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Ralph Lauren, 50 Years Of Defining American Style

Ralph Lauren at home in Westchester County, New York | Image: Weston Wells

Ralph Lauren at home in Westchester County, New York | Image: Weston Wells

ADEDOYIN JOHNSON

In Nigeria, nearly every man, woman admires and loves to adorn the American premium menswear, womenswear and children’s wear brand, Ralph Lauren. The iconic Polo logo is what most fashion freaks love to wear proudly on any Ralph Lauren piece. Ralph Lauren Corporation is an American, publicly traded holding company headquartered in New York City, and founded in 1967 by American fashion designer Ralph Lauren.

Ralph Lauren celebrated half a century of clothing America as a mid-range luxury fashion brand in September 2018. As a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange as Ralph Lauren Corporation, it has diversified into different aspects of affordable luxury living in apparel, home, accessories, and fragrances.

Some of the company’s brands include Polo Ralph Lauren, Ralph Lauren Collection, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Double RL, Ralph Lauren Children’s wear, Denim and Supply Ralph Lauren, Chaps, and Club Monaco.

ralph lauren Viscose evening gown

Viscose evening gown

The Ralph Lauren Corporation started in 1967 with men’s ties. At 28 years-old, Lauren worked for the tie manufacturer, Beau Brummell. He persuaded the company’s president to let him start his own line. Drawing on his interests in sports, Lauren named his first full line of menswear ‘Polo’ in 1968. He worked out of a single “drawer” from a showroom in the Empire State Building and made deliveries to stores himself.

By 1969, the Manhattan department store Bloomingdale’s sold Lauren’s men line exclusively. It was the first time that Bloomingdale’s had given a designer his own in-store shop. In 1971, Ralph Lauren Corporation launched a line of tailored shirts for women, which introduced the Polo player emblem, appearing on the shirt cuff. The first full women’s collection was launched the following year.

However, 1972 marked the opening of Ralph Lauren’s store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, his first freestanding store. In 1977 Ralph Lauren Corporation introduced a signature cotton mesh Polo shirt in various colours. Featuring the polo player logo on the chest, the shirt became emblematic of the preppy look—one of Lauren’s signature style.

In 1974, Ralph Lauren outfitted the male cast of The Great Gatsby in costumes chosen from his Polo line – a 1920s-style series of men’s suits and sweaters, except for the pink suit which Lauren designed especially for Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby. In 1977, Diane Keaton and Woody Allen wore Lauren’s clothes in the Oscar-winning film, Annie Hall.

Also, in 1978, the first Ralph Lauren fragrances, produced by Warner-Lauren, Ltd were launched at Bloomingdale’s. Lauren for women, and Polo the men’s cologne. This was the first time that a designer introduced two fragrances – one for men and one for women – simultaneously.

The company entered the European market, and went international, in 1981 with the opening of the first freestanding store in New Bond Street in the West End of London, England. Lauren opened his first flagship in the Rhinelander mansion, on Madison Avenue and 72nd Street in New York City in 1986. On June 12, 1997, the company becomes a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.

The 98-seat restaurant, RL, opened in March 1999 in a newly constructed building adjacent to the largest Ralph Lauren store at the corner of Chicago and Michigan Avenues. It was followed by the opening of two additional restaurants – Ralph’s at 173 Boulevard Saint Germain Paris store in 2010 and The Polo Bar at Polo’s store in New York in 2015.

The company launched its website and online shop in 2000 as polo.com by RL Media (a cooperation between Ralph Lauren and NBC). In 2007, Ralph Lauren Corporation acquired the NBC share of RL Media and the website was relaunched as ralphlauren.com. In September 2015, it was announced that Stefan Larsson would replace the company’s founder, Ralph Lauren, as CEO in November. Lauren will stay on as executive chairman and chief creative officer.

In February 2017 it was announced that Larsson had agreed to leave his position as CEO effective May 1, 2017 due to differences with Lauren. On May 17, 2017, Ralph Lauren named Patrice Louvet President and Chief Executive Officer. Louvet most recently served as Group President, Global Beauty at Procter & Gamble (P&G). He took over on July 17, 2017.

The 50th anniversary has been greeted with renewals of favoured collections from the past and special editions of everything from watches to cowboy boots. The celebrations climaxed on the evening of September 7, in Central Park, where Lauren presented his 50th anniversary collection.

Ralph Lauren leather Grayden coat, £3,785, embroidered cashmere/wool jumper, £3,000, and cashmere Watchman hat, £305

Ralph Lauren leather Grayden coat, embroidered cashmere/wool jumper, and cashmere Watchman hat,

The anniversary collections are proof that Lauren’s eye is still pin sharp on details. From the size of a belt buckle to the type of braiding on a cuff, he was concerned about how it all turned out. Lauren has always designed for an eternal woman, “a girl who knows how to handle herself and puts herself together like nobody else does. She has the confidence to say, ‘This is how I’m going to wear it’. She doesn’t follow trends. She’s an individual,” he told How To Spend It in an interview.

The collection is a luxurious celebration of half a century of defining the American look: leather jackets to ball gowns, feminine to military, safari to country club, Jazz Age flapper to Haight-Ashbury hippie.

With the collection, Lauren dazzled his fans with pieces so that individuals experienced a “‘Where did you get that?’ moment.  “I would call the ultimate luxury.” They are all unique,” he says of patchwork dresses made from dozens of different fabrics, and hand-printed needlecord jeans patched with brocade, silk and other materials. Students of the Lauren oeuvre will probably be reminded of 1982’s folk art-inspired collection of patchwork dresses made from old quilts. “I could never buy a beautiful one and cut it up,” he says, shocked at the thought. “I used remnants.”

No doubt, Lauren’s life reflects his designs. His life is so arranged that his dreams remain intact and he communicates those dreams through every tie, belt, gown, suit and, of course, polo shirt he sells. Lauren’s is a world in which cowboys wear dinner jackets to lead horses through snow; vintage tractors are driven by supermodels; men wear bow ties on safari; and England is the country of Downton Abbey and Wimbledon. For him, it is about more than clothes, it is about an entire culture.

Since is first collection of ties debuted in 1967, he knew he was not merely selling ties: “I am promoting a level of taste, a total feeling. It is important to show the customer how to wear these ties, the idea behind them.”

Half a century later, the same is true, except ties have grown into an empire of top-to-toe fashion, as well as restaurants, interiors, fragrances and even Ralph’s Roast coffee. With half a century down the line, Ralph Lauren still has a lot to offer the American nay the global fashion industry that will last more than a century more.

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