- LAUREN, RALPH
- LAUREN, RALPH (1939– ), U.S. fashion designer. Although he was born and raised among middle-class Jewish families in the Bronx, Lauren became closely linked to two themes far removed from his urban background: patrician England and the rugged American West. His signature "looks" grew into a $10 billion global brand for apparel and accessories, fragrances and home products. Born Ralph Lifshitz, he was raised in the same neighborhood as calvin klein , with whom an intense rivalry would develop. His parents, Frank and Frieda Lifshitz, were East Europeans who settled in the U.S. in 1920. Largely through the influence of his mother, whose antecedents included a long line of rabbis, his early education was a combination of the secular and religious. When he was eight, he was transferred from public school to Yeshiva Rabbi Israel Salanter, one of New York City's feeder schools to the Manhattan Talmudical Academy. Three years later, he returned to public school for two years, and then went back to Yeshiva. At 14, he entered the Talmudical Academy but transferred to a public high school a year later, ending his formal religious education. He attended City College of New York, taking business courses at night while working as an assistant buyer of men's furnishings. In 1959, he and an older brother changed their last name to Lauren because it sounded more genteel than Lifshitz and a year later he dropped out of college. By that time, the fashion esthetic that would inform his career had taken shape. He was influenced by movie stars such as Fred Astaire and Cary Grant and wore clothes that were elegant and sophisticated. He was also attracted by the mystique of the American cowboy. Lauren was drafted into the U.S. Army Reserves in 1960. After completing his military obligation in 1963 he held a series of jobs selling gloves and ties. He married Ricky Lowbeer in 1964 while employed as a tie salesman for A. Rivetz & Co., where he began designing his own line. Lauren's ties were innovative, much wider than the prevailing versions and made in sumptuous fabrics with bold patterns. Lauren joined Beau Brummel in 1967 and soon had his own collection of ties. It was called Polo, a name that evoked an image of international glamour. The ties were spectacularly successful. In 1968, backed by a $50,000 loan, Lauren left Beau Brummel, took the Polo name with him, and opened his own business. He soon began making a complete line of men's clothing, merging classic American styling with European flair. In 1969, Polo by Ralph Lauren was established as the first designer boutique for men in Bloomingdale's in New York, the first major retailer to recognize Lauren's talent. In 1971, Lauren launched his first women's line and opened a shop in Beverly Hills, Calif., becoming the first U.S. designer with his own freestanding store. Through the 1970s, he expanded his reach into footwear and accessories, boy's wear and fragrances. In 1978, he launched his Western-wear collection and appeared in the ads for it. He pioneered the use of multipage magazine advertising, running spreads of up to 20 consecutive pages that collectively presented "the world of Ralph Lauren." His first store outside the U.S. opened in London in 1981. In 1983, the home collection was launched and in 1986, the new Lauren flagship opened in a historic remodeled mansion in Manhattan. By 2003, there were Polo Ralph Lauren stores in some 30 countries. In 1997, Polo went public. What began with 26 boxes of ties in 1967 had become a giant corporation listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Lauren himself had become a billionaire with a Fifth Avenue duplex in New York, an estate in Bedford, N.Y., a beach house on Long Island, two homes in Jamaica, and a cattle ranch in Colorado. He amassed a world-class collection of antique cars. He won his first Coty Award for men's wear in 1970, and was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame for men's wear in 1976 and women's wear in 1977. He is the first designer to have been given the Council of Fashion Designers of America's four highest honors – Lifetime Achievement, Designer of the Year in men's wear and in women's wear, and Retailer of the Year. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Brandeis University in 1996, the same year he was presented with the first Humanitarian Award from the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., a facility Lauren was instrumental in establishing. Lauren's philanthropic activities have focused on cancer care and prevention, but include artistic and cultural projects related to American history. In 1998, he donated $13 million to the Smithsonian Institution to fund preservation of the American flag that inspired "The Star Spangled Banner." The beneficiaries of the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation include the Pink Pony Fund, established by Lauren in 2000 to support cancer care and prevention in medically underserved communities. His gift to the Lexington School/Center for the Deaf in New York in 2002 enabled it to build a performing arts center and in 2003, the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention opened in the East Harlem section of New York. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Gross, Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren (2003); J.A. Trachtenberg, Ralph Lauren: The Man Behind the Mystique (1988). (Mort Sheinman (2nd ed.)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.