Illustration from Karl Lagerfeld

WWD asked fashion industry leaders: What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the words “Ralph Lauren?”

This story first appeared in the October 26, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.



Joseph Altuzarra
● “I think of Ralph as true American heritage. Even though the Ralph Lauren brand only began in 1966, he has managed to draw from every aspect of American culture and build a brand that is synonymous with American style. In a lot of ways, he has defined American style for the United States and abroad.”

Thom Browne
● “Icon. No one will ever do what Ralph has done. What I respect the most is the pure and clear vision he had from the very beginning. And how that was translated across everything he has done and will continue to do.”

Tory Burch
● “Iconic.”

Maria Grazia Chiuri
● “For me, Ralph Lauren is the iconic American designer. Because of his origins, the path he’s forged, and the success he’s had, he is the epitome of the American Dream that represents the country’s very spirit. His aesthetic is rooted in a mixing of cultures that he has instinctively distilled to create what we identify today as the American lifestyle.”

Francisco Costa
● “All-American. The American Dream.”

Carolina Herrera
● “I have total admiration for Ralph; he is fabulous. What he has done for American fashion makes him our global ambassador!”

Tommy Hilfiger
● “Ralph set the standard in our industry, a true genius, a pioneer, a global icon. I have nothing but praise and respect for what he has built.”

Marc Jacobs
● “Ralph Lauren IS American fashion!”

Norma Kamali
● “Ralph Lauren is what you think of when you think of American fashion. He represents, through his authentic vision, an excellence in everything he does. He is not motivated by trends but by quality, and integrity in each and every product. Most of all, he is the most genuine, generous, great guy that our industry could ever hope for. Ralph is an example of what success can look like.”

Donna Karan
● “He’s the guy from the Bronx, but he’s the guy from the world. His family is always so important to him, but so is his vision. And all of his people — it really, really is a family. It’s a family that has vision and future but his family is always what it was about and it was a projection of the family. I think he accomplished all of my dreams. I also want to talk about his philanthropy and his passion for Harlem and health care. He’s done it so respectfully, it’s never been kind of obvious. He’s always been there, when we started — Seventh on Sale or Super Saturday. Listen, I think Ralph is a f—— — pardon the expression — genius. What he has accomplished — it’s a designer’s dream.

Karen Katz
● “The two words that come to mind when I think of Ralph Lauren are ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘brand.’ Ralph is the essence of the American spirit. He defined entrepreneurism. While building his company, he carefully cultivated a powerful brand based on his vision and a lifestyle. Our industry owes him so much as he educated all of us on keeping a balance between creating a dream for the customer to aspire to and making clothes people wanted to wear. Congratulations on receiving the John B. Fairchild award.”

Calvin Klein
● “Ralph Lauren has set the standard for great design and an American success story for everyone to follow. Because he and I go way back, to when we were growing up, I have such great respect for his achievements.”

Michael Kors
● “Ralph is the ultimate cinematic storyteller with an eye for timeless style and enduring elegance. He is a true American legend.”

Derek Lam
● “Ralph Lauren is an American master. To me, he is like Irving Thalberg, the Hollywood producer who ushered in the golden era of American movies in the Twenties and Thirties, and Irving Berlin, the dean of the great American songbook. Ralph Lauren has stamped his impression of the American spirit in popular culture in such a way that his vision has acquired the mythical dimensions of what we all collectively consider as American taste, aspirations and lifestyle. My own work is about defining the American style, and so I have tremendous admiration for Ralph, and a huge debt to his vision and talent.”

Mark Lee
● “Master brand-builder. American powerhouse.”

Terry J. Lundgren
● “Ralph Lauren is one of the most extraordinary men I have ever known. He is a self-made fashion icon who has branded generations with his distinguished sense of style. Ralph is a confident businessman who has maintained a vision for fashion that reflects the lifestyle he and his family live and others aspire to achieve. His passion for his work is matched by his love for his family and his many interests, including his extraordinary collection of performance automobiles. Whatever Ralph takes an interest in, he does so with a goal toward perfection…and he eventually gets there! I am grateful for our many years of collaboration and friendship. In addition to setting the standard for continuous improvement, consistent excellence in a challenging industry and amazing resiliency, he is also a good guy! Cheers to Ralph!”

Tomas Maier
● The first word that comes to mind is Achievement. He became an adjective in his own right. I admire the consistency and the vision. The cars, oh the cars. The appreciation for great design is right up my alley. He’s my neighbor in Montauk and I must say, he has the most beautiful property in town. I have enormous respect for the man.

Stella McCartney
● “Ralph has always been consistent…as a father, grandfather, husband, icon and friend. He invented the phrase ‘lifestyle,’ and when you say ‘Ralph,’ you know what you’re getting…something rare and incredibly hard to achieve in any industry. He has mastered high and low and protected his legacy…he is gold dust sprinkled over cinema, music, art, furniture…the all-American Dream all rolled up in one big fashion house that we all can see ourselves living in. His consistency is rare and harder to do than it looks. He isn’t trying to be anything he is not and we believe every single thing he does because of that.… A true one-off.…I consider it a true blessing to have known him all my life.”

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez
● “Ralph is hands down the most iconic American designer. No one even comes close. He’s the only designer that we still feel starstruck by when we’re around him, and he is the only designer who ever sent us a personal congratulatory note after we won the CFDA Designer of the Year Award. We still have that note framed. The mythic world he created around himself and his brand is the stuff of legend.”

Isaac Mizrahi
● “Ralph is like the greatest, right? Because it’s so not pretentious; it’s the most pure form of American clothing. It’s beautifully integrated with the past. Before I and my generation were sampling from other designers, Ralph was sampling from the fabulous American [past] — like an American song book. All of us have Ralph Lauren complexes, we do. Try and get near a Western theme. Try and get near a button-down collar. Try and get near a polo shirt. Too late, darling. Literally every time you get near a polo shirt, you are referring to Ralph Lauren.”

Marc Metrick
● “Where would our industry be without Ralph? He smartly sold the world on a luxurious lifestyle and transformed his name into one of the most recognizable brands across the globe. Fashion designer, skilled businessman, generous philanthropist — he is a titan of the industry and a true American leader.”

Pierpaolo Piccioli
● “The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Ralph Lauren is that he is a sort of ‘fashion novelist.’ He shapes reality to his own will, creating the most poetic vision of America one could have. I read once that his son said the Ralph Lauren company is “not about fabric, it’s about dreams,” and I couldn’t agree more. He painted the perfect America that I always dreamt of through movies and literature. Reading [Ernest] Hemingway, [F. Scott] Fitzgerald, [Walt] Whitman, I had this vision of a magnificent landscape, green prairie, romantic cowboys, the preppy look of the Hamptons…and he knew how to transform this imaginary world into clothes, into something desirable, that makes you feel part of this incredible and poetic novel about the all-American Dream.”

Miuccia Prada
● “Every time I see or think about Ralph Lauren, I am deeply impressed by the exceptional talent of portraying and narrating so specifically a part of this world.”

Narciso Rodriguez
● “Ralph’s brilliant clarity of message and his consistency created what the Ralph Lauren brand is today. I admire him
so much for being able to create a business that means ‘America’ globally.”

Joshua Schulman
● “‘Modern.’ While many people would describe Ralph Lauren as classic, traditional or preppy, he has always been resolutely modern in his approach to business. He was the first to transform the classification-oriented men’s business into a lifestyle. He was the first to understand the impact of cinema and celebrity on popular style culture when he did the costumes for ‘Annie Hall.’ He was the first to open branded stores — first a network of franchisees starting with Jerry Magnin on Rodeo Drive — and then the first to transform from a franchise and license business model to one of direct control. He was the first American brand to become truly international. And, more recently, when all of us have been talking about the need for experiences, he has created the ultimate manifestation of his brand (and the ultimate Reuben sandwich) at the Polo Bar. Once again, he is in the vanguard. The industry has been buzzing about buy-now-see-now for over a year. Ralph didn’t talk about it. He simply did it and transformed Madison Avenue into a catwalk and his flagship into an insta-shop.”

Tony Spring
● “A tastemaker who made the American Dream a lifestyle that people could aspire to live.”

Anna Sui
● “All-American. You envision everything about America that we treasure. Everything that is traditionally American in our heritage plus all that is unique.”

Sidney Toledano
● “Ralph Lauren is the first American designer to translate his creative vision of the American lifestyle into a real retail and fantastic merchandising concept. I will always remember my first visit in the [Rhinelander] Mansion on Madison Avenue. I was so seduced by the concept, the presentation of the products and the level of services of the salespeople. I could not resist, I had a crush for so many pieces of the collection that day.”

Dries Van Noten
● “Bruce Webber photo shoots in 1980. The beauty of his distillation of the essence of America and the power of that image.”

Diane von Furstenberg
● “Ralph Lauren…the brand: American chic by excellence. Whether upstate mansion, far-west fantasy…modern Gatsby! Ralph Lauren…the man: Kind, reserved loving family man.”

Alexander Wang
● “Ralph is a national treasure, the same way the White House or Mount Rushmore are American icons. Whenever anyone (doesn’t matter where they are from or what their background is) is ever asked about what America looks like, Ralph is the first name on everyone’s tongue. Now that’s an achievement.”

Vera Wang
● So many of the codes such as Madrid, seersucker, polo shirts, khakis, loafers — all of that vocabulary, Ralph brought it to the world. He made people realize how unique American style was, which was then emulated by many Italians and French.
I think that American sense of style, he always was able to come back and renew it and refresh it and make us see it with new eyes. Then he moved on to the American West, all of the things that make up part of our culture that is America. I don’t think any other person has made that profound and that authentic a contribution.”

Jason Wu
● “To me, Ralph Lauren is the quintessential American fashion icon. Mr. Lauren’s distinct and precise vision on branding has been very inspiring for me and most influential on the role that American fashion plays on the international stage. I think he has paved the way for our generation of American designers, and I have nothing but the greatest respect for this work.”

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