NEW YORK — At the beginning of his career, Ralph Lauren debated naming his brand Basketball, rather than Polo, due to his affinity for the sport. As a Bronx native, he had never been to an actual polo match, but he decided, fortuitously, to go with the grander name.
“He had this vision of this really beautiful life that he could never live and never thought he could live, because there was no money in the fashion industry and there was no such thing as a designer,” remembered David Lauren, executive vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications at Ralph Lauren Corp. — and Ralph’s younger son — at the third annual Executive Marketing Summit, hosted by NYSE Euronext, Interbrand and The New York Times, on Tuesday at the New York Stock Exchange.
To this day, that founding ethos permeates the company’s strategy and corporate culture. “We are not about selling a single shirt. What we do at this company better than any brand in the world is we tell stories. We’re making movies. Ralph Lauren is in the entertainment business,” explained Lauren, who was interviewed onstage by the Times’ Dealbook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin, who is also coanchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We’re telling stories through a line of clothing that conjures up images of the American West or conjures up images of safari or thoroughbred ponies. It’s not about the shirt.” RELATED STORY: Ralph Lauren RTW Spring 2013 >>
In fact, Ralph Lauren designed safari clothes for decades before actually going on a safari. “He didn’t go on safari until two years ago,” said the younger Lauren. “When he got to safari, he’s like ‘This isn’t quite what I thought a safari was.’ ”
Similarly, Ralph Lauren has designed collections inspired by Spain and Vietnam without traveling to those countries. The designer and his family may now own the sprawling Double RL ranch in Colorado, but his vision of the West is still cinematic rather than reality-based. “His interpretation of the American West is his interpretation of what it was, or should be and never really was,” said Lauren.
Of the wide range of price points and labels in the Ralph Lauren universe, Lauren dubbed them “different movies coming out of the same studio,” pointing out that “Warner Brothers makes great gangster films and they make great romance films.”
Despite the reach and global appeal of Ralph Lauren — a single issue of the New York Post has shown pictures of Prince Charles and a Brooklyn-born rapper wearing the brand, pointed out Lauren — the company strives to imbue all of its various labels and products with an aspirational quality. “As big and mass as you may think Ralph Lauren is, it’s very boutique,” said Lauren, emphasizing that each of its stores is tailored to a specific neighborhood, aesthetic and clientele. “If you look at any one of our brands, the quality goes to every brand and every price point.”
China presents fertile opportunities for Ralph Lauren, as the company does less than 10 percent of its business there now — a much smaller percentage than competing luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Ralph Lauren bought back its China license two years ago, and in the past month has opened six stores in the Asia-Pacific region, including two in China and units in Macau, Tokyo, Hong Kong and South Korea.
“In China, they might not respond to the same magazine ads. They might want to do gigantic automated video billboards, and that’s exciting. There will be tons of new technology,” said Lauren, adding that Ralph Lauren has been a pioneer and early adapter in a host of new technology platforms, including luxury e-commerce, mobile commerce, QR codes, online interstitial advertising, digital kiosk shopping and even “4-D” light and scent shows.
Asked by Sorkin for any lessons learned from the summer uproar over the U.S. Olympic uniforms made by Ralph Lauren in China, Lauren acknowledged the industry faces enormous challenges in reviving domestic apparel manufacturing. “I think people expected that everything would be made in America and they realized it’s a lot more complicated in a global ecosystem. It takes an entire industry to get together to get product made in America,” he explained. “We’re going to do what we can to lead the charge and the change to try to bring some of it back. But it’s more complicated than people think to get the volume, the craftsmanship and the details at prices that are affordable.”
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion
Eighty degree temperatures and outdoor installations at the annual Art Basel Miami Beach called for bright, elevated beachwear. See more street style pictures on WWD.com. #theyarewearing #ABMB (📷: @lifeinreverie)
Following September’s emotional tribute to her brother Gianni, Donatella Versace wanted to bring the spring show’s deep sense of intimacy to her @versace_official pre-fall collection. Donatella found inspiration in Versace Palazzo in Milan and from Gianni’s opulent apartment. Archival patterns and new motifs were splashed on silk shirtdresses and fitted jersey frocks. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com. #wwdfashion
Demna Gvasalia continues to shake up the Paris fashion calendar — and experiment with new runway timetables for his @vetements_official brand. WWD has learned that Vetements plans to stage its next coed show for the fall 2018 season on January 19 during Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital. Details about the timing and venue have not been confirmed — stay tuned on WWD.com to catch the latest. #wwdnews (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
@zacposen's go-to holiday gift? Cookies! "I'll usually bake cookies and send them as a gift," said the designer, who recently released his cookbook "Cooking With Zac: Recipes from Rustic to Refined." Get the recipe for his Brown Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies via link in bio 🍪🍪🍪 #wwdeye #cookingwithzac
For @monsemaison’s pre-fall 2018 collection, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim honed in on the brand’s many signatures — men’s wear, which was tweaked and feminized through deconstruction, proportion play and lots of bare shoulders. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
On Friday night, @yohjiyamamotoofficial received the Design for Asia Lifetime Achievement Award in Hong Kong. The 75-year-old designer has been celebrated for many years and is best known for his dark and avant-garde tailoring. “In my long career, in design, architecture, [I’ve been to] so many parties, this is the very first time that I have such a warm feeling, I really appreciate this,” Yamamoto said. #wwdfashion (📷: @dominiquemaitre)