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Lauren, Ralph - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Ralph Lauren

polo style fashion stores

(1939-)
Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation

Overview

Over his 30-year career, Ralph Lauren has created one of the premier fashion designer labels. His operations encompass not only clothing but also furniture, linens, rugs, paints, and dinnerware in his traditional, classic style.

Personal Life

Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifschitz on October 14, 1939, in New York City. Raised in a middle class area of the Bronx, he became known early on as a dreamer, and often expressed his desire to become a successful entrepreneur. While working in New York City clothing stores as a buyer and salesman in the late 1950s, he studied business science at the City College of New York. During the early 1960s, Lauren worked as a fashion designer. In 1964, he married Ricky Low-Beer with whom he had three children: Andrew, David and Dylan. He formed his own company in 1968.

Ralph Lauren is an intensely private man who shuns the public spotlight. Although his life revolves around work and family, one of his favorite hobbies is restoring and collecting classic automobiles. Married now for over 30 years, he and his wife, Ricky, enjoy weekends and vacations at their homes in Colorado, New York, and Jamaica.

Career Details

At the age of 17, Lauren was working as a part-time sales assistant for Alexander’s Stores in New York City. Beginning in 1958, he worked for three years as an assistant menswear buyer at Allied Stores. In the following years he held salesman positions for Bloomingdale’s, Brooks Brothers, and the A. Rivetz neckwear company. From 1962 to 1964, he served in the United States Army. Having the advantage of a strong retailing background, Lauren joined the neckwear division of Beau Brummel as a designer in 1964. Although now known for a more conservative style, his early designs were wide, flamboyant ties.

In 1968, Lauren founded Polo Fashions, introducing a men’s clothing line that established his distinctive mix of classic English and traditional American styles. The Polo logo—a mounted polo player—suggested aristocratic outdoorsiness. He introduced his first women’s collection three years later. The women’s line developed into four lifestyle groups: collection, classics, country, and active. He came out with Polo Eyeware in 1974, and boyswear in 1978. That same year, he offered fragrances, Polo for men and Lauren for women. In the early 1980s, he introduced a girls clothing line, footwear, and home collection. Since then the Ralph Lauren label has been extended to accesories, hosiery, sleepwear, leather goods, and luggage.

Ralph Lauren opened his first retail store in 1971 on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California. By 1997, the company maintained 116 freestanding Polo Ralph Lauren stores and 62 outlet stores in the United States. This was in addition to 1,300 boutiques that were housed in department stores. The firm also operates stores in London, Paris, and Shanghai. By the late 1990s, Lauren was the best-selling designer in the world. His Polo Ralph Lauren Company had annual sales of over $5 billion a year.

Attention to detail is the cornerstone of Lauren’s managerial success. He painstakingly checks product quality and maintains tight control over marketing the brand image. This is evident through the establishment of over 25 lucrative licensing contracts, as well as the creation of new brands such as Polo Sport, a more moderately priced collection targeted to a younger audience. Two major new ventures in 1995 resulted in the company’s entry into the competitive mass market of blue jeans and a women’s bridge line. Lauren’s Home Collection is also an important revenue producer with about $535 million in worldwide sales during 1996. This is greater than similar operations of any other retailer. The collection was expanded in 1996 with paints, tools, and instruction videos to create four living environments: Thoroughbred, Country, Santa Fe, and Safari. The fragrance line has also been extended into over 100 skin color and treatment products. The once privately-held Lauren company had long been eyed by Wall Street for its continuing success and unrivaled sales volume until 1997 when it made its first Initial Public Offering. The stock had held its value and fared far better than other fashion companies in the past.

Lauren’s work, in both the fashion and the film industry has generated critical acclaim. He created the distinctive costumes in Annie Hall and the The Great Gatsby, and has been regularly lauded by his fellow designers. Lauren has received the industry’s COTY award seven times and was inducted into the COTY Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1992, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of American Fashion Designers. The same organization elected him Designer of the Year in 1996. The Woolmark Tribute Award for influence on American style was presented to Lauren for his 25-years of impact on American style. Furthermore, Lauren was the first designer to appear in his own advertisements, his own silvered good looks lending to the upscale image. His early focus on creating brand image rather than paying overriding attention to individual garments is common practice in the industry today.

Social and Economic Impact

Woody Hochswender, editor of Esquire magazine, describes Lauren as “a great interpreter of American traditions,” and says that he “shapes these traditions in an ongoing way.” The Polo logo is synonymous around the world with a luxurious lifestyle. To this end, some note the company sells a dream rather than innovative designs. In fact, Ralph Lauren himself has said “I style like I am telling a story.”

Ralph Lauren describes the enduring appeal of his clothing by stating: "My clothing is anti-fashion. I design with the point of view that what I’m doing is for a person with a strong sense of style, I don’t want anything I do to be this year’s ‘hot look. "I like things that will age — that will look better next year. I believe that fashion is a function of lifestyle. I believe in clothes that are as easy and nonchalant as a pair of jeans, that mix well, and that don’t go out of style tomorrow."

Chronology: Ralph Lauren

1939: Born.

1967: Founded Polo Fashions.

1971: Established Ralph Lauren Womenswear.

1971: Opened first Polo/Ralph Lauren store in Beverly Hills.

1981: Received Coty Hall of Fame Award.

1983: Introduced extensive home collection.

1986: Opened New York City flagship store in former Rhinelander mansion.

1992: Received Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

1997: Reached worldwide sales of $5 billion.

Lauren’s success is also a result of his management style. Pamela Fiori commented, “What struck me is how respectful Lauren is of those who work for him. He doesn’t condescend. He doesn’t lose his cool. Even when he doesn’t like something, he says it gently. And when he fails to understand, he will ask ‘why?’ or ‘why now?’ or ‘what is that I’m not getting?” Lauren also admits that he enjoys his role as a leader: “I feel it is my responsibility to get the best out of people, to give them chances to do what they never imagined they could do in their careers. It gives me tremendous pleasure to watch them grow. It is also important for me to work with good, talented, nice people whom I truly like.”

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