It started in 1967 with wide ties and a vision. Ralph Lauren borrowed $50,000 and a drawer at Beau Brummell, parlaying them into one of fashion’s greatest success stories, a multibillion-dollar phenomenon of major cultural resonance. Though underappreciated for his impact on pure fashion—he pioneered looks from preppy to urban rugged to chic athleticwear, some of which others have appropriated into full-fledged careers—Lauren’s big-picture mastery is the stuff of legend; mere mention of his name elicits a sweep and clarity of image unmatched elsewhere in fashion. His achievements are rooted in razor-sharp awareness of his identity as well as in brilliant strategic maneuvers.
On the digital front, Lauren leads the way in online retail and was among the first to stage a virtual, direct-to-consumer show. At the same time, he continues to refine the brick-and-mortar strategy that sent shockwaves through the industry in 1986 with the opening of his New York Madison Avenue flagship in the Rhinelander Mansion, changing the way designers approach vertical retail. (Recently renovated, the store is now men’s-only; Lauren has brand new women’s digs across the street.) That concept is now global, with outposts as far as Moscow and Dubai. Yet Lauren considers his biggest accomplishment success without compromise.
While marking the 40th anniversary of Polo Ralph Lauren in 2007, he told WWD, “I didn’t sell out; I didn’t wine and dine anybody. I just learned how to kiss on both cheeks.” In time, by the way, to properly greet friends at Ralph’s, his recently opened eatery that’s home to the toughest reservation and best burger in Paris.