“I’m not a fashion person. I’m anti-fashion. I don’t like to be part of that world. It’s too transient. I have never been influenced by it. I’m interested in longevity, timelessness, style – not fashion.”
It is quite possible that a truer statement has never been uttered when describing the purpose or indeed image of a clothing brand, let alone one that has become as iconic and well regarded Polo as Ralph Lauren; a brand which has come to embody timeless, classic style.
Irrespective of opinion, it is undeniable that the Ralph Lauren brand is one of great heritage and drive, and as with many of the other truly great brands, this energy and vivaciousness has come from one place, Ralph Lauren the man; philanthropist, winner of a great many awards and owner of a really quite magnificent collections of cars.
But before I risk sounding like some kind of sycophantic little toad I shall return to the crux of this article; the story behind the brand.
Ralph Lauren: The History
The brand was launched in 1967 after Ralph Lauren secured a $50,000 loan enabling him to design and produce a range of ties. He started with 26 boxes and was an instant success; they offered the discerning gentleman a much needed alternative to the conventional skinny ties of the time. Lauren produced a wider design, handmade to the highest quality using unexpected and unusual materials, very quickly becoming something of a menswear icon. His interest in the clothing business however went a great deal further than just the garments he produced, he wanted to promote a lifestyle. This led him name his range after a sport that was the absolute embodiment of everything he wanted to achieve – discreet, timeless and classic style – Polo.
Lauren has been at the forefront of American fashion for decades and it was no different during the brands formative years. It played a big role in the fashion revolution of late 60s to early 70s, mixing classic American styles with the tailoring, refinement and innovation of European fashion. In 1969 he opened his first boutique in the Bloomingdale department store in New York, and clearly, what was to become one of the mainstays of American prep was here to stay.
1971 was a big year, in terms of branding if nothing else, as it marked the release of the company’s first womenswear line as well as the first usage of the now ubiquitous polo player emblem; a label with which we are now all so familiar, a true mark of heritage. 1972 saw the introduction of their first polo shirt design, available in 24 colours and emblazoned with the iconic logo. As with the ties before them, they became a timeless classic and instant hit. It was around this time that the Ralph Lauren name began to really impregnate the preppy scene; the corner stone of the brands future image, with its range of polos, button down shirts, chinos and blazers; the perfect uniform for the lifestyle Lauren wanted to promote.
In 1974 the brands status as an all American classic was cemented yet further when Lauren was asked to design the costumes for the film adaptation of that another American classic – The Great Gatsby. The final products were based on the style of the 1920s and the success of both film and costume led to a revival of the style, with the Ralph Lauren offerings being based on that period.
In 1978 and 1981 they released two collections that have now come full circle and re-entered the current fashion consciousness. The Westernware and Santa Fe collections mixed the traditional American west with the modern style and look of the time, the focus on Denim and Navajo patterns respectively is a clear example of Ralph Lauren’s forward thinking nature and the cyclical nature of fashion. Then, in 1986 he opened his flagship store in the Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue.
As the twentieth century wore on Lauren began to release more lines, the first being the Polo sport range in 1993, created to compliment changing lifestyles and attitudes towards fitness. It also signalled their increased interest in sport and sporting events; aside from the obvious polo connections they sponsored the 1993 America’s cup race, the US open in 2008, outfitted the US Olympics team for Beijing 2008 (which will continue to London 2012), became the official outfitter of Wimbledon in 2006 (all non players on the court wore Ralph Lauren and the actual logo was altered to reflect this) and as with so many other great brands they have a strong affinity with golf, sponsoring numerous American golfing Pros.
The Ralph Lauren Purple collection came along in 1994 and heralded the beginning of an altogether new line of clothing that served the very highest purpose, with unmatched quality and refinement. This was followed by the Black label in 2004 and Rugby line, aimed specifically at the 16-25 age group which, with its selection of Rugby tops, chinos, suits, blazers and polos, mingled fashion forwardness with the brands preppy roots – appealing perfectly to its audience.
The Key Collections
Polo Ralph Lauren
Combing classic and timeless style with the all American look, Polo Ralph Lauren is the perfect mix of discreet elegance and time honoured design – the ultimate prep brand with huge variety and iconic pieces. Great for those wanting to create that capsule wardrobe to transcend the seasons.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label
For the sartorially elegant chap that has an enviable amount of disposable income, or even just a fixation on looking as good he possibly can (regardless of cost) there is Purple Label, Ralph Lauren’s signature line. This top end collection focuses on beautifully constructed suits with suggestions of Savile Row and stylish accessories to really finish off the finest of outfits.
Ralph Lauren Black Label
With an even greater emphasis on tailoring, the Black Label collections mixes modern, sleek lines and sharp looks with the classical styles we’re more used to from Ralph Lauren – creating the perfect timeless outfits.
I think it would be fair to say that Ralph Lauren is one of the fashion world’s most iconic brands. The constant focus on the timeless and classic, with scant regard for the changeable and transitional nature of mainstream fashion has allowed them to improve and perfect their look, keeping their original principles squarely in mind. The result is a set of clean, sleek and elegant collections that will serve the sartorial gent for many years to come.
Let me know what you think of Ralph Lauren or any of his collections in the comments below.