Ralph’s 50-Year Rise

Ralph Lauren: designer, businessman, American icon. As the founder of one of the most successful fashion brands in the world, his name is so synonymous with a certain type of Americana that one sometimes forgets he’s a real—living!—person, and not a fictional persona invented to embody the brand.

Ralph Lauren in fittings.

But real, he is. And on the occasion of his eponymous brand’s 50th anniversary comes Ralph Lauren: In His Own Fashion (Abrams, 2019), a book celebrating the life of the designer through the lens of his cultural and fashion impact. Alongside more than 350 photographs, style expert Alan Flusser traces Lauren’s trajectory through the worlds of men’s fashion, women’s fashion, and home décor, starting, of course, with his childhood in the Bronx and continuing on through his beginnings in the retail world as a tie salesman and ultimately his status as a global fashion and lifestyle superpower. “With his landmark stores gracing the capitals of Europe and Asia, his rainbow of polo shirts dotting the beaches from Brazil to Bora Bora, and his restaurants serving classic American fare in capitals around the world, Ralph Lauren may be the foremost ambassador of the American Dream,” Flusser writes.

Through remembrances from everyone from Ian Schrager (who was a camper in the Catskills while Lauren worked as a counselor) to the president of Henri Bendel at the time Lauren debuted a Polo by Ralph Lauren outpost in the store, Flusser creates an intimate portrait of Lauren’s life and work.

Ralph and his wife, Ricky, whom he calls “my muse.”

The hundreds of compiled photographs include Lauren as a boy, intimate family portraits, photos of his homes, and images of Lauren’s designs in runway shows and advertising campaigns. They demonstrate the breadth of Lauren’s design range over half a century, with collections so varied that any uniting theme, beyond the clothes’ classic timelessness, is a sense that the styles often were inspired by various equestrian pursuits—from cowboy-style ranch work or tweedy foxhunts to, yes, polo.

Ralph in his early teens

Flusser convincingly presents his argument for Lauren as the modern age’s premier arbiter of style. “Here I propose Ralph as not only our generation’s preeminent tastemaker but also the leading guardian and ultimately the savior of high-class taste and style,” he writes. “As his roots deepened and his influence widened through the globalization of the Polo brand, Ralph forged a bulwark against the culture’s deteriorating taste level by championing time-honored style over fashion’s more provisional solutions. Reinvigorating the public’s interest in well-bred taste and quality, he ended up democratizing it more profoundly than any of his peers—and maybe more than anyone in modern history.”

Ralph with assistant Buffy Birrittella in 1986.