Whenever I run into old high school friends or fraternity brothers, and I tell them that I’m working for Ralph Lauren, the response is always the same,
“Of course you are.”
When I was 13 years-old my mother bought me a pale orange oxford shirt with a polo player on the left chest. I wore that shirt everywhere, and with everything. I knew that it was more than just a piece of clothing …. it was a way of life. That perfect American life I’d seen advertised between the pages of Vanity Fair magazine – Bruce Webber images of guys riding horses, and families lounging on boats or playing touch football on the overly green lawn of a Hampton’s estate. It was from that moment on, I only wanted to wear shirts with four letters on the label….
P. O. L. O.
The walls of my bedroom were plastered with Ralph Lauren ads torn from Esquire and GQ. I didn’t save my baby-sitting money for a car like my friends were doing – I never really wanted one. I spent every dollar I had in the boy’s Polo department at Bloomingdale’s on bright-colored knits. I needed twice as many because I wore them layered two at a time, both collars flipped towards the heavens.
My first cologne; Polo green. I spritzed my sheets, my school locker, my Guinea pig.
In my teens, while most of my friends were experimenting with goth and new wave styles, I was in the full throes of W.A.S.P. I didn’t wear Reebok’s, my shoe of choice was a basic white tennis shoe with Polo on the heel. Socks, if I was wearing them, had a little man on a horse on each side.
I went through fraternity RUSH in cuffed white shorts and a navy cardigan sweater with big brass buttons. I was the frat guy who wore madras ties to keggers – madras that I meticulously matched to the pink and green in the fraternity crest on my navy blazer – the navy blazer I wore with everything. I mean, is there such a thing as a “navy blazer phase”? Because I had one.
Who made my first adult suit? You guessed it – Ralph Lauren. I had to put it on lay-a-way to afford it. It was a double-breasted, navy blue pinstripe number with peak lapels. I felt like Cary Grant every time I wore it.
But my passion wasn’t limited to just clothes anymore; there was the comforter that looked like a faded map of the Sarah desert, and chinathat could have come from a 1940’s roadside diner, candles that smelled like the ocean, serape beach towels and paint that mimicked the texture of suede …. it never stopped. I surrounded myself with the timeless designs of everything Ralph Lauren. He was the first fashion designer to produce anything other than clothes.
Lately, I have been hoarding Polo “conversational” ties from the 90s. Those are the ones with pictures of fishermen, or race cars, or maybe just one big cowboy boot emblazoned across them; a little reminiscent of the ties gangsters in 1940s movies would wear. I scour eBay for styles I’ve never seen before, or different color ways of old favorites …. or what I like to call “back ups”. (That means it’s one I already have) Jamie rolls his eyes every time I receive a soft, pillowy envelope in the mail. He knows it’s another never-to-be-worn, used tie.
Relax. At least I’m not buying crystal meth.
Do I wear any of the 150-200 I’ve amassed? No, not really. But I’m not parting with any either.
I’m not that natty of a dresser anymore.
In my later years I go more for comfort; overly washed western shirts, mended jeans and espadrilles is pretty much how I roll. Still faithful to my favorite fashion designer though. After all, I shop in one of his stores about 60 hours a week – I’ve been working in Ralph Lauren creative services since 2004.
I do wear a tie about twice a year. (I average about one funeral and one Broadway show per.)
I’ve recently discovered the importance of having a shirt with a front pocket. I used to scoff at the old men who would shuffle into Macy’s and complain about every shirt that was sans front pocket. Now I enjoy a place to stash my readers, and notes I’ve jotted down and medication that I have to wait and take with food. As I sit on an airplane writing these very words I’m wearing a shirt with TWO front pockets. One holds my phone and the other; my glasses, a wad of napkins, and the Visa card I intend to “quick draw” and pay for my bloody Mary. (The wad of napkins is for dabbing the tomato juice out of my mustache)
I’m on a flight returning from New York City ….. with a carefully rolled tie in my carry on.
No, I wasn’t attending a musical, or even a funeral.
That 13-year-old boy that I once was would never believe where I’ve been ….. at the Ralph Lauren 50th anniversary fashion show.
I opened my email Thursday afternoon and saw this…
Honestly, I stopped breathing.
Of the 200 seats available for the 50th Anniversary fashion show, a small handful were raffled off to RL employees (of which there are currently about 30,000) and I was chosen.
I got a golden ticket.
This was the day before the show. 27 hours before.
I have never bought a plane ticket that fast in my life….
The show was being held at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park – one of my absolute favorite New York landmarks and a favorite of Mr. Lauren’s as well.
40 years ago, Woody Allen filmed Annie Hall here. Not only did the movie bring Diane Keaton an Oscar, it also introduced her to the young Ralph Lauren who created the “Annie Hall” Look for her character; integrating Men’s sportswear and ties. The two have been dear friends ever since and Dianne Keaton still dresses that way.
The platform above the fountain was the opening reception with 14 huge monitors streaming highlights of previous runway shows. “Ralph Lauren’s Greatest Hits” you might say. It was just spectacular.
I hear that this digital experience will be touring to a few stores around the country over the next few months.
My dates for the evening were my beautiful coworkers; Trinh, Bozena (my other Polish mother), and Becca.
Trinh and Becca are “senior sellers” and have already been to a few fashion shows. Bo has been working for us for 27 years now, and like me, this is her first show too.
Mr Lauren’s people filled the pedestrian tunnel under 72nd St transverse with patch-worked Persian rugs and pale green velvet benches. I’ve been in this tunnel before …. but I don’t remember it being nearly this beautiful.
I was honestly content to just stand in the back and watch the show but Bo grabbed my hand and lead me to a bench at the bottom of the steps and across from a row of reserved seats.
That’s the back of my head there. You can see Bo’s red hair in front of me.
I also managed to photo bomb this pic.
After a few minutes, Ralph’s oldest son, Andrew, appeared and sat in one of those reserved seats.
“Bo, I’ll bet we’re sitting across from the Lauren family”
Sure enough, within a few minutes, Mr Lauren’s children and their spouses were assembled almost directly across from us. I’ve known all of their faces for decades. His lovely wife Ricky, in a shimmery gold pant suit, was the last to arrive.
The lights dimmed, Dion and Paul Simon started singing New York is My Home, and the show began.
As the models slowly descended the stairs I realized that these looks were inspired by my favorite of all Mr. Lauren’s muses …. the bohemian girl. Anything goes with this chick. If her baggy cardigan is too loose, she wraps an old leather belt around it. She likes these kinds of contrasts and would confidently wear a baseball shirt with a beaded skirt or a plaid flannel work shirt over an evening gown. There were rich velvets and brocades in jewel tones mixed with buttery leathers and what could have been heirloom chandelier earrings.
I was really in for a treat, because for the very first time the high-fashion models on the Ralph Lauren catwalk were accompanied by men in Double RL. (The vintage inspired men’s line named after the Lauren’s cattle ranch in Telluride Colorado; The RRL Ranch) I recognized a couple of the guys as RRL collectors that I stalk on Instagram. There’s not much advertising for this line and because the pieces are made in such limited quantities there’s a cult-like demand for them on the secondary market. Most of my favoritewardrobe pieces are RRL.
As I sat there listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden echoing through the space, my eyes started to swell.
This was really happening.
I was really here.
The show ended with Gigi Hadid slowly climbing the stairs in a strapless crazy quilt-like gown with an American flag carefully entwined in the patchwork. Pure genius.
But Ralph wasn’t done yet,
Neil Diamond belted out Forever in Blue Jeans and then there were children, and couples, whole familys even, walking down the steps. It was the Polo line, mixed and reimagined as street wear. There was something for everyone here, young and old. All the preppy staples were still there; tweed sport coats, plaid flannels, and club ties – and of course the heritage school pieces like baseball jackets, rugby shirts and Letterman sweaters – as well as Ralph’s icons; the American flag sweater and the Polo bear. (They even worked in one of those vintage graphic ties I love) It was the Polo I grew up with …. have been living with …. only more relaxed.
This was Ralph’s America.
The models – a few I recognized as friends and family of other employees, even Pierce Brosnan’s son, Paris – well over 100 at this point, gathered on the steps. As the last notes of Neil Diamond’s America was playing the crowd parted and Mr. Ralph Lauren made his way down to the front.
There he was.
The man whose name was printed along the waistband of my underwear.
We all leapt to our feet and he humbly thanked us for supporting him these past 50 years. He was just a Jewish kid from the Bronx who knew nothing about fashion and wanted to make pretty ties …. and now he was all of this.
I lost it and cried some more.
I never imagined that I would get this opportunity one day……
I’m genuinely honored that I can use my talents to help promote Ralph Lauren.
A man, that I truly do believe in.
Of course I do, he’s been a part of me for more than three-fourths of my life
Happy 50th anniversary Mr Lauren.
If you wanna see the show, and you should, it’s available to watch now at RalphLauren.com.
“Am I buying anything from the show?” you may ask.
You better believe it, I’m ordering these yellow cords with the writing all over them.
Wow! Just wow! SO enjoyed this post – thanks.
I’m so happy for you to have experienced this, and i dont even know you! Wonderful story.
Thank you and trust me, If you did happen to know me personally you would have no doubt that this was the biggest thrill of my life. I’m glad that I can share that experience with everyone.
You write the best posts and really bring the reader to where you are! I am amazed and so proud of you! This to was my life and my sons. Clothes only from Bloomingdales. Those were the days. I thank you for sharing with us and bringing us all to this wonderful event with you! I too am setting here crying…happy…amazing tears for you! I can just, feel your joy! Thank you my friend!
I’m so glad you enjoyed my story…… and now your making me cry…..
James, this was an absolutely wonderful read. I am so glad you got to experience this and so well deserved. And you know I noticed some of the Indian blanket designs. Lol. So happy for you to a have made this trip.
Thanks Gwen. It was the opportunity of a lifetime…that’s for sure.
This wins my “biggest smile of the day, week, month…maybe even year”…….So wonderful! Congratulations! xo
Thanks Tim….. It really meant more than I could adequately put into words….
WOW! I am blown away! Incredible post! Loved every word and photo! AMAZING! Thrilled (and envious!) you got to attend. I, too, was instantly enthralled when first introduced to Ralph Lauren designs in clothing. I have a rainbow sweater vest hanging in my closet that I NEVER WEAR but would not part with for MONEY!!! My size has changed up and down over the years and there is never a time when his clothing does not fit me perfectly for the size I happen to be at the moment. I hawk thrift stores and yard sales hoping to stumble upon something wonderful, and have done so, several times. His Ralph Lauren Home line ALWAYS has me swooning! Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories and your current thrill!
Thanks Vickie…so glad you liked it. I was driving by a garage sale a few years ago and thought I spotted something “Navajo-ish”. It was a Polo Country vest from the early 90’s…and they wanted $15 for it. I snatched it up immediately. It “kinda” fits….I’ll never wear it anyway….But it sure looks great hanging on my peg rack. (btw, I’ve seen that same one on eBay for around $400)
Now that I see pics of your loves, I will keep an eye peeled for things you might love as well. The thrill of the hunt and ALL THAT!!! 😉
Oh my God…you have me with tears running down my face! THANK YOU…THANK YOU for your post, incredible description of the show and the fantastic pictures!!!! I felt like I was a butterfly sitting on your shoulder for this spectacular show. My first piece from Polo came from Goodwill when I was in college. I wore it till it fell apart. Really thrilled for you that you were picked to attend…WOW!!!!!!! TRIPLE WOW!!!!! 🎉🎉🎉
Thanks Kathleen. I’m a huge Goodwill shopper too. And I score old Polo pieces all the time. I still can’t believe that I won either. When I checked in at the door…..I was waiting for them to tell me it was some kind of mistake…..but it wasn’t. YYYeeeahhh.
Absolutely love the way you write Sean. Such an awesome story. That little store across from campus near Paddle Tramps was my introduction to the beautiful “Conversational Ties” you speak of, and honestly you are the one that introduced them to me. Now you show me Double RL and I’m in love
Thanks Jim….my mother wants me to write a book. You’re thinking of Stephen Craig’s. I loved that store. I’ve been finding those ties at thrift stores for a couple bucks for years. 30 years ago I would have cut off a finger for one, they were sooo expensive. RRL is amazing. Most all of it is recreated from vintage pieces they find. I have a fringed jacket I wanna be buried in and several western shirts with embroidery like stars and playing cards. OOOhhh and a Hawaiian shirt with Sailor Jerry-like images of hula girls. Adam Levine and David Beckham are both big fans too. That patchwork coat at the beginning of the show was AMAZEBALLZ.
Oh, what a wonderful report. I, too, LOVE Ralph Lauren! Thanks for your delightful story!
Thanks Phyllis…I’m glad you like it.
YOUR BEST POST EVER! Was always a big fan (of both Mr Lauren and you). Now I’m an even bigger fan. How can that be possible?
He’s left a pretty big mark on …well….American culture. That’s for sure. And I understand, I’m a bigger fan now that I was just a week ago….
What a great post James thank you for bringing back my own memories. And what wonderful pics. Recently took out one of my husbands oversized 80’s era pink Polo oxford button down with frayed collar from storage – back when the buttons were real something – not plastic – and he wanted me to trash but I said “what if one of our boys has an “80’s party to go to ?!” I really hope you get those pants!
Thanks Chris, Save the shirt….I have a tub of high school clothes in the attic. And yes, I have had friends borrow stuff for 80’s themed parties. OOhhh and don’t you worry for one minute, those yellow cords are in my closet now……just waiting for cooler weather
I’m so very happy you were able to see this show! You’ve been a committed fan of the brand as long as I have known you. I remember our shopping trips fondly. Much love to you and Jamie.
Thanks Laura. I believe you gave me a pair of navy Polo socks…. ‘86ish. I’m pretty sure I still have them….
I just loved this post. I’ve always been a RL fan. I have a cotton quilt that is a favorite and a men’s camouflage army jacket with POLO on the pocket. I have had it forever. Every time I wear it, my husband asks if I’m wearing that thing again, lol. My 82 year old mom has the same one. For decades, she has worn RL men’s linen shirts. The men’s department always had the best stuff! I would be happy living in a house filled with his rugged style furnishings. It’s wonderful you have such a passion. Keep collecting those ties!
Thanks Tracie, I have an olive green army jack that Mr Lauren produced about 20 years ago. I love it too, and every time I wear it my friends call me “Horshack”. Don’t you even worry about me passing up an ugly tie. I have no plans to stop amassing them anytime soon….
Jeff and I are breathless….what a wonderful story you tell! And so happy you could be there!! We are right there with you, in spirit, standing collars and all! I will never look at my blue Monogram bottle the same again…maybe I should dig out some vintage Polo in the back of the closet to celebrate? Yeah…I should! Thanks again! –Erik
So glad you boys liked my adventure. I still have a bottle of Polo green……and Crest too….. not that I’d ever wear them now (if they even have a fragrance 25 years later) but They make me smile every time I open the medicine cabinet.
AH, I love Ralph Lauren’s America 😊. So happy you won that lottery and thank you for sharing.
Glad you enjoyed it Susan. I never know if anyone really wants to hear about my life …. it’s really not that exciting …. but when I do write about it everyone always seems to enjoy my stories.
I am totally jealous! I have been a Polo fan since time began.
I know you are Tom!!
Hey there….I too am a lover of Ralph Lauren. My obsession lies in vintage ‘90’s tartan “The Big Shirt” (s), which I have basically been living in for three years (not the same one…lol). I do my best to emulate RL’s decor using consignment shops and Craigslist…the “old English Country House “and “Southwestern Americana” really gets me in the giblets. Actually that’s how I found you! Amazing photos of an enchanting experience, thank you for sharing!
Hi Kat, belive it or not…I still have a couple “big shirts” …. in tartan, no less. Somewhere in the hoard there are even a few in store posters from the 90s. And yes, obviously that RL Southwestern style really cooks my chili too. 😀
Once again, you have nailed it! What a lovely, thoughtful tribute to this man you have admired for so many years!
Awwww thanks Bonnie, again, glad you liked it.
Love❤️ love Love❤️!
With all the negativity in the world, its refreshing you show all the positives and great things in this world! So enjoy following your adventures.
Awww thanks Lisa. For some reason I’ve been having a really great life these past few years (maybe it’s age plus wisdom) and I’m glad you like reading about it!
You are just amazing. Beautiful piece!!!❤️❤️❤️❤️
I think you’re amazing Mary Jo. Miss you!
What a great post! I love RL and everything he does! I know I am super late to this party, but glad I finally got a chance to read all my emails. What a treat! If you haven’t already checked out the podcast with Oprah and Ralph on super soul there is a two part series!
There is no “late to the party” Shae. Thank you. I’ve seen Oprah’s interview with Ralph at his ranch a few years ago, but I didn’t know there was a podcast. I’ll look it up. Thanks
2nd comment on this Post : did you see Jane Pauley’s interview with RL on CBS News Sunday Morning (12/9) I LOVE that he was wearing a 30 year old plus flannel (with required Henley underneath) – they even had the vintage photo to reference its age. The best part: it was from Kmart .
Of course!!!! We were just talking about that! That’s why he’s the MAN. I bought a Christmas themed Hawaiian shirt for Christmas parties from…. ready for it…… Walmart. It’s amazing too. $17 even. Style doesn’t come from any particular store….. it’s how you wear it that counts.