A Tribute to Ralph Lauren: Rags to Riches

February 15, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016

Ralph Lauren’s life endeavors epitomize the very essence of the American Dream, as this Bronx-born prodigy transformed from a city bred college dropout into one of the world’s most renowned and inspirational fashion figures.  Ralph Lauren was born into an Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant family originating from the Eastern European country of Belarus on October 14, 1939.  

Lauren’s mother remained a stay-at-home mother to her four sons, while his father earned a living through his gift of artistry which he was able to channel into the business of painting houses. Unfortunately, the family never saw great fortune, and was forced to reside in a dingy Bronx apartment until the youngest of the clan struck gold through his keen eye for fashion design.

Lauren only kept his family name, Ralph Lifshitz, until the age of sixteen which is when he adopted the more modern, Americanized last name which would later flash across the world’s department stores, fashion magazines, and runways for decades to come.  His inherent taste for elegance and nouveau style became evident at a young age, as he utilized the hard-earned money he collected from a part-time job to purchase and don expensive suits instead of settling for his brothers’ raggedy hand-me-downs.

While attending Baruch College: The City University of New York in pursuit of a business degree, the determined young student chased dollar bills by working as a sales associate at two glove companies.  The pressure of working two part-time jobs coupled with his obligations as a student and endless late nights attempting to read and cram information into his overworked mind led to Lauren dropping out before obtaining a degree.  However, while employed at a tie manufacturing company known as A. Rivetz & Co., Lauren utilized his initiative and entrepreneurial instinct to begin creating wide ties which later catapulted into becoming Polo Fashions, established in 1968.

Ralph Lauren’s humble beginnings showed through his early designs of simple, wearable basics of high-quality fabrics and cuts.  In the year 1972, Lauren released a seemingly basic cotton shirt sporting short sleeves in a selection of twenty-four colors. This archetype, stamped with the Polo logo quickly became the brand’s signature look worldwide and set the stage for Ralph Lauren’s impending success and fame.   As sales rocketed, this entrepreneur decided to expand his line of vision and test his luck by dabbling in other designs.

Sharp blazers, leather jackets, and neatly trimmed crewnecks soon became staple pieces associated with the Polo brand.  He also rivaled Armani’s undeniably retro power suit with his own set of men’s suits and shirts which became the everyday office worker’s daily garbs.  After dappling for a period of time in menswear, Lauren turned an eye to the rapidly growing demand for variety in women’s costume.  

Inspired by his wife, Lauren took to fulfilling the fashion needs of his female fans by producing the equivalent of a man’s suit with a touch of femininity.  Following this breakthrough, he continued on to extend the Polo brand by creating a line of activewear, home furnishings, footwear, children’s clothing, as well as fragrances.  Lauren saw no limit on the millions he was raking in, and decided to license his brand to mass retailers such as Kohl’s and J.C. Penney which only served to double his profit.

Being the first fashion designer to open up his own store, this founder, designer, and chairman managed to sell not only his merchandise but also his lifestyle of sophistication and grace to consumers worldwide.  With a net worth of $1 billion, Lauren is reputed for his outrageously impressive car collection including wonders such as a 1938 Bugatti and 1962 Ferrari.  Not only that but, he owns countless properties throughout Colorado, Jamaica, Long Island, and Bedford, New York alongside his Fifth Avenue penthouse.

With a businessman’s mindset, artist’s originality, and designer’s perseverance and work ethic, Lauren has managed to launch and upkeep one of the world’s most sought after enterprises with his endless flow of innovative brand tweaks and spin-offs.  Lauren’s youth spent working hard for his own pocket money along with his thirst for the elegance and sophistication of aristocrat America led to his undying passion to create and satiate the consumer and create a lifestyle of wealth and power.