Last year, Forbes Magazine declared that Ralph Lauren was the richest American in fashion with a net worth of $US 6.5 billion (which made him the 122nd wealthiest person on the planet).
Yet it isn’t his wealth that makes the 73-year-old King of Prep one of the world’s favourite designers. His popularity derives from his design signatures – classic, tailored, dashing, tweed-to-lamé looks that remind us of English aristocrats or New England blue bloods weekending in the country.
Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939, in the Bronx, New York, to poor Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Belarus. He has described himself as a scrappy kid who reached a height of only five feet six inches but played basketball anyway, who wanted to be an actor but worried he didn’t have the looks. His will toward self-determination derived from a youthful reading of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
After dropping out of college, he changed his last name to the more nouveau American–sounding Lauren and made his start in the menswear business. From the beginning, his collections have been based on good, wearable high-quality basics that everyone needs to keep stocked in their closet: smartly cut blazers, cashmere crewnecks, leather jackets, and oxford shirts.
“When I started 40 years ago, I made all the things I couldn’t find,” he told GQ in 2007. “I was looking for the unusual pieces that were preppy and had a heritage, but that no one made anymore.”
This grew into a brand that is synonymous, for millions of customers who want to buy into the idea of the tailored taste of old-money Americans. “Plainly,” wrote Brendan Gill in The New Yorker, “great numbers of people share Lauren’s fantasies, including the supreme fantasy of believing that a change in clothing or a change in interior decoration can produce equivalent changes in personality.”
Ralph Lauren was born on this day.