The year was 1967 when a young designer by the name of Ralph Lauren, started his business out of a tiny showroom in the Empire State Building.
By the age of 28 years-old, Lauren then began working for the tie manufacturer Beau Brummell. During the 1960s the most commonly the ties that were worn were long, narrow and dark with monotone patterns. However, Ralph had his own idea for ties. Ralph’s first design of ties was almost twice in width with very vibrant and subtle patterns. He convinced the company’s president to let him start his own tie line. Lauren started “The Ralph Lauren Corporation” in 1967 with ties that were handmade from exuberant colored fabric specifically chosen for each piece. Drawing on his interests in sports, in 1968, Lauren named his first full line of menswear “Polo”, in which he kickstarted by making deliveries to the stores himself. Ralph Lauren was one of several design leaders raised in the Jewish community in the Bronx, along with Calvin Klein and Robert Denning.
Although the fashion house started as a small company that only sold ties for men, it quickly grew into a big corporation. A brand which now produces men´s, women’s and children’s clothes, as well as accessories, perfumes and home inventory. By 1969, the Bloomingdale’s department store in Manhattan exclusively began selling Ralph Lauren’s men’s line. It was the first time that Bloomingdale’s had given a designer his own in-store shop. When 1971 rolled around, the Ralph Lauren Corporation launched a line of tailored shirts for women. It was here that Lauren introduced the Polo player emblem, which appeared on the shirt cuff. The first full women’s collection was launched the following year in 1972.
In the same year, Ralph Lauren’s store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, had its grand opening. This became Ralph Lauren’s first freestanding store. It was also during this time that Lauren released a short-sleeve cotton shirt in 24 colors, the same one we see today. This design incorporated the company’s famed logo—that of a polo player, which was created by tennis pro René Lacoste—and became the brand’s signature look. In 1977 Ralph Lauren Corporation introduced a signature cotton mesh polo shirt in various colours, featuring the polo player logo on the chest. From the beginning, Ralph Lauren´s mission and vision has always been to spark a new light on the American style. Over the next 50 years, the brand would come to define not just the male American wardrobe, but set the foundation for how we can begin to understand men’s fashion. Polo Ralph Lauren has now become available around the world so that people of all cultures can take part of the American lifestyle and experience “the American Dream”.
In 1981, The company entered the European market and also went international. The international expansion took off with the opening of the first freestanding store in New Bond Street in the West End of London, England. Lauren later opened his first flagship in the Rhinelander mansion, on Madison Avenue and 72nd Street in New York City in 1986, and on June 12, 1997, the company became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.
Another source of this brand’s style was an interest in the style of clothing worn at Ivy League colleges. In Ralph Lauren’s biography he wrote: “I loved the oldness, the custom mood of navy blazers, school crests, rep ties, flannels, and saddle shoes.” From the brand’s smart-casual blazers, oxford shirts and chinos, to its varsity sports references such as rugby, rowing, lacrosse and, of course, polo, the Ralph Lauren brand has become a fluid amalgamation of everything we think of when we imagine the historically willowed halls of some of America’s most elite academic institutions. In fact, such a compelling image has been inspired by Ivy-led subcultures in Japan as well as similar prep and varsity dress codes that span into the UK. Put simply, Ralph Lauren was able to successfully channel references from film, music, sport, media and culture and combine it into a single, coherent language, creating an exclusive fashion style that speaks of elite academia.
He was able to translate a style often favored by older prestigious men into a look that’s suited for anyone. When it comes to creating an understanding of menswear and men’s fashions, what you often find is a variety of networks and origins that spread far and wide. Think about it. Denim jeans’ were used as uniform for miners, factory workers and farmers during the nineteenth century; then came the rise of the t-shirt thanks to early film stars, and of course you had to have the dapper Ivy style that defined cultural depictions of prestigious universities, social class, and wealth, all things that we now understand instinctively as menswear has been incredibly fragmented in its origins. The reason we are able to associate these various images and styles is largely because of the work of the one man who was able to bring all of these influences together and create the essential wardrobe: Ralph Lauren.
“Polo has just influenced everybody. They’ve been copying Polo for 20 years.” Ezra Wine
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. Through sophisticated marketing and advertisements campaigns, the brand’s image of luxury-American lifestyle is highly reflected. These strategies have encouraged potential customers to buy products that convey glamour and prestige, as well as timelessness and sophisticated classic pieces that never go out of style, hence the word luxury.
In September of 2015, it was announced that in November of 2015, Stefan Larsson would replace the company’s founder, Ralph Lauren, as CEO. Lauren however stayed on as executive chairman and chief creative officer. A couple of years later, 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 of the brand. Louvet had most recently served as Group President, Global Beauty at Procter & Gamble (P&G). He officially took over on July 17, 2017.
In October 2020, Ralph Lauren Corporation announced that it would transition its Chaps brand to a fully licensed business model to focus on its core brands. The brand also announced that it planned to reduce its direct exposure to the North American department store channel as well as work to set up the Chaps brand to be nurtured with an experienced partner. Also in October, Ralph Lauren Corporation had appointed former Obama administration consultant Valerie Jarrett to the board of directors.
In May 2021, Ralph Lauren Corporation announced it would sell its Club Monaco brand to private equity firm Regent LP.
The Company ended 2016 with 493 directly operated stores: 144 of these are Ralph Lauren stores, 77 are Club Monaco stores and 272 are Polo factory stores. The Company also operated 583 concession shop locations worldwide at the end of the year.
At the end of 2016 in addition to Company-operated locations, international licensing partners operated 93 Ralph Lauren stores and 42 dedicated shops, as well as 133 Club Monaco stores and shops
The company also manages flagships for retailing Ralph Lauren collections in Chicago, Manhasset, Greenwich (USA), London, Milan, Tokyo, Moscow, Kyiv and Paris.
As of 2021, Polo Ralph Lauren has 79 retail stores in Asia, 40 in North America, and 32 in Europe.
U.S. Olympic Team
Ralph Lauren Corporation is the exclusive Official Parade Outfitter for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams. The Company has established a partnership with athletes serving as brand ambassadors as well as the faces of the marketing, advertising, and public relations campaigns.
Ralph Lauren Corporation also partnered with the United States Olympic Committee to become an Official Outfitter of the U.S. Olympic Team for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
Ralph Lauren also has been chosen to design the official Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony parade outfits for the U.S. teams.
In 2005, The United States Tennis Association selected Ralph Lauren Corporation as the official apparel sponsor for the U.S. Open. With this partnership, the brand agreed to dress all on-court ball persons and officials in specially-designed Ralph Lauren apparel. This was Polo’s first tennis sponsorship.
Ralph Lauren Corporation became the official outfitter of Wimbledon, in 2006. Ralph Lauren is the first designer in the tennis tournament’s history to be chosen to create uniforms for all on-court officials.
In 2020, Ralph Lauren Corporation became the official outfitter of the Australian Open.
Ralph Lauren Fun-Facts
- He changed his last name.
- Before he became the icon he is today, his last name was initially Lifshitz. At the age of 16, Ralph’s brother Jerry changed their last name to Lauren, as the designer was constantly teased in school for his name.
- He is an honorary knight.
- In a private ceremony, Lauren was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his services to fashion. He was presented with honorary knighthood by Prince Charles in June 2019, which made him the first American designer with the title.
- He made a special appearance on Friends
- In Season 5 of the hit show Friends, Jennifer Aniston‘s character Rachel Green worked in an executive position for Ralph Lauren. The designer made two cameo appearances in one episode, both instances being in an elevator.
- He designed the menswear in The Great Gatsby
- Lauren’s clothes were featured in Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, in which leading man Robert Redford dons a wonderful collection of dapper suits. Some of Lauren’s clothes were also featured in Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall, with Diane Keaton‘s character owning a tuxedo jacket from the legendary designer.
- He threw the first pitch at a Yankees Game in 2018
Lauren celebrated the brand’s 50th anniversary at a Yankees Game in 2018, throwing the first pitch in celebration. He described it to be one of his fondest memories and even designed a limited-edition Polo x Yankees collection.
If you’d like to read up more on Ralph Lauren, we recommend reading a book by Alan Flusser, entitled: Ralph Lauren: In His Own Fashion.
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