revisited quite – that seems true, since in an talk final year, he pronounced examination Downton Abbey was “one of my good pleasures”. “With besotted unrealism,” writes Raban, “Lauren idolised a countryside, a past and a category complement that America had never gifted during initial hand.”

He could be described as a rarely successful fantasist who turns his dreams into reality. If he cinema himself as a cowboy, all he has to do is learn to float on a Colorado ranch. He wants a ideal family life? Advertising campaigns have immortalised his photogenic family, and his matrimony to wife, Ricky, has lasted some-more than 50 years flourishing reports of an event with a longterm Ralph Lauren indication in a 90s. Lord of a manor? He was once meditative about shopping a noble home in England, nonetheless instead altered to a 250-acre estate an hour north of Manhattan and is pronounced to have bloody partial of a landscape divided with dynamite until it resembled a peaceful hills of a English countryside.


Ralph Lauren with wife, Ricky. Photograph: Donald Bowers/WireImage

Michael Gross, a New York-based author who has interviewed Lauren several times and wrote a autobiography of him, says a thing he found many engaging about a diminutive, gently oral engineer is his willpower. “He is like a Steve Jobs character,” says Gross. “He can literally figure existence to his possess will. Ralph has a ability to emanate worlds and make people trust in them.”

Lauren’s son, David, a vice-president of a company, has pronounced a association is “not about fabric, it’s about dreams” – and his father’s singular pattern routine seems to simulate his thought that your garments should tell a story. Lauren, who never rigourously lerned and does not lay down to blueprint a collection.

“It was moving to get inside his conduct in that way,” says a engineer Lyn Devon, who worked with Lauren for dual years before environment adult her possess label. “You would emanate these bedrooms called rigs and we would put all adult on a wall, either it was an image, a shoe, doll, sketch, a swatch of fabric, it all only creates a valuables box of impulse for a collection. Everyone from a pattern group goes and throws whatever they find moving and he would come and collect a room that he wanted us to go with. He would listen quietly, nonetheless afterwards he would be unequivocally opinionated. He was unequivocally passionate.”

Maggie Norris, who worked with Lauren for 13 years before environment adult her couture label, says: “He would come adult with a concept. As an instance [he would contend he was meddlesome in] Russia. We would investigate a tsars, a opposite troops uniforms, a trinket of a time. It was unequivocally wonderful.” The supply would afterwards be filled with photos, sketches, objects, she adds. “He would travel into a room and say, ‘I like this and that.’ It was a group effort, nonetheless really he was a headmaster.”

In a early 60s, Lauren worked for a Manhattan men’s outfitter Brooks Brothers behind a tie counter. He wanted to pattern ties that were bigger, better, glitzier, nonetheless a association was not meddlesome so he set adult on his possess underneath a name Polo in 1967. It snowballed from there: he started conceptualizing shirts afterwards suits. “In those days, a shirt association done shirts, a tie association done ties, a fit association done suits,” Lauren pronounced in an talk final year. “But we done them all. That was a radical thing.”

He done a name for himself as a menswear engineer before formulating his initial women’s collection in 1971, that referenced a men’s line with a tailoring and separates. His change grew: he dressed Diane Keaton in a film Annie Hall, that stays a landmark look. And his habit for Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby – a impression Lauren himself contingency positively have recognized – in a 1974 film chronicle of The Great Gatsby helped win an Oscar for dress design.

He gave group accede to wear jeans with cooking jackets. He was one of a initial large designers to enhance his code into homewares and a immersive knowledge of his shops – quite Rhinelander, his store in a Madison Avenue palace – is something that revolutionised retail.

The conform universe has not always “got” Lauren, infrequently dismissing him as derivative and a product-seller. But Quick says: “I don’t consider a tender has ever been to be a fashion-forward brand. It’s been to furnish a certain turn of glorious and elegance.”


Ralph Lauren Olympics 2012 uniforms modelled by US athletes (from left), swimmer Ryan Lochte, decathlete Bryan Clay, rower Giuseppe Lanzone and football actor Heather Mitts. Photograph: AP

“His significance is measureless in America and around a universe as well,” says a conform writer, historian and Lauren biographer Colin McDowell. Although his prices have always been high (his Polo shirts, for instance, cost £70) and over a strech of most, his code is aspirational nonetheless not intimidating. With his proceed to retail, says McDowell, “he done people who were bad and not indispensably socially secure feel they could travel in there and have a demeanour during things and be partial of a miracle, since it was a miracle. He altered American attitudes – there are those who contend he done Americans roughly as snobby as a British or Europeans.” McDowell says he does not know if he agrees, “but positively he has been an measureless force”.

McDowell spent a lot of time with Lauren when essay his book and says: “He was lovely, always charming. There are some nasty people in a conform world, quite designers who consider they’re gods. He never, ever, thinks he’s a God – he’s a operative man.”


Gwyneth Paltrow in a Ralph Lauren dress she wore to a 1999 Oscars, where she won a desired trophy. Photograph: Rene Macura/AP

Can a code continue but him? “Sure,” says Gross. “There is a unequivocally transparent stylistic prophesy and, scrupulously managed, we don’t see any reason because it couldn’t.” However, it does not demeanour as if Lauren is prepared to step divided only yet. The day his appointment of a new CEO emerged, he sent a memo to staff to diffuse a thought that stepping down meant stepping behind – he will still be in charge. “Ralph asserted his control again in that memo,” Gross says with a laugh. “How unequivocally Ralph.”

Potted profile

Born: October 1939, Bronx, New York

Career: After a spell in a US army, Lauren worked for a men’s outfitter Brooks Brothers as a tie salesman. He launched his possess operation of ties in 1967, followed by shirts and suits. In 1971, he launched a womenswear range. In 1981, Lauren non-stop a store in London and took a association open in 1997. His sovereignty would grow to embody a series of differently labelled conform brands, homeware, childrenswear and perfume. Lauren designs a US Olympic group uniforms and has designed a outfits ragged by Wimbledon officials for a final 10 years.

High points: The dark pinkish robe Gwyneth Paltrow wore to collect her Oscar in 1999. In 2010, Lauren was awarded France’s Legion d’honneur. In 1992, his heroine Audrey Hepburn presented him with a Council of Fashion Designers of America’s lifetime feat award.

Low point: The association paid $1.6m (£1m) to settle a box after finding a auxiliary had been bribing etiquette officials in Argentina.

They say: “Ralph Lauren sells most some-more than fashion. He sells a life you’d like to lead. To possess a origination of Ralph Lauren’s is to bite a ambience of a American dream. He has towering what Americans see as probable for ourselves by charity a image of a storybook lifestyle that somehow feels attainable.” Oprah Winfrey

He says: “I don’t consider I’m a present of a universe – we only do what we do, and we adore it and I’ve been lucky.”

Article source: http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/02/its-not-about-fabric-its-about-dreams-how-ralph-lauren-created-an-empire

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