The news that Ralph Lauren will be stepping down as CEO and easing into retirement instantly brought to mind the stack of colourful polo shirts in my husband’s closet.
Then I thought of the stack of colourful polo shirts in my sons’ closets. The fact that some of these polo shirts have the label Polo Ralph Lauren in them, and some do not, is neither here nor there. Lauren is probably the most ripped off “designer” in history.
I say “designer” because though Lauren may call himself that, in reality he is a brilliant businessman with an eye, ambition, and the chutzpah to make it all into something. In one of the greatest makeovers ever, Ralph Lifshitz, the son of Jewish immigrants from Belarus, became Ralph Lauren.
He had grown up in a deeply religious family, but preferred to dress like the prepsters in his neighbourhood in button down shirts and penny loafers. He quickly outgrew his job as a tie salesman, launching his business with a name suggested by his brother for the status it implied: Polo. A polo player became his logo appearing on shirts, crew necks and khakis for men, women and kids. His stores were decorated like British mansions, and his ads featured models driving vintage cars, riding thoroughbreds or relaxing on yachts.
Lauren’s understanding of branding is deep in his bones. He offers the promise of a better life, if you just buy his shirt.
One of my favourite family vacation photos is one I took of my Polo clad husband and boys in front of the Ralph Lauren Restaurant in Chicago. We love the crab cakes and burgers as much as the mahogany-panelled walls.
In a city of many excellent dining spots, RL is our go-to. It feels rich, cozy and safe. And when we are done we often meander next door to the world’s largest Polo store, to buy more shirts, khakis and loafers. To feel rich, cozy and safe.
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