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History of Ralph Lauren

The story of Ralph Lauren is one of a real-life American dream. From humble beginnings to a lifestyle empire spanning fashion, home and fragrance, the Bronx-born designer’s talents know no bounds. He has turned his hand to designing lavish evening gowns for the red carpet, creating functional yet fashion-forward workwear apparel and even dressing Team USA athletes for the Olympic Games.
Over the past 50 years, Ralph Lauren has single-handedly redefined the style of a generation – and, not forgetting, the eponymous Polo tee - with his unmistakable aesthetic, defined by sporty details, preppy styling and sharp tailoring. Follow the all-American designer’s timeline and discover his rags-to-riches success story.

All images by Ralph Lauren
4 Dec 2019

- 1930s -

1939 - Ralph Lauren is born Ralph Lifshitz on 24th October in the Bronx New York. Ralph would later change his surname to Lauren. 

- 1950s -

1957 - Whilst studying at DeWitt Clinton High School and working evening shifts at Alexander’s department store, Ralph Lauren starts to make and sell a selection of wide ties created from bold and bright cast-off fabrics.

- 1960s -

1963 - Ralph Lauren secures a job with Manhattan-based clothier Brooks Brothers. Still eager to work on his own designs, Ralph starts to look for a manufacturer to produce his range of ties.

1967 - Ralph secures a small space in Beau Brummell’s showroom within the Empire State Building to sell his ties. Here, the brand is officially born under the name Polo Ralph Lauren; a name chosen to encompass the affluence and glamour of the British sport.

1968 – From small concession to his first full collection, Ralph debuts his men’s clothing line, which includes classic dress shirts and a white flannel suit, designed in sporting fabrics.  

- 1970s -

1970 - Ralph opens his first boutique within the legendary Bloomingdale’s department store. He is the first designer to have his own concession within the iconic New York shopping destination.

1971 - He debuts his first women’s designs. Understanding the importance of branding, the famous Polo Pony logo is born, embroidered on the cuff of the women’s shirts.

1972 – The iconic Polo shirt is introduced to the collection in an incredible array of colours with Ralph Laurens’s Polo Pony monogram taking pride of place. A casual but comfortable style, already popular on the polo grounds and tennis courts, the signature design is now widely associated with Ralph Lauren. 

1972 – After mastering menswear and having already launched a line of ladies’ shirts with the Polo Pony embroidery, Ralph Lauren presents his first full womenswear line. The new collection takes inspiration from the menswear designs, reinterpreted for the female silhouette. 

1974 – With his modern take on dressing, Ralph Lauren becomes a favourite on the Hollywood scene, supplying suits and shirts to dress the majority of the male cast in the 1974 screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby, directed by Jack Clayton. 

1976 – Ralph’s hard work and dedication is recognised within the industry. Less than a decade after the launch of Polo, Ralph Lauren is the first designer to win in both men’s and women’s categories in the same year at the Coty Awards and he also is awarded the Coty Hall of Fame award for his menswear. 

1977 – Success in Hollywood strikes again with Lauren’s ladies’ clothing featuring in Woody Allen’s cinematic masterpiece, Annie Hall. The film’s lead, played by Diane Keaton, sports several Ralph Lauren pieces, and sets the tone for a truly new way of dressing.

1978 – The Polo Ralph Lauren collection for children launches. This is a bold move for the label, at a time when the market for children’s clothing isn’t clearly distinguished or widely desired. It isn’t until the 2000s that many designers realised the potential of this market and expand into childenswear.

- 1980s -

1981 - Ralph Lauren goes international and opens his first store in London on New Bond Street. This is the first standalone shop in Europe for an American designer. 

1983 – Turning from fashion designer to lifestyle trend-setter, Ralph Lauren launches his Home collection, another first for an American clothing designer. The homeware line includes soft furnishings and décor pieces, offered in four signature motifs.

1986 – The celebrated Rhinelander mansion on Madison Avenue opens after a huge refurbishment project to bring the building back to its original grandeur, housing the new Ralph Lauren flagship store.

1989 – The label’s first sweater featuring the American flag hits the shelves, which soon becomes one of Ralph Lauren’s most recognisable motifs.

- 1990s -

1991 - Ralph is gifted a Steiff bear dressed in Ralph Lauren Polo-inspired garments, sparking the idea for another of the brand’s most famous motifs, the Polo Bear. 

1991 - Ralph Lauren is awarded with the CFDA Lifetime Achievement award, presented by the legendary actress Audrey Hepburn. 

1992 – This is the year that Ralph turns his hand successfully to activewear with the Stadium collection, debuted as part of the new Polo Sport line. This latest offering blurs the line between fashion and sportswear with bold colours and loud logos, attracting a new younger, urban customer. 

1995 - Going back to his fashion roots with suits and ties, the Purple Label is introduced. This menswear line is inspired by Saville Row tailoring and is the most luxurious and high-end of the Ralph Lauren identities, with pieces manufactured in one of the world’s fashion capitals, Italy. 

1999 – America’s sweetheart Gwyneth Paltrow wears Ralph Lauren on the night of her big Oscar success. The iconic pink gown is revered worldwide and becomes the fitting accompaniment to Paltrow’s Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Shakespeare in Love.  

- 2000s -

2000 - With consumer appetite growing, and the Internet fast becoming a go-to retail platform, Polo.com is launched. The site features the designer’s latest collections, runway show presentations, interviews and style advice allowing customers to further explore the world of Ralph Lauren. 

2002 – The Italian fashion capital welcomes Ralph Lauren for Milan Fashion Week to debut his first Purple Label runway shows for the Fall 2002 and Spring 2003 collections. 

2006 – With his prestigious reputation for sporting design, Ralph Lauren becomes the first designer to officially outfit Wimbledon, including the uniforms worn by the ball boys, ball girls and judges, taking the traditional uniforms and turning into them into a new style of their own. 

2007 – Ralph is awarded his second CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year award, and in the same night also takes home the first ever American Fashion Legend award, presented by Oprah Winfrey. 

2008 - In true sporting style, Ralph Lauren secures the contract as the uniform designer for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams in Beijing. They walk the opening and closing ceremonies in Ralph’s iconic designs in addition to sporting a selection of villagewear.

- 2010s -

2010 – New York belongs to Ralph Lauren as he receives the Key to the City at the opening of his first womenswear flagship store on Madison Avenue, presented by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

2010 - Oh la la! Ralph Lauren takes Paris by storm and opens both his Parisian flagship store and restaurant, Ralphs. In the same year, the French President awards Ralph Lauren with France’s highest honour, the Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur award. 

2017 –The Museum of Modern Art in New York recognises the Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt as one of “the most important items of clothing released in the past several decades” by adding the iconic separate to its permanent collection. 

2019 – Recognition of the highest form, Ralph Lauren becomes Sir Ralph Lauren KBE, the first American designer to receive the honorary British knighthood.  

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