If there’s one brand that epitomises American fashion of the last 50 years, it’s Polo Ralph Lauren. It’s the brand that has owned and redefined the preppy New England look that has become a staple of the country’s fashion and style – and is about as symbolic of the American dream as it can get.
It started in the early 1960s with a young high school student from the Bronx, New York – a certain Ralph Lifshitz. Born to parents from the Soviet Union, Ralph Lauren (as he would later change his name to) would spend his spare hours at school selling handmade ties to fellow students. Two years in the U.S. Army reserves and a stint of evening classes at Brooklyn’s Baruch College later, Lauren became a neckwear salesman at Brooks Brothers.
It was here that the Ralph Lauren look began to take shape. The Ivy League aesthetic of Brooks Brothers rubbed off on the designer – and offered a completely different look to the slim, sharp and fitted suited look of 1960s New York. He began designing his own neckwear, eventually landing himself a place at boutique Beau Brummell, where he created and sold pieces from a drawer in their Empire State Building showroom.
By 1967 the Ralph Lauren brand was officially born, and began selling in stores around Manhattan. The embroidered pony and polo player logo would soon become one of the most iconic in American fashion, with the brand’s clean cut style and aspirational status becoming one of the most influential on future designers.
One of the great things about Polo Ralph Lauren is that it can be adopted by people of different ages, styles and backgrounds. As well as the Hamptons-holidaying banker, this is a brand that has been heavily picked up by streetwear fans since the ‘90s – just think of Kanye West and his pastel-coloured Polo Ralph Lauren polo shirts in his College Dropout days of the early noughties, or Pharrell Williams and his love for that red ‘Suisse’ gilet – showing that this is a versatile brand well and truly open to interpretation.
At the end of April 2016, the brand further cemented itself as America’s brand when Polo Ralph Lauren released the looks team U.S.A. will be wearing for the opening and closing ceremonies at this year’s Olympics in Rio. White shorts, striped belts and shirts worn over stripe t-shirts make up the look, with boat shoes for good measure. Truly timeless, there’s no doubt that Polo Ralph Lauren will continue to have such a tremendous effect on American – and worldwide – fashion for years to come.
Words by Angharad Jones