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.
Let me present to y’all, the RRL Spring 2015 lookbook
I am more than diggin’ the hand-tinted tintype photos and just had to share them.
Wasn’t that fun?
Yepp, These are contemporary pictures that have been Photoshoped to look like vintage hand-tinted tintype photos.
Stupendous, Aren’t they?
In case you aren’t familiar, Double RL is Ralph Lauren’s vintage inspired clothing line named after his cattle ranch just outside of Telluride Colorado. (Some of y’all may remember my favorite sweater that Harley chewed holes in a few years back. It’s RRL) The two Rs in RRL stand for Ralph and Rickey, his wife. The elusive brand, items are made in an extremely limited run, has developed a cult-like following since it was introduced in 1993. With design roots in the American West and early 1900’s workwear, it’s easy to see why people don’t just wear these pieces……they covet them. Like they’re part of an exclusive club.
When I was in my very early 20’s, I was somehow hired as a commissioned salesman at Neiman Marcus. As if y’all aren’t already aware, Neiman Marcus is the most fashionable department store in Dallas…….and quite possibly the whole world.
Naturally, I was pretty nervous about what I would wear to work there……
I just didn’t own any clothes at the time that were stylish enough to work at Neiman’s. (I’d borrowed a fraternity brother’s suit just for the interviews – Thanks Again, Chris) I was really still a kid; all I had to wear was my navy fraternity blazer with the crest, a few pair of khaki chinos, and about 2 dozen striped ties………That’s it. The other sales people scowled daily at my navy blazer and chinos. My “Look” was always the butt of their jokes……and I knew it. They’d all been working in retail much longer than me and wore black Armani suits and Ferragamo loafers that customers expected the sales staff at Neiman Marcus to wear. But not me, I was always the odd man out. An elderly woman was returning a sweater to a coworker one day and mentioned me as the salesman that had sold it to her. Well, not me exactly. She couldn’t remember my name, but she said that she had been helped by, get this,
“the young man still wearing his school uniform.”
Those bitchy queens that I worked with just ate that with a spoon. They still made fun of me behind my back, only now, they had the nickname “School Boy” to add to the mix.
After paying my rent, buying food, and occasionally making my car payments on time…….I just didn’t have the kind of money leftover that it took to invest in suits like my coworkers wore.
But one day, cruising the racks at an outlet store, I found one. The perfect suit. Double breasted (like a Wall Street Broker), deep navy blue with just the slightest pin stripe, genuine horn buttons, and big hand-stitched peak lapels (it was a stranger in an elevator who actually told me that they were hand stitched). Strait off the rack, it fit like it had been made just for me. It was Ralph Lauren, of course….and I’m fairly certain that Mr. Lauren himself would have worn such a fine garment. Even at the heavily discounted outlet price, $299, it was pretty far out of my price range. Just finding 50 extra dollars to put it on lay-a-way was quite a stretch. But I did it…….After all, I had found the suit that I was certain I would be buried in.
I had 30 days to pay off the lay-a-way balance and somehow I managed to scrape together another hundred dollars. The remainder was lent to me by my dear friend Lenny; who then held the suit in his own “lay-a-way” plan until I could pay him back. Which eventually, a few months later, I did.
I couldn’t wait to wear it to Neiman’s. Couldn’t wait even to get the pants hemmed……so I did the hem job myself……..with strips of duct tape. Just folded the pant legs inside themselves, and taped them up.
I know, I know, I know……..what the Hell was I thinking? But I was so excited to wear it in front of my snarky co-workers. My first real suit.
There were “Oohs” and “Ahhs” from everyone when I showed up at work the next morning. I finally looked the part of a sales professional.
Wearing that suit made me feel like I finally belonged working at Neiman Marcus………..until about halfway through the day……..when the duct tape came loose. Of course, I didn’t realize that it had until much later. In fact, I didn’t realize it until looooooong after everyone else in my department had noticed the duct tape strips hanging out of my pants legs. They even told people from other parts of the store to come see. Again, even in the nicest suit I could ever afford, I was still being laughed at.
I went into a fitting room and cried,
The next day, I took the pants to a tailor to hem.
I wore that suit to my next job interview, and every job interview I had after that one. Here we are on a trip to San Diego with my dear friend George.
This is my one photo in Paper City, our Dallas social rag, volunteering for the live auction for AMFAR,
I even had my driver license picture taken in it,
I wore it to my high school reunion and on my first business trip. Every New Year’s Eve. Every Easter Mass. Every wedding. Every funeral. Every major event in my life that required a suit and tie.
I always felt like I was at my very best.
When it started to get a little tight around the middle, I took it to my tailor to move the buttons slightly. But moving the buttons wasn’t quite enough……he needed to let the seams out. “I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got left to give, Cap’n”, he told me in his best Scotty impersonation. At the rate that I was expanding, I knew we didn’t have much more time together……
It’s a little sad to admit, but over the years I’ve replaced it with a couple of new suits in my new size.
I found that first suit in the very back of the closet a few weeks ago; about 25 years after first buying it. All the memories of working at Neiman Marcus came flooding back to me. Hadn’t thought about wearing it in well over a decade. Double-breasted isn’t really flattering on me anymore. There were a few miniscule moth holes in the right sleeve and I noticed that the lining was beginning to come loose under the arms.
I couldn’t get it on my body now if my life depended on it. Not without a pair of scissors, anyway.
So, I added it to our Goodwill donation bag.
…….and I’m fine with it. I really am.
It’s just a suit? Right?
But I know that nothing I own will ever make me feel that special again.
But maybe, just maybe, some other young man will find it at the Goodwill……..and he’ll feel the same way that I did in it.
A little over 45 years ago, you had a vision of a wide, beautiful tie made from Italian silk. But in the mid-60’s no one made anything like you dreamed of…… So you made your own. And people liked them. Liked them so much that they offered to buy them right off your person.
You grew up a humble Jewish boy in the Bronx, with only a Hollywood-movie-inspired idea of how wealthy people really lived. You created a multi-billion dollar company based on that vision of the privileged life, and brilliantly marketed it to the world.
From that first line of ties, to suits, to women’s wear, to fragrances, to children’s clothes, and to everything a house could ever need. Now your name is associated with the elite that you wanted to emulate as a young man.
When I was only 14, I knew you would have a pretty big impact on my life……I had no idea just how big.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one item in Mary Randolph Carter’s office, there’s a lot to look at.
And I mean A LOT.
But this tidbit of taped-up, caligrified wisdom stands out to almost every visitor she has…….
A motto she definitely believes in…….
Carter, the nick-name her husband gave her, has been the Senior Vice President of advertizing at Ralph Lauren since the early 90’s. It’s her job to supervise the photo shoots for all the Ralph Lauren brands and make sure that they convey everything that Mr Lauren envisions them to be. She sources many of the props herself. And man-o-man is she good at sourcing unique props.
Just take a look at her vintage roll-topped desk. It’s under all that stuff.
As a divider between her desk and the rest of the office, Carter used weathered blue shutters. Yet one more place to clip up inspiration.
I spy Willie, the Beatles, and of course Carter the Great.
As the author of the books; American Junk, Garden Junk, Big City Junk and Kitchen Junk, this woman knows about finding junk …..and compiling books, of course.
…….and yes, I have all 4 of her books (What hoarder wouldn’t?)