It's a Guy Thing

The Tie Makes The Man

The story of the Ralph Lauren legacy

In the history of fashion, there are many rags to riches stories, tales of the underdog rising to the top to create world-famous brands or become the face of fashion. Yet one story always sticks out, of a man that came from adversity and not only created a world-famous brand but went on to sell a lifestyle. Ralph Lauren is arguably the biggest and most recognizable name in fashion today and has a fashion empire that made him a multi-millionaire. Not bad for a bullied kid from the Bronx.

Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx, New York City, on October 14, 1939, the third of four siblings. His parents Frieda and Frank were Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants who had fled Belarus, and the youngster grew up in the Mosholu Parkway area of the family’s adopted borough. At the age of 16, Ralph and his brother Jerry changed their last name to Lauren after having been teased consistently at school. Another brother, Lenny, retained the family name. Ralph was known for his distinctive fashion sense as a teen, finding inspiration in screen icons like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant while having a taste for both classic preppy wear and vintage looks. Unlike his fellow classmates who donned the “Fonz” leather jacket and jeans look Lauren instead wore tennis jerseys to cool, a look he found more aesthetically pleasing and fashionably sensible. Possessed of an innate fashion sense from birth, he took part-time jobs early on to fund his penchant for designer clothes. His chosen course of study, however, was business, although he left the course at City College in Manhattan before receiving his degree. Unhappy with the design of men’s clothing at the time, Ralph designed his own despite his lack of formal training and had them custom made.

“You have to remember this was the late sixties and everything was three buttons and narrow lapels,” says the fashion maestro. “I had always loved the look of the old English gentleman who dressed in class and style, who knew what he was wearing but acted like he didn’t care. That’s the image I wanted. I loved fashion and wore clothes well, but had no idea I could use that in terms of a career.” After dropping out of college, he served two years in the U.S army between 1962 and 1964. The same year he married Ricky Anne Low-Beer. For the next few years, Lauren worked as a sales assistant at Brooks Brothers and then for A Rivetz & Co., a tie manufacturer. However in 1967 things changed for the former Bronx kid, Lauren finally achieved financial backing from Norman Hilton to open a necktie store in New York, where he sold his own designs. While developing his collection of tie designs, the department store Bloomingdale’s took interest, but insisted Lauren remove his name from the ties’ label and make them narrower but Lauren refused to sell to Bloomingdales under their conditions. With the Polo label ties the direct opposite of the conventional styles of the time, his wider, flamboyant ties, made out of opulent materials quickly became a menswear status item. The following year he designed a menswear line and in 1969, Polo by Ralph Lauren established the first shop within a shop, in the department store Bloomingdales.

The company name was always intended to be evocative of a lifestyle. “Well, what kind of people play polo?” he asks. “Wealthy, cosmopolitan, chic, wealthy. I wanted to create a concept for the name.” In 1970 Lauren received his first Coty Award for Menswear and the following year a womenswear collection was introduced. The women’s line also starred the polo player emblem which was originally on the cuff of women’s tailored shirts. In 1974, Ralph Lauren designed the costumes for the film ‘The Great Gatsby’. Lauren dressed the entire male cast in 1920s-styled suits and sweaters. The following year Lauren won the American Fashion Award and in 1976, Lauren won the Coty Award for womenswear as well as entering the Coty Hall of Fame for Menswear and in 1977 he did the same for womenswear.

In 1983 Lauren released a home collection and in 1986, Polo Ralph Lauren opened a flagship store on Madison Avenue 72nd Street in Rhinelander mansion, raising the bar for the retail experience. In 1992, Audrey Hepburn presented Lauren with the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award and the following year, the Polo Sport line was introduced. In 1997 Ralph Lauren received CFDA’s 1996 Menswear Designer of the Year Award and with the millennium, Lauren founded Ralph Lauren Media. In 2004 a new line Rugby was introduced, a lifestyle collection aimed at ages 16 to 25. In 2007 the CFDA honored Lauren with the first-ever American Fashion Legend Award and in the same year, a watch and jewelry line was added to Polo Ralph Lauren. In 2009 the CFDA gave Lauren the first-ever Popular Vote Award, the Rugby line launched an iPhone App and also produced their first online fashion show. An incredibly famous fashion house, Ralph Lauren was the first designer to merge American style with sartorial refinement. His style is preppy romantic with a classic American heritage.

Unlike most other fashion houses, Polo and Ralph Lauren are inseparably tied. “A lot of what you see in the clothes and stores comes literally from my father’s life,” says David. The man himself is self-deprecating about his contribution to the 20th-century fashion scene. “I don’t think I created fashion,” he says. “I don’t know what original means. I think I made a mark, a niche that was a little distinctive for what it is personally.”

The Ralph Lauren Timeline

With Ralph Lauren’s fashion dominating the world scene for nearly 50 years now, the highlights in the fashion guru’s career are numerous, yet some of the key moments in his career do stand out. Here is a timeline of some of his greatest moments.

1972 – The Birth of the Polo Shirt

Crafted from the finest materials and available in numerous vivid colors, the Polo short became not only an icon of American style but a mainstay across the world. Becoming one of the most worn shirts in history. “On one level, there’s aspirational quality to having a polo player on it, on another level it’s just a great shirt with lots of colors”, Lauren once said.

1974 – The Gatsby Look

Lauren was heavily inspired by the old Hollywood look, so it was no surprise when new Hollywood came calling. Heavily inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal book The Great Gatsby, it seemed fitting that Lauren would be called upon to dress the cast of the Robert Redford led movie of the same name.

1977 – Woody Allen Couldn’t Resist

Annie Hall was a groundbreaking comedy that not only won numerous awards but shot director and writer Woody Allen into superstardom. Of course, the main actress Diane Keaton’s iconic look featured several Ralph Lauren pieces. “The look suggested a truly new and independent way of dressing, it was tender, personal and original” Joan Juliet Buck later wrote for Vogue.

1981 – Going Global

Ralph Lauren finally opened his first store outside of the United States. The Polo shop at New Bond Street in London, England was the first freestanding shop in Europe for an American designer. Located in a former pharmacy, the space exemplified the timeless gentlemen’s club aesthetic that Ralph Lauren stores have become known for.

1986 – The Face of Fashion

Iconic magazine Time, finally featured the fashion maestro on their illustrious cover. The inside story documents how Ralph built a fashion empire in less than 20 years after Polo debuted.

1989 – The Nina Hyde Center

Along with legendary Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Lauren honors the memory of late Post fashion correspondent Nina Hyde with a new facility at Georgetown University Hospital, embodying his longtime commitment to supporting the fight against cancer.

1992 – Polo Sports is Born

While having dominated every other category of fashion, the sports scene would be on Lauren’s radar in the early ’90s. Polo Sport debuted with the Stadium collection and with its bold colors and eye-catching graphics, the line of performance-driven activewear would go on to become one of Polo’s most collected.

1998 – The Star-Spangled Banner

With his donation to Save America’s Treasures campaign, Lauren funded the preservation of the American flag that flew over the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the American national anthem.

1999 – From Fashion to Food

Located across from his Chicago store, the brand’s biggest in the world, the very first RL Restaurant was opened and offered a perfect take on the classics. An approach that would become a culinary signature of later restaurants.

2000 – Pink Pony

Ralph Lauren’s continuous support in the fight against cancer took another significant step when he launched the now-iconic Pink Pony T-Shirts. Pink Pony has since evolved into a full collection, with 25 percent of the purchase price of each item donated to Lauren’s efforts in the global fight against cancer.

2006 – Wimbledon gets Polo fever

Ralph Lauren became the first designer in the world-famous tennis tournaments 120-year history to be chosen to create uniforms for all the on-court officials. Wimbledon might be the world’s most recognizable tennis tournament, but it also became the world’s most stylish.

2010 – Keys to the City

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Lauren with the keys to the world-famous city at the opening of his first women’s flagship at 888 Madison Avenue. Ralph Lauren became the first-ever fashion designer to receive the honor.

2016 – The Fight Against Cancer Continues

Launching the Ralph Lauren Centre for Breast Cancer Research at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London, the RLCBCR is one of the world’s preeminent research institutions. With over 2000 square-foot of space hosting world-class facilities that allow for more rapid and in-depth analysis of the disease.

2018 – 50 Years of Fashion

To mark a half-century of timeless American style, Lauren welcomes more than 600 celebrities and friends for a landmark fashion show in the heart of New York. Accompanied by an immersive digital installation showcasing 50 years of groundbreaking advertising and a seated dinner set against the backdrop of Central Park’s iconic Bethesda Terrace.

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