Ralph Lifshitz to Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren is one of the most iconic fashion designers in the world and the embodiment of the American Dream. What started as a small line of neckties from a humble first-generation immigrant boy from the Bronx has developed into a global empire of luxury clothing as well as fragrances and home furnishings. Today, Lauren is one of the largest influencers in the world of fashion.
Lauren was born and raised in the Bronx, New York City as Ralph Lifshitz. He was the son of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants who had fled Belarus. Despite his humble beginnings, Lauren developed a distinct fashion sense early on. He tried to imitate fashion legends like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant with preppy, vintage finds. In 1955, at the age of sixteen, he and one of his brothers changed their last name after years of teasing and bullying in school. It was then that Ralph Lauren was born.
After graduating from high school, Lauren attended Baruch College at the City University of New York to study business. However, he dropped out after only two years. From there, he enrolled in the Army, where he served for two years. Following his stint in the Army, Lauren took a sales job at Brooks Brothers.
Tie Manufacturers and the Debut of Polo
After a few years working at the iconic chain, he left to accept another sales job with the tie manufacturer Beau Brummell. In 1967, at just 28 years old, he convinced the company’s president to let him start developing his own line. He started designing neckties with a wider cut under the name “Polo” and began selling them at a number of department stores.
Ultimately, Lauren decided he wanted to develop his own business. He left the tie manufacturer, and got a loan to help him start expanding his menswear line. He worked out of a small showroom in the Empire State Building and delivered his goods to stores himself. Within just two short years, he caught his first big break. In 1969, Bloomingdlaes began selling his men’s line exclusively. This marked the first time the department store gave a designer their own in-store boutique.
1972 was another pivotal year for Lauren. He created his now famous short sleeve, cotton, collared shirt with the emblem of a polo player in 24 different colors. It became the brand’s signature and iconic look. In the decades to follow, Lauren has expanded his line. It now includes clothing for women and children and opened numerous boutiques around the world. He has also designed Olympic uniforms for team USA and helped with the costume design on a number of iconic films. Included are the likes of the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, The Wild Party, and Annie Hall.
In addition to an affinity for fashion, Lauren is also a well-known connoisseur of cars and watches. His love for watches began back in those teen years. This is when he idolized celebrities like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. He also noticed they were always wearing a good watch, like a Cartier. But just like he approaches his clothes—knowing there’s a time for a cotton Polo shirt and a time for a tailored suit and tie—Lauren’s philosophy on watches is that there’s not just one great watch for every day, there are many.
Lauren has amassed his watch collection over the course of 30 plus years. It’s comprised of a lot of Cartier—from a square, platinum model on a mesh bracelet to a Cintree fitted with a gold cuff formerly belonging to Andy Warhol—and also a number of vintage Panerai, Rolex, and IWC watches as well as some more modern Urwerk models. These are not only the watches he wears but also the watches that inspire his own line of Ralph Lauren timepieces.
Image Credits: Rolex Magazine and Panerai World