Ralph Lauren’s brand is synonymous with classic American fashion and his company logo is instantly identifiable all over the world. His name immediately conjures images of a lifestyle: a lifestyle firmly grounded in the British aristocratic world of Brideshead Revisited and yet one that is absolutely and timelessly one of American old money, of Ivy League education, cocktail shakers, shingled beaches, leather chairs and wood panelled dining rooms.
Born Ralph Lifshitz in October 1939 (he and his brother changed their name to Lauren in 1956), in New York’s Bronx, Lauren was the youngest son of Jewish immigrants who had escaped Poland before the second world war. Born into a life which was the very opposite of the world he was to create, as a boy he escaped the relative poverty of his childhood in the cinema where, watching screen icons such as Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, he acquired an early taste for the vintage style and sense of quality that would become the embodiment of his fashion house. In many ways Lauren, a second-generation immigrant who went on to become a billionaire, is the very embodiment of the American Dream that his brand creates. He went quite literally from rags to riches – beginning his business empire by making neckties, out of factory cast-off rags, which he sold by going from department store to department store and even from a drawer in the Empire State Building.
The famous polo-player logo that he chose for this first business venture and that now symbolises the brand was, according to Lauren, chosen because of Polo’s association with Englishness. However, it also symbolised an image of the American Upper class and the aspiration and desire of those in the lower social classes to move upwards into the moneyed world of their richer peers. From neckties, he went on to design menswear, women’s wear, children’s wear, accessories and perfumes and has even branched out into household object and furniture. The Lauren brand has created a unique kind of Americana, which suggests a lifestyle, that is both historic and timeless. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his flagship stores, where his goods are displayed in an atmosphere redolent of country house or an English club, with its wood panelled walls intimate atmosphere contrasting sharply with the fashionable crisp modernity of the stores of competing designers.
His own family life also reflects the dream his brand has created. Married to Ricky Anne Loew-Beer, who was a receptionist where they both worked at New York’s Brooks Brothers, for 53 years, they have three children David, Andrew and Dylan, and own a Fifth Avenue apartment, an estate in Bedford, New York, a Long Island beach house, a Colorado ranch and a Villa at Round Hill Jamaica – all of which could easily be used as the backdrop for one the shoots for his fashion brand.
Nowhere is Lauren’s dedication to style, and lifestyle, seen more than in his famous classic car collection. Lauren has a collection of 60 of the rarest, most valuable, cars in the world, including the world’s only 1930 Mercedes Benz SSK ‘Count Trossi’ Roadster. Unlike the static beauty of an art collection, Lauren’s $billion car collection features objects of immense beauty that are, unlike works of art, used regularly. Lauren drives every car that he possesses regularly, and has a large garage named D.A.D (using his three children’s initials) near his Westchester mansion where the cars are housed, regularly serviced, and maintained.
His is perhaps the only American fashion brand that can stand international shoulder to international shoulder with the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Prada and Armani. Ralph Lauren is not just clothing but a way of life - a way of life that symbolises all the aspirations and hopes inherent in the American Dream. Lauren once remarked “I’m not manufacturing clothes, I’m creating a world” and the world he has created is one that is at once nostalgic and one that never existed. He’s created a perfect world of relaxed wealth, where the country houses never get shabby and the cocktails poured from the silver shaker never lead to drunkenness. It’s a brand that those with the wealth it portrays are happy to purchase, whilst allowing those who aspire to that wealth to feel comfortable browsing the stores and perhaps even buying a small, affordable piece of it for themselves.