Ralph Lauren: 40 Years of American Beauty
There’s no doubt that Ralph Lauren’s designs are distinctly American. And there is also no doubt that his designs represent a very specific type of American: Americans with money. In his ads he likes to show models straddling wooden fences, standing in wheat fields, leaning up against old tractors. But who runs a combine harvester through a corn field while wearing $325 jeans? (Most RL jeans for men cost about $115; the Willoughby Workwear Jean sells for $325–I guess so rich kids can look like they’ve just come from working in a machine shed, as opposed to sleeping off a night with Nicky Hilton.) So when someone says that Ralph Lauren is very American, I think, sure–that’s how he markets himself. He uses images of old barns with peeling paint and people wearing cowboy hats and chewing the end of a stalk of grass to plant that idea in our heads: Ralph Lauren = American.
I have to say that I have nothing against Ralph Lauren. I like his designs, and if I had the money, I would wear them. I think what is truly American about Ralph Lauren is not his designs, although they are classic and timeless, but his story. Ralph Lauren grew up in the Bronx, a son of Jewish immigrants. (His real last name was Lifschitz; can’t really blame him for changing it.) He worked after school to earn money to by himself stylish suits, and broke into the fashion business by selling ties. Now, 40 years later, he is a worldwide icon and a shining example of the American dream.
His fashion show this past week was out of this world. Every design looked like something out of an old movie…”Sabrina,” “My Fair Lady”….”National Velvet” (are people actually going to wear those horse jockey silks on the street, with the pants and boots and everything? It’s so hard to tell where haute ends and couture begins…) They’re the kind of things anyone would want to wear, not just people who want to be chic at the expense of their dignity. So if Ralph Lauren is the quintessential American designer, you have to give him credit–he represents us well.
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