Ralph Lauren is the quintessential American Dream. The story of how a second-generation Jewish immigrant from the Bronx built his tie business into one of the world’s largest fashion empires, reportedly generating $7 billion a year. His genus lies in interpreting classic American style, referencing Old West, Golden Age Hollywood, Native American.
Born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939, to Jewish immigrants, Ralph Lauren is the youngest of four siblings. At twelve, he would sell ties to fellow students — little did he know then this was the first step in his success story. The young boy undertook business studies at Baruch College, City University of New York, served in the United States Army and worked behind the tie counter at Brooks Brothers and then Beau Brummell. In 1967, he convinced its president to let him start his own line, ‘Polo’. The handmade ties were wide and vibrant. Lauren worked out of a single drawer in a showroom in Empire State Building and made deliveries to stores himself. In his first year in business, he reported;y sold $500,000 worth of ties to high-end retailers Paul Stuart, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales.
Ralph Lauren’s empire solidified with relative speed. The ties were such a hit Bloomingdales encouraged him to design and retail a menswear line, ‘Ralph Lauren Polo’. In 1968, he opened his menswear flagship on Madison Avenue, New York. The following year, he decided to embroider a Polo pony on a shirt and it became a worldwide imprint. Featuring the polo player logo on the chest, the solid coloured cotton shirts became emblematic of the preppy look — one of Ralph Lauren’s signature styles. He had conquered the prep, the cowboy and the clean-cut looks. In 1971, he unveiled a women’s collection with the iconic Polo pony logo on the shirt cuffs and opened Polo Ralph Lauren on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. In 1974, he designed Robert Redford’s look for ‘The Great Gatsby’, Diane Keaton’s look for ‘Annie Hall’ and cast himself in his own advertising campaign clad in distressed denim and cowboy boots. In the Eighties the first international Polo store opened in London, a store opened on Madison Avenue and 72nd Street in New York City and he was inducted into Coty Hall of Fame. Polo Sport was unveiled in 1992 followed by several lines and acquired brands including Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Lauren Ralph Lauren. In 1994, Goldman Sachs reportedly purchased twenty eight per cent of Polo Ralph Lauren for $135 million and on June 11, 1997, Ralph Lauren Corporation became a public company, traded on New York Stock Exchange. Ralph Lauren Corporation has 450+ stores worldwide and includes brands Polo Ralph Lauren, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Double RL, Polo Ralph Lauren Children’s, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Lauren Home, Chaps and Club Monaco. In 2015, Stefan Larsson replaced founder, Ralph Lauren, as CEO, while Lauren stayed on as executive chairman and chief creative officer.
RL, Chicago; Ralph’s in Paris and London; and The Polo Bar, New York offer American cuisine inspired by Ralph Lauren’s favourites and classic cocktails in a warm, elegant setting.
Ralph Lauren is legendary as a collector of rare automobiles. He owns 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, two Ferrari TRs, three 1996 McLaren F1’s, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, 1929 Bentley 4½ Litre, Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Gangloff, Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Bugatti Veyron, 1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK, 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Mille Miglia and rare Lamborghini Reventón Roadster. In 2017 Lauren’s reported $350 million car collection took centerstage at New York Fashion Week.
In 1989, Lauren co-founded Nina Hyde Center For Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington. He served as chairman of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, a charitable initiative of CFDA that marshals the services of the fashion industry to raise public awareness and funds for breast cancer. On September 15, 2000 Ralph Lauren Corporation launched Pink Pony Campaign, a national initiative to raise awareness and enhance prevention, screening and treatment in poor communities. The Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation established the American Heroes Fund following September 11 to allow Polo’s employees and customers, to participate in the relief effort. In 2003, he founded Ralph Lauren Center For Cancer Care and Prevention in Harlem — a collaboration between Ralph Lauren, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and North General Hospital in Harlem, New York. In 2014, Ralph Lauren Corporation allied with Royal Marsden, the largest cancer center in Europe, to develop a world-class breast cancer research facility, now Royal Marsden Ralph Lauren Center for Breast Cancer Research.
In 2004, The Polo Fashion School was established to provide gifted students exposure to fashion from mentors within Ralph Lauren Corporation.
The first Ralph Lauren fragrances, produced by Warner-Lauren, Ltd., were launched at Bloomingdales in 1978.
On December 20, 1964, Ralph Lauren married Ricky Ann Low-Beer, author of The Hamptons: Food, Family and History. They have three children. Andrew Lauren is a film producer and actor; David Lauren is Executive Vice President of Global Advertising, Marketing and Communications at Ralph Lauren Corporation. In 2011, he married Lauren Bush, granddaughter of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush. Dylan Lauren is owner of Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City. In April 1987, Ralph Lauren went through surgery to remove benign brain tumor and has recovered completely.
1970: Coty Award in menswear
1973: Coty Award for menswear
1974: Coty “Winnie” Award for womenswear
1975: American Fashion Award
1976: Coty Hall of Fame for menswear
1976: Coty Award for womenswear
1977: Coty Hall of Fame for womenswear
1979: Special citation at 1979 Coty Awards for his direct influence in establishing American fashion, worldwide.
1981: CFDA Fashion Award
1985: Menswear Association of America’s Designer Achievement Award
1987: At CFDA Awards, 1986 “Retailer of the Year”
1988: Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts By Pratt Institute
1989: The American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award for fashion and design
1992: CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award
1995: CFDA Award for Womenswear Designer of the Year
1996: Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research’s Humanitarian Award, presented to Lauren by Princess Diana
1996: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Brandeis University for his commitment to arts and education, and for his prominent role in the fight against breast cancer
1996: CFDA Award for Menswear Designer of the Year
1997: CFDA’s Award for Humanitarian Leadership in recognition of his commitment to fighting breast cancer
2000: Inducted into Fashion Walk of Fame in Manhattan
2003: Ralph Lauren Corporation receives Restore America Heroes Award from The National Trust for Historic Preservation
2007: American Fashion Legend Award, presented by Oprah Winfrey at the CFDA Awards
2009: CFDA’s Popular Vote Award
2010: Mayor Michael Bloomberg presents Ralph Lauren with a key to the city of New York
2010: Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur from Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic of France, in recognition of his contributions as a designer, business leader, and philanthropist
2014: James Smithson Bicentennial Medal which recognizes Lauren’s lifetime contribution to American entrepreneurship, artistry and creativity as well as acknowledging the critical leadership role he played in helping preserve the Star-Spangled Banner as part of “Save America’s Treasures” initiative established by Hillary Clinton.
2016: Women’s Wear Daily’s inaugural John B. Fairchild Honor
2016: Official outfitter for the Olympic Games, designing the opening and closing ceremony uniforms for Team USA
2019: Knighted by Prince Charles. Lauren becomes the first American designer to receive British knighthood.