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Ralph Lauren: A Journey Through Fashion, Philanthropy, and Controversies

A fashion star was born in the busy borough of the Bronx, New York City, on October 14, 1939. Formerly known as Ralph Lifshitz, Ralph Lauren KBE has now established himself as a household brand, associated with luxury, innovation, and classic elegance. We explore the extraordinary life of this millionaire businessman, philanthropist, and fashion designer from America on this day of his birthday.

Early Life

The story of Ralph Lauren started in the Bronx, where he was born into a family of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants. Due to the constant bullying they experienced in school, young Ralph and his brother, George Poitras Lauren, legally changed their last name from Lifshitz to Lauren. This was a dramatic turn in their lives. Growing up in the Bronx, he was surrounded by future fashion icons like Robert Denning and Calvin Klein as well as a thriving Jewish culture.

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Ralph Lauren Designer



Formation of Ralph Lauren Corporation

Ralph Lauren went through a number of adventures in his profession before starting his own design company. He was a member of the United States Army from 1962 to 1964. Following his release, he worked as a sales assistant for Brooks Brothers for a short time. He spotted a chance to follow his creative vision while working as a salesman for the necktie business Rivetz.

Lauren persuaded Beau Brummell, the president of the tie company, to let him start his own brand when he was just 28 years old. The Ralph Lauren Corporation was established in 1967 with an initial emphasis on men’s ties. Lauren attracted notice right away with his exquisite designs and attention to detail.

The pivotal moment occurred in 1969 when Ralph Lauren’s menswear line was exclusively sold at Bloomingdale’s. Ralph Lauren received its in-store shop as a result of this momentous decision, which revolutionised the business. The iconic cotton mesh Polo shirt featuring the polo player insignia was first released by the Ralph Lauren Corporation in 1972, solidifying the preppy aesthetic as one of Lauren’s defining looks. In addition, he created the costumes for the male casts of “The Great Gatsby” (1974) and “Annie Hall” (1977) starring Diane Keaton and Woody Allen.

Polo Ralph Lauren embroidered-logo Polo Shirt - Farfetch
Polo Ralph Lauren. Courtesy: Farfetch

When Ralph Lauren fragrances for men and women were introduced in 1978, Lauren’s brand went beyond apparel. In 1981, the company’s adventure crossed the Atlantic when it opened the first standalone store for an American designer on London’s New Bond Street.

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Ralph Lauren Perfume

Ralph Lauren Corporation entered the digital era in full in 2007 after launching its website and online store in 2000. Additionally, the business broadened its scope by launching the American Living brand, which was created just for JCPenney. After Stefan Larsson assumed leadership in 2015, Ralph Lauren resigned as CEO but continued in his capacity as executive chairman and chief creative officer.


2014, Racist Advertisement

Ralph Lauren advertisement
Ralph Lauren advertisement controversy. Courtesy: billmoyers

There have been several conflicts throughout Ralph Lauren’s remarkable career. Notably, he’s been under fire for cultural appropriation, especially for using images of Native Americans. He provoked controversy in 2014 when he used vintage photos of Native American males to advertise his clothing business during a holiday marketing campaign. This action was perceived as dehumanising and demeaning, bringing back unpleasant memories of forced cultural assimilation and the taking of native territory.

2022, Mexican Design Plagiarism

Screengrab of the post shared by Mexican leader Beatriz Gutierrez on Instagram accusing Ralph Lauren of copying indigenous Mexican designs.(beatrizgutierrezmuller/ Instagram)
Courtesy: Hindustan Times

Ralph Lauren was accused in 2022 of stealing pre-Hispanic cultures’ artwork and copying indigenous Mexican patterns by Beatriz Gutierrez, the wife of the president of Mexico. Gutierrez credited the Mexican towns of Contla and Saltillo with the design of a Ralph Lauren cardigan that had indigenous themes in an Instagram post. Ralph Lauren conveyed astonishment, stating that they had previously sent out an order to take the merchandise out of their channels. This dispute arises in response to Ralph Lauren’s promise to employ indigenous designs that demonstrate “credit and collaboration.”

 2020, Unauthorized Use of Black Symbols in their Clothing. 

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Demands Ralph Lauren Remove Greek Letters From Its Pants
Courtesy: Black Enterprise

Ralph Lauren apologised in 2020 for putting the Greek emblems of the historically black fraternity Phi Beta Sigma on a pair of trousers that cost more than $300. The unapproved use of their trademarks shocked and appalled the fraternity. Ralph Lauren stopped selling the trousers after referring to them as an “oversight”. The episode is part of a string of racial faux pas committed by high-profile fashion houses in the past few years, ranging from Burberry’s contentious hoodie to Gucci’s blackface jumper.

Respecting many cultures and histories is essential, and these incidents serve as a reminder of the need for more cultural sensitivity in the fashion business, where the inappropriate use of Black and Native American symbols has been all too common.


Ralph Lauren’s career path is evidence of his inventiveness, passion for fashion, and spirit of entrepreneurship. Even with all of the controversy that has surrounded him, his influence is still seen as a timeless representation of American creativity and fashion. Despite turning 84 years old, his impact on the fashion industry is still very much felt.

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