THE BLOG

The Story of the Ralph Lauren Brand: It's About Dreams

08/12/2010 06:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Pictured: David Lauren, Sr. Vice President, Ralph Lauren.

Last week during the BlogHer conference,  I had the opportunity to hear the story of the Ralph Lauren fashion brand from the founder's son, David Lauren at a special event.  There is something special about hearing someone who is part of the family that built the brand tell the story about the family business.  I have to be honest, I haven't taken a long look at Ralph Lauren since my uber preppy days.  Back then I owned many Ralph Lauren pieces, and I paid dearly for them.  Ralph Lauren was and still is synonymous with luxury. The Ralph Lauren store in Beverly Hills is a thing of beauty.  But times have changed, and so have the prices for Ralph Lauren.  Today, there is a lower priced Lauren line featuring women's fashions. There is also a line of children's clothing and of course the ever popular Polo line for men. This is fashion brand that has evolved with the times, and that is why it remains a leading fashion brand.  The styles have remained classic. The chintz prints and beautiful dresses from the Ralph Lauren  women's line that I remember evoke images of living in a English manor house. But that was the designer's dream, not his reality.

Pictured: You can be not to the manor born, but create your own manor, the Polo sculpture from the Ralph Lauren reading room/library in New York (photo: M. Hall)

The story I heard last week was more compelling that I could have imagined. Ralph Lauren was not a trained fashion designer.  He was born as Ralph Lifshitz, not Ralph Lauren. His first foray into fashion was working as a salesman at Brooks Brothers. Later, he designed ties for men.  He sold those designs in a small store, under the label "Polo." According to David Lauren, Ralph Lauren started in women's fashion by designing clothes for his wife.  He had never been on a safari, but he made beautiful clothes in khaki.  He grew up in the Bronx, not an English manor.  He wasn't skilled at playing polo, but he had a fantasy of how clothes could transform the wearer via styles and illusion. The idea was to dress for the life you wanted, and who you wanted to be.  "Ralph Lauren says he writes through his clothes," notes David Lauren, Senior Vice President of Advertising, Marketing and Corporate Communications. "It's not about fabric. It's about dreams."

It's only fitting that Ralph Lauren was hired to provide clothing for the film version of The Great Gatsby.  Like Gatsby's creator, F. Scott Fitzgerald, he had a dream of what luxury could be and he wrote his own script to bring that story to life. Today, the Ralph Lauren brand is both sporty and luxurious.  It is for both the aspirational shopper (Collection, Purple Label, Polo) and today's woman on a budget (Lauren and Lauren Jeans. Co.)  It's fascinating to think it all started with some ties, an affection for British style, classic cuts and big dreams.