Ralph Lauren opens up about 50th anniversary of polo shirt, American fashion design and the Lo Life team


When someone hears the word “polo” today, they think as much of the brand founded in 1967 by a young man from the Bronx as of the millennial sport played by the world’s elite who gave it its name. Over the past 50 years, Ralph Lauren, through its eponymous luxury brands, has not only equipped us to live our best lives, but also defined our vision of what it looks like.

Dress, earrings and shoes from the Ralph Lauren collection

ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

What could an elegant American self-made who reaches the pinnacle of wealth and leisure wear on a hot summer afternoon? F. Scott Fitzgerald created Gatsby, but Lauren shared our take on him in a white linen suit, a version the designer himself wears on the June day I visit him. Ralph Lauren clothes are worn by tycoons and movie stars, princesses and prime ministers, aristocrats and Olympians: they are symbols of success, luxury and accomplishment that have become indistinguishable from the things themselves. same.

“Ralph Lauren’s vision has defined American style for decades, elevating fashion and culture.”
-Oprah Winfrey

Themes that fascinated Lauren in her early days and returned to over the years have become hallmarks: Safari, Cowboy, Military, Hollywood, Art Deco Modernism, and Navajo. He calls them “standards”, patterns on which he can riffle over time. “I didn’t see what we were as Americans, but what we could become,” he told me. What he has become, in addition to an international icon at the head of a multi-billion dollar company, is above all a family man, married for 53 years to Ricky, a natural American beauty of the kind that adorns its advertisements and walks its catwalks, with children and grandchildren; and beautiful homes in New York — Manhattan, Montauk and Bedford — Colorado and Jamaica.

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Ralph Lauren Collection Coat, dress, earrings, necklace and belt

ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

What he wanted for himself, he wanted for all of us too. His lifestyle is inseparable from what he offers us through his collections of clothing, furniture and lifestyle accessories, and the advertising imagery he has created to market them. “It’s all part of what I dreamed of for myself,” he says. “I responded to the vibes of the world I loved – the black and white movies, the Kennedys, Sinatra, my first trip to Santa Fe – and I developed them and sent them back to the world. “

“His success is matched only by his humanity.”
—Vera Wang

How does a designer live in the aesthetics of the American dream? I ask. “I am of American culture,” he says simply and directly. “I am an American.” His words echo the famous opening statement of Saul Bellow’s great American novel, The Adventures of Augie March: “I am an American, born in Chicago… I learned freestyle on my own and I will do it. drive my way. Making the most of your natural gifts and using them with everything you have is the most American of qualities, and Ralph Lauren is our most American of designers.

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Ralph Lauren Collection Jacket, shirt, skirt, earrings, bow tie, belt and slippers

ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

Lauren’s unwavering consistency in his vision has spawned one of the most powerful and lucid brands of all time, but that’s what leaves him in the throes of criticism. Fashion is a capricious beast of the times, but Lauren dreams in absolute terms, in classics, in icons: navy stripes, peacoats and sailor caps worthy of an American Jean Sebergian in Paris; a figure-hugging satin number worthy of Dietrich; wide, pinstriped pants reminiscent of Keaton’s Annie Hall; a white high neck blouse with a chunky leather belt suitable for Meryl Streep playing Isak Dinesen in the African plain. Lauren believes in the purity of this vision, while most designers are not so devoted to their muses.

“I feel like my closet is Ralph’s closet… When I played Annie Hall, her look was very Ralph and, of course, very me.”
—Diane Keaton

It was this ambitious purity that was celebrated in the 1980s by two Brooklyn gangs that merged under the moniker Lo Lifes (“Lo” being short for Polo). The only requirement for membership was complete dedication to dressing head to toe in Polo – acquisitions gained through shoplifting. “It was not worn by people who lived in our community,” said co-founder Rack-Lo. “The polo shirt was made for the rich, the waspy kids; it was not made for the children of the cities.

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Shawl, dress, earrings, belt and shoes Ralph Lauren Collection

ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

“I don’t know why, but they got it,” Lauren said. “They understood the purity of my vision. Of course they got it. These kids saw the magic of clothes take them out of their neighborhood and into a more spectacular life, just like Lauren when she was young. Today, Lo Life’s adherence to Lauren’s vision fuels an active vintage market in these pieces as well as limited re-editions of Ralph Lauren products from the Polo Archives.

“Ralph is the holy grail: whether he sells a suit, a paint color or a burger, he always conceives a dream. “
—Alexandre Wang

A successful brand speaks to people wherever they are, not just a targeted demographic. My 78 year old dad wears a polo shirt at the Palm Beach Country Club because it means one thing in his world, and my 17 year old son wears a 90s polo shirt at the Lower East Side skate park because it means something else . On the day I visited, Lauren shared with me images from the upcoming women’s runway collection, her 88th runway show, for her 50th anniversary extravaganza. He shows no signs of slowing down or disinterest; in fact, he’s especially excited by the way this show reinterprets and juxtaposes many of his beloved standards.

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ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

As with almost all fashion brands, Ralph Lauren, the company has had its share of struggles over the past few years. Lauren and her current CEO have a set of “strategic priorities” that include digital growth, revitalizing her core business and targeted expansion. It is unknown what will be achieved and who will succeed Lauren. What we do know is that the ineffable magic created by Ralph Lauren and his presence in our collective consciousness make his successes over the past five decades the ultimate culmination of building American brands for, like, eh well, forever.


This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, available on newsstands now.


Model: Blanca Padilla; Hair: Serge Normant for Serge Normant Haircare; Make-up: Gucci Westman for Westman Atelier; Manicurist: Gina Edwards for Chanel Le Vernis; Production: Nathalie at KrankyProduktions.


Joseph E. Golightly