Ralph Lauren personifies style, class and the American dream. Originally born Ralph Lifshitz, he understood early on how a name can create a brand like none other. Formerly changing his name to Lauren at age 16, he attended Baruch College to study business as a foundation for his timeless style. His story is an interesting one, as his brother Jerry decided to change their name to Lauren. He had another brother who retained their original surname for years. After college, Ralph served in the US Army for two years. Although his ties were all the rage, they were very simple, made out of old rags with a wide and unique look.
Lauren had the mindset, “I don’t design clothes, I design dreams.” Starting his career by designing neckties for Brooks Brothers, he used the moniker Polo to define his style and pay homage to his love of sports. With no formal design training, he started a new standard in menswear fashion. With the belief he could build something bigger, he began with a $50,000 loan from Norman Hilton, and the rest is history. Polo Ralph Lauren was launched as a full line in 1968, with the polo player logo as its motif. Lauren eventually bought the Polo name back from Hilton. Bloomingdales first approached Ralph, wanting him to remove his label and use their own, Sutton East instead. Ralph declined, and Bloomingdales called back six months later to feature his ties in their store.
In 1972, the short-sleeved Polo shirt was released in 24 colors for both men and women. Interestingly enough, the Polo shirt was invented by tennis player Rene Lacoste in 1926, which was first worn at the US Open Championship in 1926. In 1972, Lauren almost went bankrupt and had to invest $100,000 of his own money to save the company. He recruited Peter Strom to become his business partner. Movie production companies also noted how classy the Lauren brand was. In 1974, Ralph Lauren’s designs were featured on Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby. They were also featured in the Annie Hall film, and has been a huge part of the hip hop scene.
Ralph Lauren always drew on his personal influences to create timeless products. The Polo Bear stems from his brother being a collector of Steiff stuffed bears. His staff created a tradition in 1990, presenting a Steiff bear to both Ralph and Jerry as birthday gifts. The style of dress on the bear was indicative of the brand’s style, becoming a brand mascot.
Sports as a brand
Ralph Lauren was the first major designer to pay homage to sportswear as a fashion. You will find his clothing featured on spectators at a regatta, or golf courses. Polo Golf was launched in 1987, Polo Sport was launched in 1992, and The Ralph Lauren Golf, RLX and RLX Golf collections were launched in 1998. The Ralph Lauren brand is also the official parade outfitter for the US Olympic and Paralympic teams, and the official outfitter for the US Open and Wimbledon’s on-court officials. Continuing the pattern of creating sports-centered items, the Make Your Own Rugby app was launched in 2009.
Style always speaks for itself
Classic style, craftsmanship and longevity are the foundation of this brand. A controversial designer, Lauren frequently told people “I am not a fashion person, I am anti-fashion. I am interested in longevity, timelessness and style.” Lauren’s fashions allow someone to create their own style based on their personal preferences. This has helped build brand loyalty and a uniqueness that stands alone in their class.
The line pays tribute to classy sportswear, with all product lines covering every aspect of apparel and home. Although the brand started as a primary designer of menswear, the line has expanded to include clothing for women and children, watches, jewelry, fragrance, pet collectibles and homegoods. As one of the strongest brands in the world, Ralph Lauren and its sub-brands cater to the needs of consumers in every price class.
What you may not know
In 1987, Lauren was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was removed in April of that same year. In 1989, he helped found a breast cancer research center in Washington D.C. as a tribute to Washington Post fashion editor Nina Hyde. The flagship store at The Rhinelander Mansion is named for heiress Gertrude Waldo. Ralph Lauren loves cars, and owns one of two existing Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantics in the world. A part of the Ralph Lauren website is dedicated to his car collection.
Ralph Lauren pushes the envelope, giving the world our first black male supermodel, Tyson Beckford. He also got a magazine called “Polo” shut down in 1999. The Ralph Lauren brand also delves into food, with the first Ralph Lauren restaurant being opened in Chicago. There is also one located in Paris, and a Polo Bar in New York City. The Ricky Bag was inspired by his wife and are handmade in Italy.
Ralph Lauren is the only designer who has won all four of the CFDA’s four highest honors. Additionally, the U.S. Polo Association cannot use the word “polo” or a polo player on any merchandise it sells. A true rags-to-riches story, this 50-year old brand shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a true testament to the man who embraced his vision: Ralph Lauren.