In case you have been living under a rock somewhere, it may come as a surprise that Ralph Lauren, the company, turned 40 this year. What’s really surprising is that at one point in time there was no Ralph Lauren; kind of hard to imagine really. Lauren created the concepts of lifestyle marketing, aspirational customers, and with the opening of the Polo Mansion, total immersion product presentation. No other designer has to his extent, actually become his brand. While many are closely identified with their labels, Ralph quite literally is Polo, Ralph Lauren, Purple Label, RRL, and Rugby to name just a few. That his company has so remade the retailing and luxury lifestyle landscape in only 40 years is the really amazing part. If you think about it, he didn’t really hit his retailing stride until the mid 1980s. That makes it even more impressive.
Lauren has been busy publicly celebrating his anniversary and I for one don’t blame him. Those of you who are regular readers of my blog OffTheCuffDC will recognize my particular affection for Mr. Lauren. For this I do not apologize. People are endlessly fascinated by him and his company. More than any other brand, Polo/Ralph Lauren invites you to live inside its world: wear its clothes, clean up with its soap, splash on its cologne, sleep on its sheets in its bed, decorate your house with its paints, and eat in its restaurant. Now, after decades of relative mystery, Ralph Lauren the man is opening up the doors a bit.
With his new enormous now coffee table book, “Ralph Lauren,” virtually every collection and associated marketing campaign is given the chance to shine alongside a retrospective of his own life. Additionally, the Discovery Channel recently ran a fascinating documentary on Ralph Lauren’s vintage automobile collection: “The Ralph Lauren Car Collection: Speed, Style & Beauty.”
Considered to be one of the finest of its kind in the world, this collection encompasses many marquee names – Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedes, Bugatti – but the quality and stylistic breadth of the cars is staggering. Restored to a level that in some cases exceeds their original showroom quality, his cars track the development of the automobile not only as transportation, but as art and social elegance.
The hour-long exploration of the collection examines how it came to be, the development of the obligatory companion book, and how his cars have influenced Ralph Lauren the designer. Lauren also graced the covers of recent Men’s Vogue, Fortune, and Town and Country magazines.
Another legendary collection of Lauren’s pulls at my soul: his assemblage of watches which range from vintage Rolexes to a one-of-a-kind collection within a collection of Panerai Italian military watches. Watches in particular are intensely personal items that convey a true sense of individual style. A collection like Lauren’s is in many ways a mirror of his personality and certainly seems to accurately reflect his obsession with quality, purpose, style, detail, and history.
This past March Ralph Lauren and the Richemont Group, owners of such luxury brands as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Mont Blanc, IWC, and Alfred Dunhill, signed a deal to create The Polo Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Company. The 50/50 joint venture will design, manufacture, and distribute products through Polo boutiques and exclusive high-end jewelry stores. It seems that Mr. Lauren is ready to add his own creations to his personal museum.
By assembling these fascinating collections, Lauren is becoming a curator of historic touchstones that define luxury and elegance. While some may see this as a homage to conspicuous consumption or a celebration of indulgent decadence, I look at it very differently. Watches and cars, clothes and shoes, bags and furniture; these are the things that people use to define and identify themselves the world over. They are expressions of personality and elevate functional objects to the level of craftsmanship.
Ralph Lauren is consciously preserving the history of practical elegance. He also uses his collections for personal and professional inspiration; think of them as a database of style from which new Polo creations evolve.
Look around your own life; your home, your closet, your dresser, your briefcase. What daily objects can you say are unique and truly important to you? If for example you have a mug full of pens on your desk but only one or two vintage roller balls actually mean something to you, get rid of the others. Use the things that matter and don’t hold on to stuff just because you have it.
While most of us do not have his financial resources, take a page from Ralph’s playbook and don’t just accept what you can get; don’t keep what happens to be around just because it’s there. Rather, select the things in your life and regularly edit. Create your own personal collections and you will find more value, financial and personal, in fewer but cherished possessions.