Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The fashion and design worlds were changed when Ralph Lauren, a young tie salesman from the Bronx, New York, developed a patrician clothing style to fit American notions of elitism, class, tradition, and luxury.

Summary of Event

In 1967, with his time as a sales clerk at Brooks Brothers behind him, Ralph Lauren, the son of a Jewish house painter with artistic ambitions and a deeply religious Jewish mother, was working for the Abe Rivetz Company Abe Rivetz Company , under Mel Creedman Creedman, Mel , selling ties. Lauren wanted to design wider ties than the ones then in fashion. Creedfman allowed Lauren to make up some of his wider ties. Polo Fashions Fashion;Polo [kw]Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line (Oct. 18, 1968) [kw]Polo Clothing Line, Lauren Creates the (Oct. 18, 1968) [kw]Clothing Line, Lauren Creates the Polo (Oct. 18, 1968) Polo Fashions Fashion;Polo [g]North America;Oct. 18, 1968: Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line[09990] [g]United States;Oct. 18, 1968: Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line[09990] [c]Fashion and design;Oct. 18, 1968: Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line[09990] [c]Trade and commerce;Oct. 18, 1968: Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line[09990] [c]Manufacturing and industry;Oct. 18, 1968: Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line[09990] [c]Business and labor;Oct. 18, 1968: Lauren Creates the Polo Clothing Line[09990] Lauren, Ralph Lauren, Jerry

Lauren naturally thought that he was doing more than just selling, so he asked for a bonus. Since tie salesmen were never given bonuses, Creedman turned Lauren down. Lauren began looking for another job and also began looking for backers for a tie line of his own. He was far more than an average tie salesman. He truly loved his merchandise, had a tremendous sense of color and style inherited from his father, and, although he had never attended an Ivy League school, had a love for the fine fabrics, exciting colors, hand stitching, rich stripes, and width (in lapels as well as ties) associated with the clothing worn by Ivy League students. His talent, low-key style, taste, personal commitment, and image of a world of elegance and comfort helped him to sell. Lauren quickly went from looking for a job to wanting to start his own company.

Lauren told Buddy Blake Blake, Buddy , an important New York tie maker, that he wanted to do more design and styling. Lauren, however, was trying to launch wide ties only seven years after many tie companies had suffered as a result of gambling on the wide ties of the “mod” look. Demographically, mod styles came just a little too soon and had an English look. People with longer memories than Lauren feared his wide-tie look, but he intended to Americanize it. He gave up his $13,000-a-year salary at Abe Rivetz; he had received one big order for his ties designed for Abe Rivetz, but the ties had been returned by Abraham & Strauss, a division of Federated Department Stores.

Lauren was already looking for an investor by then. Although he was a natural salesman, he never feared telling people what he thought. He used an appointment with the Gant brothers, Marty and Elliott, to tell them that he used to wear their shirts and no longer did. This was not a comment likely to get one of the Gants to back his enterprise. Lauren, though, was attracted to their reputation for using good Oxford cloth, the original Ivy League look, and for emphasizing tradition. Gant Shirt Makers Gant Shirt Makers began in 1949 and had competed successfully with C. F. Hathaway and other major manufacturers, but Lauren, though young and comparatively inexperienced, was willing to tell them how to conduct their business.

In 1967, ties typically sold for prices ranging from $3 to $4, but Lauren wanted to sell ties starting at $7.50. In Ned Brower Brower, Ned , the president of Beau Brummell Beau Brummell (clothing manufacturer) , a Cincinnati-based tie company, he found his first backer. Lauren quit Creedman’s company a few days after agreeing with Brower to start a new division, which Lauren would run. The agreement was that Lauren would do the selling, and if the Beau Brummell salespeople had time to help with the line, they would. Jerry Lauren, Ralph’s dapper older brother, came up with the name “Polo,” and Ralph loved the suggestion. The name conjured up images of British society, a rich man’s game, money, a patrician style, and exclusivity, concepts Lauren wanted to have associated with his ties.

Brower gave Lauren a small office in Brummell’s Empire State Building headquarters. Lauren at first kept his ties in a drawer, then in a chest of drawers. He was president, chief executive officer, chief operating officer, packer, shipper, distributor, and top salesman, selling hand-blocked, brightly colored, diagonal-checked ties in exotic fabrics, including several made in Switzerland. These ties retailed at prices from $7.50 to $15.00. When Lauren was interviewed for the Daily News Record, a clothing publication, he wore one of his ties with a blue shirt, a jacket with four-inch-wide lapels, and deeply cuffed pleated pants. He was not above showing people what to wear with his ties, and the Daily News Record took notice. Lauren was already selling a total look even before he had his own line of menswear.

Lauren’s first customers were Clifford Grodd at Paul Stuart and Roland Meledandri. Lauren’s tie maker, George Bruder Bruder, George , could not make money on these first orders because they were so small, but he filled the orders anyway because he liked Lauren, as did many people. Lauren was able to sell to small stores, partly on the basis of his own presence and partly because he had Paul Stuart as a customer. Eric Ross in Beverly Hills, Louis of Boston, and Neiman-Marcus also became customers.

More than anything else, however, Lauren wanted to sell to Bloomingdale’s Bloomingdale’s department store[Bloomingdales] . He opened only two dozen accounts his first six months, and he could not get Bloomingdale’s to carry his ties. He had no advertising budget, so he spent hours talking to fashion editors. Robert L. Green, fashion editor of Playboy magazine, loved his ties and featured them with menswear by Bill Blass and Pierre Cardin. Finally, the Bloomingdale’s Fresh Meadows store ordered some ties, and soon some appeared in the Bloomingdale’s on Lexington Avenue. The ties had the Polo label, and Polo was launched. This was the beginning of a relationship between Lauren and Bloomingdale’s that would not only seriously influence the menswear industry but also the fashion industry as a whole.

By April of 1968, Lauren was already refusing to sell to less prestigious stores, because he wanted to keep his exclusivity. He also wanted to advance beyond being a tie salesman. In the spring of 1968, Norman Hilton Hilton, Norman , a suit manufacturer, approached Lauren about designing a line of clothes, including suits, dress shirts, and sports clothes. Ned Brower was willing to let the Polo trademark go as long as Lauren would buy his remaining inventory. On October 18, Polo Fashions incorporated by filing papers in the state of New York.

Only four days later, Lauren showed a one-button suit with wide lapels and pleated pants at Robert L. Green’s Creative Menswear Design Awards at New York’s Plaza Hotel. Meledandri, Oleg Cassini, Pierre Cardin, John Weitz, and Bill Blass also showed at the Plaza. Lauren’s inclusion in the show proved that he had become a menswear designer, but he was not happy stopping there. Eventually his lines would include home furnishings, linens, women’s wear, and antiques. He even dreamed of marketing designer beef. At the time, however, he needed new offices and showrooms. Most menswear representatives had their showrooms crowded together at 1290 Sixth Avenue for the supposed convenience of the provincial buyers, but Lauren was not one to join a herd. He thought that the building was too commercial, noisy, and crowded. He had shown his suits at the Plaza Hotel with John Weitz Weitz, John , and Weitz had offices in a ten-story residential building. With Weitz’s blessing, Lauren took a sixth-floor, two-bedroom office, using one bedroom as a design studio and the other as his showroom. His father, from whom he got his sense of color and interest in interiors, painted his office.

Although Lauren still had no advertising budget, Bloomingdale’s did. Polo ties sold quickly there, and Bloomingdale’s placed a seven-column ad in The New York Times to encourage even more sales. The ad stressed the elegance and unique design of the ties and actually listed the $15.00 price. Some customers bought a half dozen at a time. The stock market was booming, business was good, and the times were optimistic, promising conditions for sales of expensive, stylish clothing. By the time Polo Fashions moved into its new offices, Lauren could not meet the demand for his ties. The young man from the Bronx who had never gotten closer to the Ivy League than the City College of New York had at least revived the Ivy League style. In the fall of 1957, he had dreamed of life on campus, and now he gave expression to that dream in his fashions.

Significance

Beverly Hills retailer Berny Schwartz Schwartz, Berny opened the first Polo Shop in September, 1971. By then, Lauren was designing ties, shirts, and suits, but the store and its constant need for more and different merchandise pushed Lauren to design more items, including a shoe collection, belts, raincoats, socks, and sweaters. Sales for his company’s first fiscal year, ending March 31, 1969, had amounted to $400,000. For the next fiscal year, sales were $2.4 million, and the following year, the company sold $3.8 million in products. By the end of 1974, Peter Strom had joined Polo/Ralph Lauren Corporation, helping to raise its annual business from $7 million in 1974 to $925 million in 1988.

By 1974, Lauren’s women’s wear collection also was a success. Stores including I. Magnin in San Francisco, Bullock’s Wilshire in Los Angeles, and Neiman-Marcus in Dallas had bought it in quantity. Department stores began building Lauren his own departments for fashion; later, they would build him his own departments for linens.

Lauren designed his women’s wear collection for women who dressed to illustrate their success or who still were trying to achieve that success. Despite his original successes in Playboy magazine with his menswear, Lauren disdained sexually suggestive advertising while willingly appealing to status, family, permanence, belonging, and privilege. One never saw a woman with prominent cleavage in a Lauren ad, for he liked his models to look thin.

By 1972, Lauren had bought out his partner, Norman Hilton, at a time when Polo was highly undercapitalized and constantly late delivering goods. As a designer, Lauren was earning rave reviews, but as a manager, he was not doing as well. He got a lucky break in the form of an offer from Hollywood to costume the characters in the film The Great Gatsby Great Gatsby, The (Clayton) (1974). Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, and Sam Waterston, as well as dozens of extras, wore his clothes. Several of the films he admired and took inspiration from suggest his love of sports, family, and family members at leisure together as well as showcasing characters with distinct styles. They also influenced his lines of tuxedos and evening gowns.

By 1984, Lauren was a multimillionaire. The man who had once come close to closing his business was forming partnerships everywhere, particularly with The Gap. There was a new problem, however. Less expensive knockoffs of his own designs were beginning to appear, particularly in his casual wear line and Chaps. This situation influenced him to develop his own less expensive casual wear featuring denim. The Gap provided funding for the Polo Westernwear line.

Lauren’s bold experiments in the world of fashion first brought back the Ivy League look, then through their successes encouraged other designers to take more chances with innovative looks. His Polo fashions were some of the first with appeal that spread down from the upper to the middle classes, and his was one of the first fashion companies to branch out into a varied product line including such things as colognes. Polo fashions also brought Lauren’s name to prominence as a designer. Soon status-conscious shoppers would learn to look for clothes imprinted with a particular designer’s name. In all these ways, Lauren changed the fashion world. Polo Fashions Fashion;Polo

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ash, Juliet. “The Tie: Presence and Absence.” In The Gendered Object, edited by Pat Kirkham. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. A fascinating look at the cultural psychology of the necktie and the performance of masculinity. Also includes a chapter on suits.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, Susan. “The Scarf Company That Could.” Bobbin 31 (June, 1990): 48-54. An important article that deals specifically with important issues of the clothing trade and the psychology of success in the industry. The text is informative, providing details and critical commentary, although it is clearly an appreciation of Lauren’s company.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Buck, Joan Juliet. “Everybody’s All-American.” Vogue 182 (February, 1992): 202-211. One of the lengthier articles on Ralph Lauren. An excellent article that examines Lauren’s “All-American” style. A helpful addition to an understanding of Lauren and his contributions. Includes photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reichert, Tom, and Tray LaCaze. “From Polo to Provocateur: (Re)branding Polo/Ralph Lauren with Sex in Advertising.” In Sex in Consumer Culture: The Erotic Content of Media and Marketing, edited by Tom Reichert and Jacqueline Lambiase. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum, 2006. Contrary to Lauren’s earlier concerns about displaying “prominent cleavage” in his advertisements, this chapter argues how the company’s marketing strategy has changed and now includes, and relies on in part, sexuality to promote its products.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shao, Maria. “Everybody’s Falling into The Gap.” BusinessWeek 3232 (September 23, 1991): 36. Discusses Lauren’s deals with The Gap. Although brief, it is a fine report on the relationship between Lauren and The Gap.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A. Ralph Lauren: The Man Behind the Mystique. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. Deals extensively with Lauren’s life and career after 1968 as well as the earlier years. Includes lengthy quotations from people who worked closely with Lauren. The best source on Lauren, his enterprises, and the development of his style. Notes, bibliography, index, and photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zukin, Sharon. “B. Altman, Ralph Lauren, and the Death of the Leisure Class.” In Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture. New York: Routledge, 2004. An excellent study of Polo Ralph Lauren in the context of American mass consumption and consumer behavior.

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