Ralph Lauren Biography – American Fashion Designer, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Legacy

Ralph Lauren Biography
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Ralph Lauren Biography and Legacy

Ralph Lauren is an American fashion designer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, who founded the iconic and world-famous Ralph Lauren brand, which is now a multibillion-dollar business empire.

Lauren’s journey from being born into a lower-middle-class family in the Bronx, to being the founder and CEO of one of the most iconic and pioneering brands in the history of fashion, is often regarded as the definition of the so-called American dream.

Early Life and Education

Ralph Lauren, born Ralph Lifshitz, was born on 14th October 1939 in the Bronx, New York City, to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants Frieda and Frank Lifshitz, an artist and house painter originally from Belarus.

Lauren was the youngest of four children. He attended the Manhattan Talmudical Academy and then later graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1957 at the age of 18.

After graduating, Lauren enrolled at Baruch College in New York City to study business but dropped out only after two years.

Early Career in the Fashion Industry

In 1962, Ralph Lauren, aged 23, enlisted to serve in the United States Army. Two years later, aged 25, he was discharged from service.

Upon his discharge, he began working as a sales assistant for the American Apparel brand Brooks Brothers. His stay there was brief, and he soon began working as a salesman for a necktie company called Rivetz.

In June of 1964, Lauren met Ricky Ann Low-Beer in a doctor’s office where she was working as a receptionist. They soon began a relationship and married six months later. Lauren was 25 years old and Ricky was only 21. The couple would go on to have three children.

In 1967, Lauren, then working for the manufacturer Beau Brummel, convinced the company’s president to allow him to start his own line of neckties. The same year, he established Ralph Lauren Corporation at the age of 28, little knowing that this company would go on to represent the world-famous brand it is now.

Polo Ralph Lauren

After encountering a game of polo one day along with his friend, Ralph Lauren became enamored with the sport. Polo was mostly a sport for the rich, and to Lauren, it symbolized sophistication, elegance, and class.

Taking inspiration from his love of sports since childhood and the impact that the game of polo had upon him, he decided to launch his first neckwear line under the name Polo in 1967. He worked out of a small drawer in the Empire State Building, making deliveries to stores by himself. The neckwear line included a collection of wide ties inspired by the glamour of Old Hollywood, each of them handmade from the highest quality fabrics.

The following year, he introduced his first full men’s collection which included dress shirts in unexpected sports shirt fabrics and a white flannel suit. Lauren later explained that he was inspired to launch this line because he wanted something that got him excited and that had more romance.

Approaching Bloomingdale’s

In 1969, Ralph Lauren approached the luxury department store chain Bloomingdale’s to sell his line of wide ties, which was then against the trend. As the market was dominated by narrow neckties at the time, Bloomingdale’s asked Lauren to make his ties narrower and allow them to sell the ties under their own brand. For this, they offered him a good amount.

Even though Lauren was broke at the time and desperately needed money, he rejected the offer and walked away. He would later reveal that he did so because he truly believed in his product and it meant much more to him than just making money out of it.

However, as luck would have it, Bloomingdale’s approached Lauren six months later and agreed to sell his ties under his own brand. In the very first year, Lauren sold around $500,000 worth of ties, making it a huge success.

In 1970, Bloomingdale’s gave him his own in-store boutique, which was the first time Bloomingdale’s had done such a thing for a single designer.

Initial Success

In 1971, Ralph Lauren opened its first standalone store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California. The same year, Ralph Lauren Corporation introduced a line of tailored shirts for women, featuring details inspired by his men’s line. These shirts marked the debut of the now-ionic polo player emblem embroidered on the shirt cuff.

In 1972, the company launched a signature cotton mesh Polo shirt in 17 different colors. The shirt’s featured the polo player logo on the chest and it quickly became one of the brand’s signature styles and an icon of American style in general.

Designing Clothes for Movies

By the mid-1970s, Lauren’s clothing lines had captured the attention of the people as well as of Hollywood.

His designs instilled in people a sense of belonging and of being anything they wanted to be. They represented class and elegance. Being greatly influenced by movies, Lauren made clothes that looked like the ones that would be worn by movie stars in movies. For the first time, the customers felt as if they could dress the same way as the movie stars of the day.

This spirit of old and new Hollywood that Lauren’s clothes were imbibed with served to increase the brand’s popularity and appeal.

In 1974, Ralph Lauren dressed the male cast of the movie The Great Gatsby in costumes from his Polo line, a 1920s style of men’s sweaters and suits, except for the pink suit Lauren designed specifically for Robert Redford, who played the film’s protagonist Jay Gatsby.

The success of the film increased the brand’s popularity and reach even further. Lauren would also go on to dress the leading characters (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) in Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall.

Branching Out

In early 1978, Ralph Lauren fragrances, Polo for men and Lauren for women, were launched by Warner-Lauren Ltd. at Bloomingdale’s. The signature green bottle of the men’s fragrance was inspired by a vintage flask and complemented masculine notes of leather, tobacco, and pine.

It was the first time that a designer had launched two fragrances simultaneously for men and women.

In 1981, Warner-Lauren Ltd. went international after opening the first freestanding store for an American designer on New Bond Street in the West End of London, thereby entering the European market as well.

Over the years, the Ralph Lauren brand would expand and branch out into several other fields outside of fashion, such as accessories, apparel, and home.

The company’s products would include premium products produced by Double RL, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ralph Lauren Childrenswear, and Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren; sub-premium products produced by Lauren Ralph Lauren; mid-range products produced by Chaps; and full luxury products produced by Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Ralph Lauren Collection.

The Late 1990s

By the late 1990s, Ralph Lauren Corporation was a fully established, reputed, and famous company, whose various brands were widely sought after and well-known across the world.

The company introduced ten additional lines after launching the Polo Sport line in 1992 and even acquired other brands.

In June of 1997, Ralph Lauren Corporation became a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ralph Lauren Stores

By the year 2016, the company had 493 directly operated stores, out of which 272 were Polo factory stores, 144 were Ralph Lauren stores, and 77 were Club Monaco stores. The company also operated 583 concession shop locations across the world, and international licensing partners operated 93 Ralph Lauren stores, 42 dedicated shops, and 133 Club Monaco stores.

The company now has flagship stores in important cities such as New York, Chicago, Moscow, Milan, Tokyo, Paris, and London.


Having undergone surgery to remove a benign brain tumor in 1987, Ralph Lauren focused a lot of his philanthropic activities on the research and treatment of cancer.

In 1989, Lauren, along with The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, co-founded the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. in memory of the late Post fashion correspondent Nina Hyde.

In 2000, Ralph Lauren Corporation launched the Pink Pony Campaign, which was a national initiative to reduce disparities in cancer care by raising awareness as well as enhancing prevention, screening, and treatment in poor and underserved communities.

In 2003, Ralph Lauren, along with Memorial Sloan-Kettering and North General Hospital in Harlem, established the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in Harlem.

In 2014, Ralph Lauren Corporation partnered with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, the largest and most comprehensive cancer center in Europe, to develop a world-class breast cancer research facility, and in 2016, the company opened the Royal Marsden Ralph Lauren Center for Breast Cancer Research.

In March 2020, the company donated over 10 million dollars to the fight against COVID-19.

Lauren, through his company and foundations, continues to undertake philanthropic activities in various other fields as well.


Ralph Lauren is now widely regarded as an icon and pioneer in the fashion world. Often considered one of the most important and influential fashion designers in America, Lauren’s work and legacy has put American fashion at the forefront of international fashion.

His clothing lines have been copied and imitated by several other companies with much success, but Lauren constantly remains ahead of the trend, often creating the trend rather than simply following it.

Over the years, Ralph Lauren Corporation has become the official outfitter of prestigious events such as the US Open, Wimbledon, and Australian Open, and has even become the exclusive Official Parade Outfitter for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams, with the right to manufacture, distribute, advertise, promote, and sell products in the U.S. which replicate the Parade Outfits and associated leisurewear.

In November 2015, Ralph Lauren stepped down as CEO of the company but stayed on as Chief Creative Officer and Executive Chairman.

The simple boy from the Bronx managed to create, nurture, and grow a small brand into a massive multibillion-dollar business empire. The success of his enterprise saw him become a billionaire businessman (with an estimated net worth of around $7 billion) and one of the richest designers in the fashion industry. He managed to do all this because he had a dream he believed in, a passion for what he did, and the willingness to work hard in order to realize that dream.