Designer Ralph Lauren is to step down as head of the fashion company he founded almost 40 years ago, it was announced on 30 September. From expanding into women’s fashion, children’s fashion, homeware and recently into the restaurant trade, Lauren has had a career many dream of. He is also the founder of the Pink Pony Campaign that fights to raise awareness about cancer. IBTimes looks back on the life and career of the man behind the preppy Ralph Lauren brand that many have grown to love.
Ralph Lauren Corporation: How it all began
Ralph Lauren started his fashion empire in the late Sixties but at the time it was called Polo Fashions and they only designed neckties.
However, before Lauren’s necktie business was started, the designer studied business at Baruch College in Manhattan, New York, for two years. He also served in the US Army Reserves for two years, before getting a retail sales job at Brooks Brothers. He then left to join the manufacturing company, Beau Brummell.
In 1967 the president of Beau Brummell agreed to let Lauren start his own line after he secured a $50,000 (£33,000) loan from Norman Hilton. Lauren’s ties were said to have gone against the general necktie trend of that time period, being wide and handmade from high-end fabrics. They were sold at large department stores, such as Bloomingdale’s, where Lauren would deliver them himself. In the beginning, Lauren worked in a showroom in the Empire State Building but he sold $500,000 (£330,700) worth of neckties during the first year of starting Polo. It wasn’t long before the company expanded into men’s clothing.
From an entrepreneur to a fashion guru
In 1970 Ralph Lauren won the Coty Award for his menswear designs. Proving he wasn’t going to stop there, his award encouraged him to go on to design suits for women – a ground-breaking design for its time that mirrored the style of a classic male suit. One year later, in 1972, his infamous short-sleeved polo shirts were released in 24 different colours and established the company’s signature look for decades to come.
Since then, Lauren has gone on to create Ralph Lauren Purple, a luxury clothing line, Ralph Lauren home, a home-furnishing collection, as well as a variety of fragrances. The Ralph Lauren Corporation went public in 1997 and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 2015 Forbes estimated that the designer’s net worth was roughly $7bn (£4.6bn).
The company nears bankruptcy despite its success
The designer also suffered personal problems with his health and was required to undergo surgery in 1987 to remove a brain tumour.
Ralph Lauren, the designer: Special and noteworthy achievements
Ralph Lauren is the official designer of the uniforms for the US Olympic team from 2008 to 2020, as well as for the US Open and Wimbledon Tennis Championships in 2015.
In 2009 Lauren won the CFDA Popular Vote Award, which sees the public voting for its favourite designer. The following year he received France’s highest honour, the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, from then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Ralph Lauren is the only designer ever to have won all four top honours of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, including the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Controversy: Olympic uniforms made in China
Ralph Lauren came under fire in 2012 when it was revealed that the US Olympic uniforms had been made in China, rather than in the United States. Prominent figures, such as actress Mia Farrow, senate majority leader Harry Reid and former American Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, all joined the public in condemning Ralph Lauren. The company responded by promising that the uniforms for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games would be made in the United States.
Not just a fashion designer: Ralph Lauren’s philanthropic work
Ralph Lauren is not only known for his success in the fashion industry, but has also contributed significantly as a philanthropist.
His first venture was the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research, set up in 1989 at Georgetown University. In 1994, following on from his dedication to fighting breast cancer, the designer set up the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer Initiative, a project that raises public awareness and funds to fight the disease both within the United States as well as internationally.
A few years later, he set up the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation to support causes, ranging from cancer care and prevention to educational and literacy programs, as well as restoration and preservation efforts.