Style Icon: Ralph Lauren – Designing The American Dream
At Roderer our mission is to create a collection of leather goods of exceptional quality that appeal to the modern gentleman. That said, we’re not interested in fads or trends or what’s ‘hot right now’. We make products that last and so it’s critical they still look stylish in 5, 10 or even 20 years’ time. That’s why we look to timeless style icons from the past to give us inspiration for the present and the future. Fashion icon Ralph Lauren is one such example.
When discussing the influential style icons of the 20th and 21st century, it’s nigh on impossible to ignore the contributions of Ralph Lauren. The eponymous founder of the global fashion powerhouse, Mr. Lauren’s is a true rags-to-riches story of a young man with a vision and an incredible willingness to work hard. Much like the clothes his brand produces, his life epitomises the fulfilment of the American Dream and serves as a continual source of inspiration for us here at Roderer.
These days, the Ralph Lauren Corporation is a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, with a market cap of about $7.2 billion and annual sales of $7.4 billion. However, this is a very long way from where Mr. Lauren started out. The third of four siblings, he was born in The Bronx, New York City, to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants in 1939. His given name was Ralph Lifshitz, however, at the age of 16 he, and his brother Jerry, decided to change their surname to Lauren. A keen sportsman, as a child he wanted to be a professional athlete, and then a movie star. Although he would never achieve either of those goals, he would take inspiration from both those areas later on as he was developing the Ralph Lauren brand.
After graduating high school, he went to Baruch College, at the City University of New York (CUNY) where he studied business, although he dropped out after two years. From 1962 to 1964 he served in the United States Army. During high school and his time at CUNY, Lauren had made extra money by selling hand-made ties to his classmates, and so it seemed only logical for him to become a neckwear salesmen. He joined Brooks Brothers, the oldest men's clothier in the United States and soon after, began designing and making his own neckwear. The Brook Brothers Ivy League aesthetic was reportedly a key influence in his designs, however, the company refused Lauren the time to work on his own products.
Unperturbed, he spoke with several other manufacturers before being offered an opportunity at a swanky New York neckwear boutique called Beau Brummell. With the company’s blessing, he created and sold pieces direct from their Empire State Building showroom – reportedly working out of a drawer. The year was 1967 and the Ralph Lauren brand was officially born.
His ties were characterised by a wider “European” tie width, in contrast to the traditional thinner American style ties of the time, and were just a little bit ostentatious, whilst still being stylish and tasteful. They were also incredibly popular, and by 1970 Ralph Lauren had introduced its first full fashion line. In 1972, he introduced the world to the short-sleeved collared sport shirt featuring his embroidered polo pony on the chest. Now an icon in its own right, it is known the world over simply as the Polo Shirt and to this day remains one of the brand’s best-selling items.
Over the ensuing decades, the brand continued to expand internationally and diversify its range, launching colognes, denim lines and luxury labels. All the while Mr. Lauren remained at the helm, a creative force for the better part of 48 years, championing his original idea of preppy, aspirational Americana style. Although he stepped down as CEO of the company that bears his name in 2015, Lauren remains the brand’s executive chairman and chief creative officer and will always be an American style icon who has had an outsized impact on the world of fashion.
In addition to being fashion royalty, however, Ralph Lauren is also well known as a collector of cars. He has over 70 automobiles in his collection, some of which are extremely rare, including a Bugatti Veyron, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, a Lamborghini Reventón Roadster and three 1996 McLaren F1's (one of them an ultra-rare McLaren F1 LM). His cars have won "Best in Show" at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance twice, with his 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic taking top honours in 1990 and his 1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK "Count Trossi" roadster winning in 1993. In 2017, Lauren's now $350 million car collection took centre stage during New York Fashion Week.