Sunday, 3 February 2013

Ralph Lauren's Fashion Statement

The Ralph Lauren flagship store will occupy two floors of Landmark Prince's
The renovations on the Ralph Lauren flagship store in Landmark Prince's are still not done after perhaps over half a year. The boutique is taking over the spot Max Mara occupied before moving into its flagship store in St George's Building.

In any event I saw a documentary about the designer on Bloomberg television, replayed from last October.

He had humble beginnings born as Ralph Lishitz to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Poland. When he was growing up he watched actors like Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart. He loved their fashion sense in the movies and their classic look is what Lauren aimed for in his clothes.

It was in college when he began selling ties to fellow students and he later had his own designs that he presented to the CEO of Bloomingdales, the late Marvin Traub.

As Traub remembered before he passed away last July, the tie buyer looked at the tie collection and told Lauren he liked them, but would only take them if he put the Bloomingdales label on the back of the ties.

This was Lauren's big break -- a large order from Bloomingdales -- but the young man shut his sample case and said sorry, can't do it.

A few months later Traub contacted Lauren again because he still liked the ties and agreed they could have Lauren's label on them instead.

The ties took off and then Lauren had the gusto to tell Traub he was going to design a menswear collection. He told Charlie Rose in an interview that the clothes one wanted to buy that Cary Grant wore you could not buy. "The things I made you could not buy.. you couldn't find it. And the fact that he designed all the clothes for the 1974 film The Great Gatsby propelled Lauren to greater stardom.

It was only natural for Lauren to design for women as well, and again because very successful after Annie Hall came out in 1977, dressing Diane Keaton in what looked like effortless chic.

Lauren began starring in his own advertisements as well, and why not? He embodied what the Ralph Lauren person should look like. He wore his own clothes and so he was the one others wanted to emulate.

And of course his polo shirts with the polo rider on the horse as the logo were Lauren's bread and butter, with everyone wanting to wear this piece of clothing as a sign of having a superior status. For Lauren polo was the epitome of the kind of environment, atmosphere and association he wanted with his brand.

Traub later allowed Lauren to open his own shop within Bloomingdales, the first one to do so.

In keeping with the upper crust look, Lauren bought the Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue. It was the former home of photographer Edgar de Evia and Robert Denning and Lauren transformed it into his first flagship store spending $30 million in 1986. Now the designer had become a retailer which was a new experience for him.

Traub remembers how he and his wife attended the 2pm opening and he asked Lauren how he was doing. He said he was doing OK. Traub said, "You're a retailer, you can ring off the cash register now. And the manager came back and said, we have $41,000."

"'Is that good?'" Traub remembers Lauren asking him. The Bloomingdales chief said it was.

Then he returned to his office and around 5.30pm Traub got a phone call from Lauren. "'Marvin we have $101,000 in. How's that?' and I said that's terrific. This was Ralph learning to be a retailer," Traub recalled.

However in 1987 Lauren was diagnosed with a brain tumour and at the end of his fashion show, one person remarked that they saw tears in his eyes when he came out onto the catwalk. Only a handful of people knew he was ill at the time. However when word got out, there was fear about the fate of not on the designer but also the brand.

Luckily the tumour was benign, but Lauren took that as a sign to be more relaxed, but also to live in the moment. He told Bloomberg that when he came out of the hospital, one of the first few places he visited was Central Park. He said he saw some men running in the park, sweating, and he thought he wanted to do the same too.

A few months later he was back at work and soon just as productive, if not even more. Along the way he had production, distribution and logistics issues, but Lauren was wise enough to hire experts to help him sort out the kinks.

Lauren is now 73 and doesn't seem to be slowing down much. He and his wife Ricky have three sons, the eldest Andrew, a film producer, the second, David is in his father's business and married Lauren Bush in 2011. So that makes her Mrs Lauren Lauren... huh.

The youngest, Dylan owns Dylan's Candy Bar that claims to be the biggest candy store in the world, in New York City.

We like Lauren because of his unrelenting pursuit in realizing his vision, his attention to detail and his aspiration becoming his customers' aspiration.

And no doubt once the flagship store opens in Hong Kong, we'll probably see the man himself open the door to customers who want to be a part of his world.

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