Where They Were Then: Ralph Lauren
One of the biggest names in American fashion? Check. First designer to appear in his own ads? Yup. Olympic designer extraordinaire? Ummhmm (see how we’re being timely?). Those are just the Ralph Lauren basics. Here’s the whole story. —callia hargrove
1939 - Born Ralph Lipshitz to two Jewish immigrants from Belarus, Lauren’s taste for luxury was there from the get-go: He’s save his moolah from his after-school job at tie maker A. Rivetz and Co. for expensive suits.
1955 - At age 16, Ralph changes his last name to Lauren. In an interview with Oprah, he later explains: “My given name has the word shit in it. So I just thought, ‘I’m going to pick a nice last name’—it wasn’t particularly connected to anything or anyone.”
1957 –Lauren attends classes at City College while still in HS and starts making ties. In his senior yearbook, when asked what he wants to do with his life, he responds that he just wants to be a millionaire. Oh, not billionaire?
1960 - After some time at college (Baruch) and in the army, he goes to work in retail at Brooks Brothers and picks up that tie habit once again. His super-bright and wide creations get scooped up by Beau Brumell, a super-fashion-y menswear store of the day, and become a bestseller.
1967 - Bloomies approaches Lauren about carrying his ties but recommends that he remove his name from the label and pushes to make them narrower. Lauren says, “HELLZ NO” (not a direct quote). Soon after, with the financial help of clothing connoisseur Norman Hilton, he opens a store in Manhattan and sells the ties under the label Polo.
1970 – Ties give way to a full-blown collection that wins lots of prep fanboys. Suits come the same year, along with that now-classic polo emblem on the lapel, offering the Armani stuff on the scene some competition.
1972 - The first batch of polos land, in 24 colors. BAM. Insta-hit.
1974 - Lauren is asked to costume the original Great Gatsby movie…and some people even compare him to the titular character, with his ambition, self-invention, and all that. He goes on to do the get-ups for Annie Hall, too.
1983 - RL decides to delve into the world of home decor, releasing a line of sheets, towels, and furniture—and making him the first designer to take on the task of selling a whole lifestyle. That’s how he rolls.
1984 - The Rhinelander Mansion, formerly home to world famous photog Edgar de Evia and the equally famous interior designer Robert Denning, is transformed into Polo Ralph Lauren’s flagship store. Again: lifestyle.
1989 – To bring on some fresh talent, Lauren appoints a pre-fame Vera Wang as a designer—before that, she was an editor at Vogue.
1992 –Audrey Hepburn presents RL with the CFDA lifetime achievement award. Icon, meet icon.
1999 – Remember that whole kissing Ralph Lauren snafu with Rachel and Phoebe in that one episode of Friends? Yah, that happened.
2000 – Joining the digital revolution, he signs a 30-year deal with NBC to take his game to the internet, TV, and print.
2006 - Partnering with PETA, Lauren announces that he will no longer use fur in any of his collections.
2007 – For the company’s 40th anni, Lauren hosts a huge soiree in Central Park. Lots of Kennedys and Bushes in attendance and one SJP.
2010 - Next comes an award from French Prez Nicolas Sarkozy praising his “abilities as a businessman and his undeniable work at the head of one of the most successful empires in the world.” While in the country accepting, RL opens his first French flagship store—his largest Euro store to date, with six floors and a restaurant.
2012 - Lauren is asked to create the American uniforms for the opening and closing ceremonies for the London Olympics. Although he caught some slack for the duds not being produced in the U.S., no one can deny that the uniforms look amaze. (Also: promises they’ll be made in the good ol’ US of A for 2014.)
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