Born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx to a family of Belarussian and Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants, he is the youngest of four siblings. He grew up wanting to become either an artist or a basketball player. He attended day school followed by the Manhattan Talmudical Academy and went to Baruch College at the City University of New York, where he studied business but dropped out after two years. He settled on a career in selling ties, at the Allied Stores.
Ralph Lauren started his career in fashion as a tie salesman and reigned supreme in the art of marketing. A decade after working at the Allied Stores, he started his own company, calling it Polo Fashions Inc, and had an extraordinary ability of storytelling. He himself is known to say that he doesn’t design a dress but designs dreams, and this was reflected in the way he conjured up aspirational images via his marketing campaign, or stores that reflected an aristocratic quality and a lifestyle one aspired to live. He had training and experience in retail and had an inherent understanding of the customer. His clothes were chic, classic, desirable and very wearable. With each collection, he created a lifestyle that his customers wanted to buy into. Each collection has had recurring themes that became the hallmark of the Ralph Lauren brand: the all-American family, polo player, the Ivy League student, the English aristocrat, and the prairie pioneer. His design philosophy has been about creating a lifestyle, and he extended that into his business, where the Ralph Lauren brand can be found in luggage, eyewear, homeware, underwear, sportswear, and tableware.
The iconic Ralph Lauren Poloshirts. Photo source: Ralph Lauren
Key Success Factors:
His key success factor has been his understanding of how retail works, what customers ultimately want to buy, and after identifying a clear need in the market, he has had the ability to meet that need with a product that signified not only a desirable lifestyle but was also timeless. It was not about trends, but about longevity.