On September 7th, Lauren will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his company as part of New York Fashion Week. Here are a few of the designer’s most memorable moments throughout the years.
A few years ago, Women’s Wear Daily asked designers around the globe to describe the influence of the American Designer Ralph Lauren. Alexander Wang put it this way: “Ralph is a national treasure, the same way the White House or Mount Rushmore are American icons.”* He was right, of course.
Lauren has dressed US Olympic teams, political candidates, and film stars, and throughout the years writers for WWD have dubbed him everything from “Captain America” to “That Great American Folk Designer.” Still, his reach goes further than clothing. In 1998, Lauren, himself the child of immigrants, donated $13 million towards the restoration of the Star-Spangled Banner that now sits in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “I’ve always loved the spirit of this country,” Lauren told Hamptons Magazine last month. “America was a place people came to celebrate their independence, to fulfill their dreams for themselves and their families.”
Over the last five decades, Ralph Lauren has not only helped shape American culture; he has forever changed the fabric of global fashion. On September 7th, Lauren will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his company as part of New York Fashion Week. The festivities will take place at Central Park’s iconic Bethesda Terrace. In honor of the fashion house’s milestone, let’s take a look back at five of the designer’s most memorable moments, with help from the extraordinary new book WWD: Fifty Years of Ralph Lauren, out now by Rizzoli.
1967: The Ties that Launched an Empire
Lauren introduced his tie line while at the manufacturer Beau Brummel. At twice the width of other popular ties of the era, his ties were revolutionary. In one year’s time, they showed up at major stores like Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, and Paul Stuart, with half a million dollars’ worth of ties sold.
“I am promoting a level of taste, a total feeling,” Lauren told Daily News Record at the time. “It is important to show the customer how to wear these ties, the idea behind them.” Three years later, Buffy Birrittella, who at the time worked for DNR and would eventually join Lauren at Polo, named the designer “the Boy Wonder of the tie business.”
1972: The Polo Shirt
The famous Polo pony logo first arrived on shirt cuffs in 1971, and the rest is history. In 1972, Lauren released the now-familiar shirt in 24 colors, with the pony on the chest, of course. Early wearers of the Polo shirt included Sean Connery and Frank Sinatra, who once bought 20 knit shirts at one time while shopping in Beverly Hills and described himself as a “confirmed fan” of the brand.*
1974 & 1977: The Great Gatsby and Annie Hall
Ralph Lauren was a natural choice for outfitting Robert Redford and the other men cast in the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby. In fact, years earlier, DNR’s Birrittella had described looks from Lauren’s 1969 spring collection as “straight off Gatsby’s lawn.”* The movie catapulted him into the world of the Hollywood elite.
Three years after Gatsby, Lauren’s clothing featured prominently in the actress Diane Keaton’s and the costume designer Ruth Morley’s vision for the character of Annie Hall. It wasn’t the first time he made menswear cool for women; in September of 1971, just as he was branching into women’s clothing, he told DNR, “There are lots of girls who like the man-tailored look, they want to be luxurious without frills.”
1986: New York Flagship Store
Walking into a Ralph Lauren store is like walking into a fantasy world. In 2007, he told Guy Trebay of The New York Times, “I’ve always thought of the collections and the stores like movies or novels.” After three years of restoration, the Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue at 72nd Street reopened in 1986 as the designer’s flagship New York City store. “It’s not just a store,” Lauren confessed. “It’s a way of living. It’s my life that’s involved in this store. This store was done as a labor of love.”*
1989 & 2003: Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research and the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention
In 1989, Ralph Lauren and Katharine Graham, President of the Washington Post Company, honored the legacy of Nina Hyde, Fashion Editor at the Washington Post, by founding the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown Medical Center. Five years later, the designer joined the CFDA Foundation to raise awareness and funding for breast cancer research through Fashion Targets Breast Cancer (FTBC), a program that raised $2 million for the Nina Hyde Center in its first year and continues to this day.
Lauren’s commitment to the cause hasn’t wavered since; in 2003, he opened the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Prevention and Care in East Harlem alongside Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and North General Hospital. In May of that year, he told WWD, “All of a sudden to come here and see this building, I said, ‘This is probably the best thing you will ever have done in your life.’’’*
2016: Dressing the Election
During the 2016 election, one of the most controversial in US history, Hillary Clinton’s signature pantsuit became something more than an outfit. It became a symbol of power… and of the possibility of a female President.
Clinton wore Ralph Lauren for most of her televised campaign moments, including her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention and her opening rally on Roosevelt Island. For the debates, she wore three pantsuits: Ralph Lauren creations in red, blue, and white, respectively. Additionally, Lauren dressed both Clinton and Melania Trump for the inauguration in 2017.