"People ask how can a Jewish kid from the Bronx do preppy clothes? Does it have to do with class and money? It has to do with dreams." – Ralph Lauren
When it comes to fashion as identity, to the creation of self through personal style, reinven- tion via a tailored jacket, the perfect silk scarf, or a finely-made pair of pants - no one does it better than Ralph Lauren.
Born Ralph Lifshitz to immigrant parents in 1939, Ralph changed his last name early on. "My given name has the word shit in it," he told Oprah Winfrey in a recent interview, "When I was a kid, the other kids would make a lot of fun of me. It was a tough name. That’s why I de- cided to change it."
That wasn’t the only thing Ralph changed. Fascinated by fashion at an early age, particularly the sleekly classic style of Thirties film stars and the tweed and cable knit Ivy League elite, Ralph quickly created his own unique personal style and began to live, as best he could, amid his fantasies.
He took his style inspiration far from his own day-to-day life in the Bronx, his early heroes the well-bred celebrities of the day, people like the Duke of Windsor and Katharine Hepburn. In an interview in the 1984 for Time Magazine, Lauren recalls that, as young boy, his fashion education came almost entirely via "a combination of watching movies and reading Esquire".
While still a teenager, Lauren dedicated himself to succeeding, to escaping the Bronx and creating...or better yet, designing, a world entirely his own. He sold ties to his friends in high school and in his yearbook, memorably listed his ambition as "millionaire". Eventually, he would make a name for himself creating a line of neckties to Bloomingdales. And finally, in 1967, he would launch the now legendary Polo Ralph Lauren.
"I couldn’t call it ‘basketball’", Lauren has joked of his brand’s iconic name, which culls up images of campus quads and high tea and yachting in The Hamptons. It is a name that perfectly suited Ralph’s distinctive vision for his company and ultimately, it is a name that has defined a uniquely American identity.
With Polo, Ralph created a new fashion aesthetic, an escapist ideal of class and luxury, a high-end, high style that he had drawn from a world completely different from his own. "Whether that world exists or not, I don’t know," he told Time, " I saw things as they should have been, not as they were."
The incredible thing about Lauren is that things are for him, very much how they should be. Lauren’s globally successful line has become timeless ode to the good life, and also a re- flection of the man himself. The boy from the Bronx now worth millions, his yearbook claim - achieved. He owns a massive collection of vintage cars (among them a Mercedes Gull- wing, a 1929 Bentley, and a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO) as well as multiple homes, one of them a sprawling ranch in Colorado which embodies a kind of dream state of the West–replete with guest teepees, antler chandeliers, and the Rockies looming beyond.
With his designs, Lauren continues to create clothes to match our fantasies, to define for us what it is to be an American. And in his four decades in business, Ralph Lauren has some- how always perfectly reflected the desires of the moment he is in. He has stayed utterly mod- ern, by remaining totally - timeless.