Happy Birthday Ralph Lauren

49687_1987-FW-RL_122_833lo

Today is the 75th birthday of Ralph Lauren, menswear’s great editor, as Bruce Boyer likes to call him. In his honor, here’s a tight little edit of some of his looks and ventures over the years. — CC

1349118433121

wallpaper

tumblr_nczh3kVfqk1r4xt81o1_1280

RL 006a

chaps

30853_1988-april-_612_122_707lo

rlimage2

rlimage

56 Comments on "Happy Birthday Ralph Lauren"

  1. If one ignores the sometimes over the top logos, for of the rack clothing, who does it better?

  2. No one has mastered the art of advertising clothing like Ralph Lauren.

  3. @MAC,

    I think of it like this. If I randomly pick a piece of off-the-rack clothing from a particular manufacturer, what’s the probability that I’d consider it reasonable? By this (perhaps odd) metric, Press is the best. Most of what they sell I find quite reasonable. Brooks isn’t quite as good, but they’re still OK. RL, however, is an entirely different story. I’m fairly sure that I’d find a random piece of RL clothing to be quite hideous. My sons are big fans of J. Crew, so we get their catalogs in the mail now and then, and although I haven’t done a careful study of this, I suspect that I’d actually prefer a random item from J. Crew to a random item from RL.

    And I have to admit that I have an irrational bias against RL from my college days. I had a single fraternity brother who actually *talked* about clothing (the rest of us just quietly worried about wearing was necessary to fit in), and he was a big fan of RL.

  4. Polo Purple Label puts most if not all of Press to shame. It’s well made. Press is over rated. Paul Stuart is now what Press used to be.

  5. Perhaps you mean Blue. Comparing Purple Label to Press is truly apples and oranges.

  6. The Purple Label stuff, however, is expensive enough that you’re really in the price range where there’s no point in buying something when you can have a tailor make one for you at a lower price and higher quality. So, in some sense, it’s a market niche that really shouldn’t even exist. Unless you really want to pay more for that fancy label, of course.

  7. Ken Pollock | October 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm |

    Norman Hilton and Sidney Winston (of Chipp) were innovators and there was enough of an audience who knew about clothing and appreciated what they offered.
    Ralph Lauren is nothing but a copycat with a big advertising budget directed at the ignorant masses.

  8. Nobody sold/sells a lifestyle better than RL and yes, it was/is directed predominantly at the masses. Happy 75 Ralph!

  9. @Ken

    Quite a generalization. The ignorant masses in your neighborhood, wearing this $5K suit:

    http://www.ralphlauren.com/product/index.jsp?productId=45753806&cp=2885938.31042406.31042146&view=99&parentPage=family

    … have a lot more money and taste than the ignorant masses in my part of the country!

  10. Given how ill-fitting that $5K suit is on the model they depict on their website, I’d say that their marketing is aimed squarely at people who have lots of money, but no taste.

  11. Richard Meyer | October 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm |

    Mr. Pollock is right on.
    By far the best RL ads were the black and white Anthony Edgeworth ones from the 1980s.

  12. Richard Meyer | October 14, 2014 at 3:57 pm |

    And the oversize logos are HIDEOUS!

  13. @Im

    Good luck finding a local tailor these days with the skill to even come close to purple lable in terms of construction and quality. Most local tailors these days off shore to China. And they generall do not use quailtyu suiting.

    @ Christian
    I was playing Devil’s Advocate. I can walk down to Michigan Avenue this afternoon and find several items on the rack at the Polo store that would be gorgeuos. Press’ quality is worse than blue label. It’s nothing to write home about. I can do much better with O’Connell’s for tailored items and all casual and sport items. Last few purchases from Press were nothing to write home about. Meh, would be the best adjective to use.

  14. Why would the big logo stuff prevent you from appreciating the endless number of exquisite items?

    You don’t have to like every Beatles album.

  15. Bags' Groove | October 14, 2014 at 4:37 pm |

    No sartorialist should feel any need for a logo.

  16. A.E.W. Mason | October 14, 2014 at 4:46 pm |

    I understand, in a certain respect, Mr. Pollock’s point. There is the “eye candy” aspect of the RL approach. Looking at one of his (or his agency’s) ads, one might be as apt to ask “where can I get a sofa like that” as to say “I really like that coat.” I think it’s correct that he’s taken this “aspirational” thing to a new level, if “aspirational” is the right word. What does that mean, by the way? Do we look at the ad and say, “I want that suit. No, wait, not only do I want the suit, I want that whole life! So, um, maybe, just maybe, if I buy the suit, I’ll get the life, too.” Old guys, I think, would say, “What life? It’s a picture.”

    A good visual “point/counterpoint” is that about the time when the RL mansion opened in, I think, the 80’s, the old J. Press on the South side of West 44th Street was still open. I recall it as slightly shabby and, partly for that reason, really quite wonderful. Can you sell out of a place like that today? If I had to give an answer I’d say probably not? Why not? Was there something more substantive about the men who shopped there then?

    I wonder whether, consciously or not, Mr. Lauren knew before many how in certain ways the life of the eye–for better or worse?–would begin to push out the life of the mind.

  17. Richard Meyer | October 14, 2014 at 5:31 pm |

    The logos are awful. I have been to RL stores often in the last few years- overpriced copycat stuff, too tight suits. 80’s had some good things.

  18. The’80s were good? Nothing good for the past 30 years? What, exactly, is he copying? Blue Label is too tight for you? Did you find the right size?

    Overpriced is a different issue. But there are always generous sales.

  19. I don’t like Ralph’s fit now days, but other than the large logo shawl collar sweater in the third photo what sucks? Many of us in the 70s always made fun of Polo’s lavish lifestyle ads, but we loved the clothing.

  20. Like most cults, there’s a lot of creepiness here, and throw in the subtext of J.J. Leyendecker homoerotica that runs through all those gorgeous tawny-blond boys with their hands all over each other and smug, spent looks on their faces, then add the giant logos, and you can feel lost in the wrong neighborhood with no taxi in sight. That said, Ralph probably saved the look, and in moderation his interpretation was stylish, affordable and timely. All of us who still wear ties, glen plaids and button downs–his or others’– owe him a lot.

  21. I think Polo II suits are pretty sharp.

  22. Bill Canfield | October 14, 2014 at 8:08 pm |

    Having grown-up in Groose Pointe and been schooled in private schools through college, I think I know prep when I see it. Ralph was and is a poseur. Prep was and is Chipp, J. Press, the Andover Shop and Arthur Rosenburg. Prep may once have been Brooks Bors. but only at 346 Madison Avenue. Prep was never Ralph and he knows it deep in his soul, not withstanding his car collection and house in the Hamptons. The guy ripped-off his one idea, the regimental tie featured at Brooks and has never apologized.

  23. Mr. Canfield, should our takeaway be that all who wear RL are poseurs as well?

  24. I’d suggest there wouldn’t have been a “prep” era in the 70’s and 80’s if it wasn’t for RL. The man is a genius, and his 8 billion Net Worth reflects that…

  25. A.E.W. Mason | October 14, 2014 at 10:18 pm |

    It seems to me the emphasis is British, of a particular stripe. Much of it evokes not American soft tailoring, or things with which I’d associate that, but rather the upper classes of the British Empire just before the Great War, who, as someone aptly observed, were primarily entertaining themselves with gambling, shooting, and seduction. It was not a healthy way of life. Of course, it’s just a personal observation, but these images exude that decadence. Many of these models could have been extras in the movie version of Isabel Colegate’s novel, “The Shooting Party.” (Excellent movie, by the way.)

    I think I own only a single RL item, and it is well made. And, others here have testified to the quality of the brand and I don’t doubt it. And, Mr. Lauren certainly had genius to build what he did. But, there is something disturbing about these pictures, in the same way that there was something unhealthy about the goings-on at those estates during that time in history.

  26. While I agree with both points that the large labels are unattractive and that even wearing clothing solely for its label is déclassé, here’s the rub. When I was very young, my grandmother took me to stores such as Buffum’s, Bullock’s and The May Company before they were sold, liquidated, or consolidated. As a twelve-year old, I began to notice and admire the RL brand without even knowing who he was. I have been a fan since. When I am perusing a rack at a department store and am attracted to a garment, more times than not it has been RL. When I was old enough, I realized I must be a fan. Yes, it’s been targeted at the masses; but that is the world in which we live, and the climate of our society. See my article about Volvo motors here:

    http://marvelousvrooms.blogspot.com/2013/06/volvo-still-viable-luxury-brand.html?m=0

    Nevertheless, RL is a savvy man who has parlayed that drive into an incredible business. Best wishes and kudos I say!

  27. With the exception made to order clothing, someone tell me what brands were only available in the Northeastern Ivy/Trad stores?
    There is no doubt about Ivys origins, but unless you came of age prior to WWII or very soon after, it isn’t considered all that exclusive to the upper classes or the Northeast.

  28. Christian,

    While the windowpane suit you linked to is very nice, if too tight for the model wearing it, what is with that monster hand? It’s as big as his head, and would never fit through the sleeve!

    Someone had another bad Photoshop day.

  29. @E,

    I have an excellent tailor that’s actually a short (1 mile) walk from where I work now that’s excellent. It’s run by a group of Iranian women who do all their work locally. Most of their customers are women, but they really seem to enjoy working on men’s clothes when they get a chance, and they seem to go a bit overboard when they get to do it. Unfortunately, I probably have more than enough suits, easily enough to last the rest of my life (roughly 45), so I doubt I’ll be using them for anything significant in the future.

    In general, I’ll admit that RL is a brilliant businessman and everyone that I’ve met who has worked for his company tells me that it’s extremely squared away. As a former business owner I fully appreciate how hard that is to do and he definitely gets me respect on that count. I’m just not that fond of most of what the company makes, although they definitely do make some good stuff.

    And I don’t recall ever buying something based on RL advertising, which is something that I can’t say about BB. I clearly remember seeing a blue chalk stripe suit in some BB catalog and absolutely having to get one. Come to think of it, that might be the only time in my life that advertising has clearly convinced me to buy something. But the RL ads clearly just don’t resonate with me.

  30. D**n! It’s near impossible to avoid obvious errors when you’re writing on a Kindle Fire.

  31. That windowpane cloth reminds me of the suits that Joe the plumber would have worn to church in the 1950s.

  32. Christian once posited that when the Ivy look faded on the college campus, its popularity in general dissipated. True.

    Thing is, there are plenty of campuses (mostly small private schools in the South) where a sort of preppy-Ivy fusion remains popular. I think Polo has a lot do with that.

    Isn’t Polo basically synonymous with 80s preppy? Add LL Bean, Lands End, and Eddie Bauer into the mix for good measure.

    I’m having trouble remembering the source, but somewhere there’s mention of Mr. Lauren drawing inspiration not only from Brooks (of course), but Corbin, Gant, Weejuns, and the Southwick natural shoulder.

  33. My brothers and I grew up in the fifties and sixties in New York wearing clothes our mother bought for us at places like Saks and B. Altman, but the majority were from Brooks Brothers. Even today most of the clothes in my closet come from Brooks, but I’m so disappointed with them that newer items tend to come from the Andover Shop, Mercer, Drakes, and Ben Silver.

    I recall that one of my brothers, the one with the most flair and the largest income, wore Ralph Lauren suits in the 1980s and 90s and I thought they looked stylish. In my case, I never bought anything Ralph Lauren (except a pair of khakis twenty years ago, which were well-made and wore well). It wasn’t a conscious philosophical decision, beyond the obvious aversion to logos on shirts and sweaters that is.

  34. SE
    You’re correct, in the 80s Ralph went mainstream.

    A4
    It’s interesting that so many consider 80s Ralph Lauren vintage. I still think his 1968 to 1970s stuff was the best.

  35. @S.E.

    “(Ralph) and Joe Barrato, his friend from Brooks Brothers, had been lunching out regularly ever since Barrato got out of the army and joined Corbin, a trouser company, in 1963. In the mid-sixties, the well-dressed Traditional customer wore Rivetz ties, Corbin pants, Southwick natural-shoulder jackets, Gant shirts, a Canterbury belt, and Bass Weejuns. Ralph told Joe he wanted to bring them all together – in slightly more sophisticated versions – under the Polo banner. But Ralph also wanted the Brooks customer at every age – prep schooler, Ivy Leaguer, privileged adult. And then he wanted to go beyond that, and reach out to the likes of Ralph Lifshitz and Joe Barrato, and give them the tools to turn their insecurity into aspiration and motivation. “I design for my world, for the people I know, whose lives I understand,” Ralph would say. “Someone like me.” His pitch hit a chord.”

    Source:

    Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren, Michael Gross, 2003
    http://theivyleaguelook.blogspot.com/2009/05/polo-fashions-1968.html

  36. A.E.W. Mason wrote
    “Do we look at the ad and say, “I want that suit. No, wait, not only do I want the suit, I want that whole life! So, um, maybe, just maybe, if I buy the suit, I’ll get the life, too.”

    You just summed up in two sentences the essence of the advertising industry. Doesn’t matter if it’s beer, cars….or clothes!

  37. Thanks for the source, Mr. Sharp.

    Ralph “wanted to bring them all together…”

  38. A.E.W. Mason | October 15, 2014 at 8:35 pm |

    @ Don

    I suppose you’re right, come to think of it.

  39. A lasting (and unfortunate, I think) consequence of the 80s is quantity over quality. It would be unfair to suggest that any one designer contributed to this mindset, but, these days, it’s reality. Come to think of it, the online thrifting community may be as responsible as any. (“take a look at me, modeling the 15th trad jacket I found at the thrift shop this year!”)

    How many jackets or suits did a well dressed gent own and wear regularly in 1965? And don’t shoes just plain look better with every passing year and every trip to the cobbler? Patina, by God!

    I’ve long admired Mike Wallace’s sense of style. Yes, you’d see him in the occasional gray or brown herringbone tweed jacket, but, more often than not, he paired a solid melange gray suit with a blue button down and maroon tie. It worked for him. Brilliantly. And daily. He regarded the suit for it was and is–a sort of uniform, worn for work.

    Designers thrive on ‘what’s new’ this ‘season.’ So the fashion industry goes. But the road rarely taken is a few really well made but great looking pieces.

  40. Whatever the merits of RL, one gets the feeling that some here don’t appreciate that Ralph crashed their party, and in so doing, brought along a few million people with him. Forget the gaudy logos (I’ve no problem with the small ones), the “streetwear”, Kanye West, whatever – isn’t the world a better place with more men wearing OCBDs, khakis, tweed and fair isles? Isn’t college football made that much better with beautiful women wearing polo dresses?

    That answer is yes, in case you’re wondering.

    RL has flaws -a few deep ones – but for many of us, he (and as mentioned above – LE, LLB and EB) introduced many of us to traditional preppie clothing, and we’re all better for it.

  41. @ MRS

    I take your point about the positive effects of RL. On the other hand, you may or may not be right about some resentment for RL, but I don’t see it that way and I’ll speak only for myself. First, people have acknowledged in comments many times that RL kept the style going and who knows what might have happened without him. Second, he also succeeded in wooing away traditional Brooks Brothers customers (as the example of my brother mentioned above goes to show), which, as C. Sharp’s quote from the biography shows, was his original ambition. So if he was only copying, he did it well enough to be preferable, for many, to the originals.

    You acknowledge flaws (“a few deep ones”) — at least for me one of the flaws is the glossy advertising. Brooks is now doing the same thing, with a magazine-like catalog: large format, ensembles of bright young things, etc. Very off-putting.

  42. He uses top drawer cloth for the better Polo clothing. I wish I knew his source for oxford cloth shirting.

  43. @RJG – agreed on the advertising. I admit that I like the lifestyle presentation, but the “bright young things” and pre-Abercrombie homoeroticism is indeed offputting. Same with Brooks.

  44. A.E.W. Mason | October 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm |

    “Bright Young Things.” That’s pretty close to the mark and I think and explains what’s disturbing about certain of these images; i.e., what lurks beneath certain of them–not all of them. The “bright young things” were the inspiration (perhaps not the right word) for Waugh’s novel “Vile Bodies.” They were for the most part wastrels; gobs of family money, booze, drugs, carousing.

    Contrast all of this with S.E.’s poetic reference of a few weeks back to Wallace Stevens. When Stevens received the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 he was offered a professorship at Harvard. He said no thanks. He preferred to remain in the more grounded world as a respected practitioner of the law of suretyship and guarantee as a Vice President of the Harford Accident and Indemnity Company. I would characterize this as a peculiarly “American”–I might even say “natural shoulder”–act on his part. The “Emperor of Ice-Cream,” indeed.

  45. @AEW – to further the point, so many of these young men look very much like Charles and Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited.

  46. Vern Trotter | October 16, 2014 at 10:29 pm |

    I have never been able to decide who is the most overpriced, RL or Ben Silver!

  47. Either Ralph or his trusted advisors design Harris Tweed that’s unique to their labels–Polo, Polo Blue, RRL, etc. I’ve seen it. It’s the heavier stuff (17 + oz.). Nice. I think they’ve also used London Cloth Company. Probably Lovat Mill, as well.

  48. I remember the Shetland in the bottom picture. ’03? ’04? Woven in Scotland. Great looking melange colors.

  49. @Vern Trotter

    Ben Silver wins, hands down.

  50. If I was to bet, I’d bet Ben Silvers carried Polo in the seventies, well before well before it was carried in the national dept. stores.

    When Ralph and his friend discussed Ivy League clothing in 1963, those two middle class guys were already dressing the “look”. Two middle class guys along with damn near every middle class high school and college aged middle class guy and gal, at least in every local I lived, south and midwest.

  51. “….along with damn near every middle class high school and college aged middle class guy and gal, at least in every local I lived, south and midwest.”

    MAC, Good to hear you make a point that I am often stressing. Along with that I would add that Mens magazines, menswear blogs, tv shows and other media platforms often present a reality that is very different the one that I live in.

  52. Growing up, it’s what the cool guys wore. When not wearing their athletic uniform. A button down, blazer, pressed knakis, repp tie, and loafers was BMOC kit. When I think about the older gents I know who continue to dress this way, it’s not hard to imagine as much younger men–cool. Jocks mostly.

  53. If you had the ability to see beyond the advertising that makes this clothing desirable to people whom you consider beneath you, you would realize that there is a wealth of beautifully made clothing available here, constructed with attention to detail and of the finest fabrics with a distinctive and classic color palette that is unchanging from year to year. I have things in the closet, worn regularly, that are 20 years old, and the signs of wear only enhance them. I can pair them with new items, and the colors and designs are so classic that they go together perfectly and never look out of style. Big logos are tacky, I agree, but this snobbishness because you can buy it at a department store near your house instead of traveling a far distance is ridiculous. I have things from J. Press, Brooks Brothers, and Southwick that are equal in quality to PRL. Sometimes PRL is better cut, and the colors are better and more classic. As to the supposed life history and motivations of the hired MODELS pictured in the advertising, get a life. They use classically handsome men in appropriate settings to sell classically designed clothing in traditional colors, which I realize is somehow(?) wrong or inappropriate…they should perhaps use old, overweight, unattractive men is setting you feel are representative of the lifestyle of those who wear the brand, which would be what, a diner, a bowling alley? what is sufficiently downmarket so you don’t feel that the buyer is getting ideas above their station?

  54. carad
    I agree with most of what you say, but the models of color and youth pretty much reflect society as a whole. Advertising critics and academics have specifically written and researched PRL advertising in regard to the timeline. It’s interesting, nothing more.

  55. Curiously enough, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg’s 1988 book “Ralph Lauren: The Man Behind the Mystique” is sitting atop my desk this very morning. The book includes some beautiful black and white photos by Denes Petoe depicting Ralph Lauren’s “Thoroughbred” home furnishings collection from 1983 as well as womenswear photos from his fall 1981 and 1982 collections with the beautiful model Clotilde. Menswear photos include collections dating from 1971 to 1974. The book brings to mind the Ralph Lauren clothing store near my home and its overall effect on shoppers: people were drawn into the store by the rich beauty of the window displays and the warm atmosphere reminiscent of times gone by at clubs we didn’t belong. A customer didn’t just enter the store, they became immersed in it, swallowed whole and surrounded in deep colors, rich textures, shinning brass and glimmering woods. One felt transformed. The store was very different from the others at the time including Nieman Marcus, Saks, and Brooks Brothers. (At that time Brooks Brothers had a stand-alone store in downtown St. Louis immediately adjacent to our only 5-star restaurant.) That type of marketing and those who created it has sadly given way to a younger generation of consumers with a lower level of expectation. One must seek out highly specialized American designers at a much higher price tag to see similar representations of the “old” Ralph Lauren. It’s there, but it costs much more.
    It is hard for me to separate Ralph’s clothing from his marketing, and perhaps due in large part because of it, I prefer the “old” Ralph Lauren to the “new” Brooks Brothers. It is also hard for me to look at catalog spreads, window displays, and online websites for designers without comparing them to those of the “old” Ralph Lauren. I believe he set the standard for the time, but regrettably, that time seems too long ago to be relevant. Like many of today’s off-the-rack designers their clothing seems to be lacking “something” because they are represented so poorly. I am not inspired to buy, I am simply fulfilling a need. Shopping has lost its allure. I’ve grown up, but Ralph Lauren has just grown old.
    The “new” Ralph Lauren, like so many designers and labels, seems to be trading on the past. In Ralph Lauren’s case the mystique is now behind him.

Leave a Reply