Excellence Embodied: 50 Years of Ralph Lauren

For 50 years the symbol of the Polo pony has dominated fashion. Ralph Lauren has – and continues to be – the premium standard of men and women’s wear. But the brand’s creator, worth over $7 billion, insists that he does not simply make clothes. This company is a story and a fantasy for its buyers. Ralph Lauren is luxury, wealth, and opulence. From the classic-fit navy polo your old man wears to church on Sundays to the jerseys and jackets made popular by rappers, Lauren’s influence runs deep and wide. 50 years, it seems, is merely the beginning.

Ralph Lauren – The Man

Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz to Jewish immigrants in New York. Throughout his youth, the young man would lose himself in the films of Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. He yearned to live a life of aristocratic standard. As Lifshitz became Lauren, and the Polo brand began to take shape, Ralph Lauren noticed that you simply could not buy the lifestyle or the clothes that megastars such as Astaire and Hepburn embodied. Lauren wanted to make the impossible, possible, and sell his dream to the every-man.

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Beginning with men’s ties, Lauren’s company soon grew to dominate the menswear industry and women’s fashion followed soon after. Although there were moments where Polo risked bankruptcy (including when Lauren had to commit his personal life savings of $100,000 to keep the company afloat), Lauren’s wealth grew and along with his clothes, the magnate became the face of luxury – often starring as the cover model for his campaigns and collections.

With this newfound wealth, Ralph Lauren needed a hobby. Seeing art as impractical, he took up the far more understandable interest of luxury cars. His current collection is estimated to be worth well over $300 million and boasts appearances from the McLaren F1 and Bugatti Veyron, as well as a host of vintage and limited-edition vehicles.

A Lasting Legacy

Nothing goes to the public without going through Ralph. His vision has extended across the decades, beginning with his minor successes in 1968. Last week’s 50th Anniversary fashion show exemplified both the success of the Ralph Lauren brand and the Ralph Lauren man.

Ralph Lauren’s style and ability to market a story of luxury transcend racial and cultural divides. Wherein most fashion companies aim for and claim their specific market segments, Lauren believes that if you aspire for more, you’re a customer. Hip-hop and Polo have become synonymous with one another as rappers such as Kanye West, 2 Chainz, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar all sporting Lauren’s greatest pieces. They took Polo off the backs of casual golfers and brunching wives and brought them to the streets.

Despite stepping down as CEO in 2015, Ralph Lauren will always sell dreams and fantasies through clothes. It seems that as long as there is luxury, wealth, and success, Ralph Lauren will thrive. For the poor, it’s something to aspire to. For the rich, it’s a uniform. And for most of us, they’re just damn good clothes. Ralph Lauren is immortal – 50 years is merely the beginning.

If you’ve got some time, check out this Complex video below:

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Jay is a writer and content producer for The Versatile Gent.

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