Thursday, February 23rd
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"I've never been about fashion and trends. I believe in design that has a lasting integrity."
The self described “anti-fashion” designer, Ralph Lauren believes in lifestyle, timelessness, and integrity; themes he built his entire empire on. With more than 12 different apparel lines, numerous celebrity fans, an interactive website, and even a restaurant, Lauren is one of the most financially successful designers. Born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939 to Jewish immigrant parents, he grew up in the Bronx, New York. His sense of style was noticeable early on when in high school he would purchase expensive suits and suede shoes with money from his after school jobs. Choosing to study business at City College in New York, he took evening classes and worked as a salesman at Allied and Brooks Brothers during the day. In early 1960 he dropped out of school and by December was drafted into the US army reserves, serving as a supply clerk. With his service complete, Lauren started working as a tie salesman at A. Rivetz & Co in 1962. The more Lauren learned about clothing and fashion the more impressed he was with anything British. So by 1967 he left the company to establish the Polo Ralph Lauren label, designing wide ties using flamboyant, opulent materials. The next year, he launched a menswear collection and was the leading designer to merge classic American style with European refinement, tailoring, and sensibility. By 1969 Lauren opened the first “shop-within-a-shop” designer boutique for men in the department store Bloomingdales.
Ralph Lauren launched his first womenswear line in 1971; a trendy, tailored, masculine yet feminine look, complete with his now world famous Polo emblem. This sexy look became all the rage, thanks in part to actress Diane Keaton who along with director/actor Woody Allen wore all Polo clothing for the 1977 classic movie Annie Hall, a MyCloset.com favorite! Coinciding with the new womenswear line, Lauren became the first American designer to open his own freestanding store (located in Beverly Hills, California). A year later he held a fashion show, complete with a new womenswear line and introduced the infamous “polo shirt”; an instant American classic! Continuing his lifestyle philosophy in 1978 he launched a men’s and women’s fragrance line (Polo 4 Men and Lauren respectively), Polo for boys, and his popular western wear line. Lauren now felt the need to revitalize advertising within the fashion world and in 1979 embarked on a lifelong collaboration with photographer Bruce Weber. Together they created sweeping cinematic images using real people consumers could relate to.
Always the pioneer, Ralph Lauren in 1981 is the first American designer to open a European boutique (located on Bond Street in London). This allows him to unveil his Santa Fe clothing line not only in the US but abroad. A few years later he opens the largest international store in Paris and a flagship store in New York City at the Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Ave. To date, Lauren has opened stores in over 30 countries including Argentina, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Israel.
In 1992, after receiving numerous awards for his previous successes, he is presented with the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Yet, over the next decade Lauren continued to launch new lines with more a specific clientele in mind; Polo Sport (1993), the Purple Label (1994), Polo Jeans Co. (1996), RLX (1998), RALPH (1999), and Rugby (2004) to name a few. Products from the Polo Sport and RLX lines gave him the opportunity to become the official outfitter for the America’s cup US team. Next he signed a multi year deal as the official apparel sponsor for both the US Open and Wimbledon (starting in 2005 & 2006 respectively), while his technically authentic sportswear is also worn by snow boarders, triatheletes and world cup mountain bike teams. Polo Jeans Co, RALPH and Rugby are lines geared toward the youthful crowd of 18-25 year olds. While, the Purple Label was established out if Lauren’s own dissatisfaction with the way suits were being made. He created a line of handmade tailored suits that brought luxury and quality back into American menswear. By appearing in the primary ads, Lauren helped characterize the Purple Label as the “power suit”.
Over the past four decades, Ralph Lauren created the lifestyle he always wanted and in 2007 his countless achievements are honored when the CFDA presented him with the first ever, American Fashion Legend Award (funny enough he also won Menswear Designer of the Year).
In 1974 Ralph Lauren designed costumes for the movie, The Great Gatsby by using his menswear collection to outfit the male cast members. In 2000 he was among one of the first designers inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame and six years later in 2006 Lauren was names one of Time magazine’s most influential people. Then in 2008, he outfitted the US Olympic and Paralympic teams for both the Opening and Closing Olympic ceremonies. To date Ralph Lauren is the only designer to win the CFDA’s top awards: Menswear Designer of the Year (1996 & 2007), Womenswear Designer of the Year (1996), Retailer of the Year and the Lifetime Achievement Award (1992). Lauren is also an advocate for charities and programs like: the Telluride Film Festival, Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, Race to Deliver, Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research, Save America’s Treasures Campaign, Polo Volunteer Program, Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Prevention and Care and the American Hero’s Fund. Thanks to his contributions and commitment to finding a cure for breast cancer he received three separate Humanitarian Awards from the Nina Hyde Center (1996), CFDA (1998), and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (1998).