If there is one true gawd in the world of men's fashion it is Ralph Lauren. Without Ralph, American menswear as we know it today would not exist. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who has never owned a piece of Ralph Lauren clothing, and that on its own is enough to make one bow at his feet. All that success would make you think that Lauren is satisfied with his accomplishments and is simply coasting into old age, drinking mimosas and riding around shining in Ferarris, but in a recent interview with WWD he seems hungrier than ever. After all, to this day he is still both CEO and Creative Director of his own brand, a rare occurrence for a multi-billion dollar fashion house. Perhaps it's that even 50 years later he hasn't been able to fully shake the classic "neurotic New York Jew" stigma, or maybe it's just that he has trust issues. Whatever the reason, he seems determined to march into the future and continue to build on his legacy. Below are some highlights from the the Q&A.
On why he decided to launch Polo Women's this season:
"When I started Polo I never thought I would go into women’s. I was a young salesman working for a tie company and I just had an idea for the ties and I always had a sense of style and things that I loved. What happened was I made some women’s shirts and I showed them to Bloomingdale’s—they would buy everything, they were supportive. I made the shirts very skinny with the little pony on the cuff. And [Bloomingdale’s] said, 'What else can you do?'"
All of a sudden Blue Label looked like Ralph Lauren’s less-expensive line. It needed an identity. So I thought that this is a good time to do Polo, and that the growth potential was fantastic. I built some men’s stores but I didn’t build men’s and women’s. I didn’t put them together. And that’s why I did it. I felt like I was ignoring a whole business that was sophisticated. The girl who lives downtown, she’s not the mother who lives in Connecticut, she’s a with-it, working girl. The way I’m doing it, it’s hipper.
On still being inspired 50 years after launching Polo:
"It takes more out of me to really come up with something. Now it’s like, 'What does Collection look like? What does Black Label look like? What does Polo look like? What does RRL look like?' I find it exciting and interesting and I find it scary. I worry about it. I worry about it every minute. It’s like having a term paper to do…now it’s pre-fall and pre-spring and regular spring."
On Ralph Lauren's 50th anniversary as a brand:
"I’m going to be married 50 years, too, next year. I don’t know where those years are. I still think I look pretty good...
I don’t want someone to say, 'Oh he’s old hat,' so I keep working. I know it’s coming and people are asking me about it, but at the same time, I don’t know what that means. In a business that is changing and moving and looks for newness, the ability that I’ve always admired, whether it’s the writer or the actor or the singer, I’ve always admired the ones that have moved with the times—and not just have lasted, but that are at the top of their game. I feel that I’m at the top of my game. I don’t feel like I’m old news, I think that I’m new news. Or my news."
On luxury branding:
"You walk into a store and you get the message right away. You walk in that store on Madison Avenue, you know you’re in a classic store, you know you’re in a quality store and you know the prices are going to be higher. The same with when you go to Bergdorf’s—you get the same message. You go into other stores and you know it’s a median. You go to a larger store, you know it’s a mix of a lot of things. But when you want status and class and glamour and you want the voice, you have to say it. There’s also a different way of selling, a different way of working with clients, it’s personalized, it’s mindful. You have to know and build your client."
On Club Monaco and whether or not he's interested in buying other brands:
"As a public company grows, you have to figure out how it grows. You have to move, you have to look to the future, where you are, what Wall Street sees. They want to know where you’re going, what’s your story, what’s your potential, how are you going to grow?
When I bought Club Monaco it was very early in my thought process. It looked like a creative company that was young and a lot of young kids that worked for me at the time were going over there. It’s taken a long time but we’re nurturing it and it’s now looking very good. The question is, will I be looking for more? Yes. Will my eyes be open to other investments that might be interesting? What will work, what won’t work? Will it be designer or not designer? Will it be a hotel or restaurants? I’m opening a restaurant in the Polo store. It’s probably going to be called Polo Bar."
On what he's most proud of:
"The nurturing, the growing and the reaching are very fulfilling in a lot of ways. I enjoy growth. I enjoy the people I work with…
I believe in the substance; I believe my products have integrity. I believe what I design comes from my heart. Knowing my way around the business is not out of a dream. It’s out of experience. My challenge is to always be as good as I can, and know I always have something else to say. If I don’t, then I might have to quit."