Ralph Lauren

Tonie Ong

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Articles on Ralph Lauren

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It’s quite rare for a brand to define a country’s style. Even in France, home of the haute couture, there’s not one label that can stand as the definitive look of the French. One might argue Chanel’s signatures to be synonymous with the essence of French fashion, but Christian Dior, with his ‘New Look’, begs to differ. In Italy, Versace and Dolce and Gabbana battle it out to see which exuberant and erotic fashions define the southern Italian style, while Prada and Armani go head-to-head to represent the more rigid northern Italians. However, in the United States, there’s one label that unmistakably American that many of its contemporaries pale in comparison: Ralph Lauren.

Proudly American

Ralph Lauren's first store in Paris opened 1986 in the posh shopping district near the Place de la Madeleine
Ralph Lauren’s first store in Paris opened 1986 in the posh shopping district near the Place de la Madeleine. Credit: cdrin

The New York-based luxury label ultimately defines American luxury, as well as incorporating many cultural assets of the country. For example, their equestrian vibe pays homage to the southern states and their impermissible culture, its contemporary look highlights the urban cities that symbolize the American dream, and the often nautical and army styles they produce pay tribute to the country’s strong military. Whether which part of the country you are, it’s more than likely that there is a Ralph Lauren item that will show what it means to be an American. The fashion empire itself is living proof of the American dream.

Early Beginnings and Development

Born on October 14, 1939, Ralph Lauren was born to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants coming from Belarus, which was then part of the Soviet Union. His original birth surname was Lifshitz and he grew up in the predominantly-Jewish Bronx area in New York City. After serving the military from 1962 to 1964, he was briefly a sales assistant for Brooks Brothers. He then became a salesman for tie manufacturer Beau Brummell, the company that helped him launch his corporation. In 1967, Lauren officially established his eponymous corporation, beginning as a tie company. He would sell ties out of a drawer in the Empire State building, as well as personally fulfill ordered from various retailers. In 1969, the famous department store Bloomingdale’s gave Lauren his first in-house store.

By the 1970’s, Lauren was selling tailored men’s shirts under the label “Polo by Ralph Lauren”, with which he introduced his now-iconic logo of a Polo player. After seeing commercial success from his men’s line, he launched his womenswear line in 1972. Around this time, he also opened his first stores in the US, starting in the famous Rodeo Drive shopping district, which was his first flagship store. 1977, the Polo shirt was born, a series of short-sleeved collared shirts made out of cotton mesh and sold in a variety of colors. The garments have since become one of his signatures and are still very much popular to this day.

Impact on Fashion and Pop Culture

Models walk the runway finale at Ralph Lauren fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Spring 2015
Models walk the runway finale at Ralph Lauren fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Spring 2015. Credit: FashionStock.com

During the 70’s, Lauren was responsible for creating a new, luxurious, American look through cinematic projects. He designed the costumes for the male cast of the 1974 film adaptation of the classic novel, “The Great Gatsby”, as well as the outfits worn by Diane Keaton in the very famous Annie Hall. That Woody Allen character has since become a style icon in American pop culture.

By 1980’s Ralph Lauren was one of the leading fashion designers in America. Around that time, the American fashion industry was booming, and several other designers like Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and Carolina Herrera were starting their own fashion empires. New York Fashion soon rivaled the excitement and intensity of that of the Fashion Weeks in Paris, London, and Milan. Lauren’s menswear and womenswear shows were particular highlights for both consumer audiences and professional editors and buyers.

Other Lines and Expansion

Eventually, Ralph Lauren ventured into other businesses, still under the Ralph Lauren Corporation. This includes a line of knitwear, childrenswear, fragrances, home decor, and even a few restaurants under his name. By 2016, the corporation is operating almost 500 direct stores all over the world, with 77 Club Monaco shops and 272 Polo stand-alones. The company has also set up flagship stores in various fashion capitals, such as Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and Moscow. In the United States, aside from the flagship store in Manhattan, there some also in Chicago, Greenwich, and Manhasset, which is also in New York. Ralph Lauren items are also sold in a number of department stores and luxury retailers, including Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Target, and Neiman Marcus.

Famous Clientele

Not shying away from publicity, many American celebrities and famous personalities have been seen in Ralph Lauren. The corporation is the official outfitter of the US National Olympic team, dressing their outfits for both opening and closing ceremonies. The label has also dressed countless stars on the red carpet, most famously Gwyneth Paltrow, in a pale pink ball gown, when she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1999 Oscars. Another unforgettable red carpet moment for the brand was when Lupita Nyong’o wore a crimson-colored off-the-shoulder evening dress, complete with a cape, at the 2014 Golden Globes.

Ralph Lauren, both the man and the label, now stand as fashion’s embodiment of the American dream. Starting from virtually nothing, Lauren built a fashion empire that may be quintessentially-American but is beloved by millions of consumers worldwide.

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