In the fashion world, few brands have embodied the appeal and recognition of modern fashion like Polo by Ralph Lauren. This iconic brand and logo has become a status symbol for people in all walks of life, creating a culture of loyal supporters.
Ralph Lauren was born in the Bronx (third of four siblings) to Frieda and Frank, who emigrated from Belarus. Calvin Klein, who also happened to be living in the same neighborhood (the Norwood area along Mosholu Parkway) attended the same elementary/junior high school (P.S. 80), but they were four years apart and did not meet until much later.
By the time Ralph Lauren was a teenager, he was already known for his unique style and fashion sense. He attended the nearby Clinton High School and then Baruch College in Manhattan, where he studied business for two years and then briefly entered the Army.
It was after this time that he began to design a line of neck ties under the name ‘Polo’ (named after the sport of the wealthy and the Royals).
He was given a single drawer at the bottom of the display case from a showroom in the Empire State Building. His ties were distinguished by a wider cut and bold, colorful stripes. They imparted a sense of class, often selling out and generating high demand for large department stores like Bloomingdale’s.
Ralph Lauren was influenced by color from his father, who was a professional painter and encouraged his son from an early age to express his love and talent for color and texture. In 1972, he produced his now-iconic series of cotton polo shirts in a variety of 24 colors and marketed the shirts with the tagline “it gets better with age”.
Polo shirts date back to Manipur, India in the early 1800’s the word ‘Polo’ is derived from ‘Pulu’ which is the name of the ball which players would hit with mallets. Due to the high speed nature of the sport, these players grew weary of the shirt’s collars flapping about, so it became not just fashionable, but practical to fasten them down with buttons.The world’s first polo players in Manipuri, India circa 1875.
These shirts were marketed in the 1930’s and 1940’s by tennis star René Lacoste, whose “Izod” brand popularized his iconic crocodile logo. Another design Lacoste created for his fashion line featured a large, embroidered illustration of a polo player on a horse. (Lacoste was a visionary in his own right, inventing the tennis ball machine and the first steel tennis racket).
Years later, that particular design inspired Ralph Lauren and would become the brand’s signature look. The icon was matched with a classic typeface with a high stroke contrast and flat unbracketed serifs. He would also place the name ‘POLO’ in front of his own name, successfully creating a brand that would symbolize the sport along with the lifestyle and image it represented.
Some critics would challenge the brand’s vision, but they were of little consequence and put to rest by the words of Ralph Lauren himself:
“I am not a fashion person. I am anti-fashion. I am interested in longevity, timelessness, style. I don’t design clothes; I design dreams”
Today, the Ralph Lauren Group is a publicly traded company that manages a total of 17 fashion brands and 4 lifestyle brands with 500 locations across 30 countries. Only a handful of designers and brands have enjoyed this much widespread success and popularity, which continues to this day.