Ralph Lifshitz was born in 1939 in The Bronx district of New York to Ashenazi Jewish immigrants. As a boy he attended the Salanter Academy Jewish Day School followed by the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA) before graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1957. When Ralph was 16 his brother Jerry, who had become his guardian changed their surname to Lauren.
As a teenager Lauren attended Baruch College where he studied business, dropping out after two years. From 1962 to 1964 he served in the United States Army and at the end of 1964 he married Ricky Anne Low-Beer in New York City. Lauren never attended fashion school but did work for the preppy men’s clothier Brooks Brothers as a salesman.
Lauren began his multi billion dollar fashion empire in 1967 when he opened a small necktie store under the name Polo. By the early seventies he had not only won awards for his menswear but he had also released a womenswear line. A pioneer of women’s suits tailored in a classic men’s style Lauren was dressing women in a masculine style at a time when a highly feminine look was popular. Lauren’s signature short sleeve pique shirt became one of his most famous pieces, going on to become a fashion must-have for the eighties preppy set.
Lauren himself has always been far more than just the label’s designer; he is the living embodiment of the Ralph Lauren brand. His boutiques have always had an aspirational feel, being much inspired by Lauren’s own luxury lifestyle. Most of them stock a selection of vintage and antique pieces which showcase the ‘Ralph Lauren Spirit’. In 2009 the RL Gift Vault website was launched to display the selection of antique pieces worldwide. The three collections on display; Estate, Americana and Hollywood Glamour characterise not only the pieces themselves but the importance of ‘lifestyle’ in all that Lauren does, including all the Ralph Lauren clothing lines.
Lauren’s high-end label for women, Ralph Lauren Collection carries a distinctive purple label as does his high-end menswear line. This line shows at New York Fashion week each season and is his most fashion led. It is seen as the ultimate expression of Lauren’s vision and lifestyle. The collection includes classic eveningwear, tailoring, outerwear, sportswear, handbags, jewellery and other small leather goods. The Black Label Ralph Lauren collection is an extension of the Collection line, but is more casual, containing less formal wear.
In 2010, Forbes estimated Lauren’s wealth at $4.6 billion making him the 173rd richest person in the world. The Ralph Lauren brand now produces clothing, accessories, fragrances, furniture and operates a restaurant. Seducing the public with his cinematic, sweepingly romantic adverts Lauren has convinced millions worldwide that they can buy into a world of idyllic glamour and the great American outdoors.
Like fellow ‘lifestyle’ brand pioneers Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein, Lauren does not follow seasonal trends and fads, rather sticking to his trademark style and timeless chic.
‘I'm not a fashion person. I'm anti-fashion. I have never been influenced by it. I'm interested in longevity, timelessness, style—not fashion’