Ralph Lauren has announced that he will step down as chief executive of the fashion company he founded in 1967. While he will remain executive chairman and chief creative officer of the Ralph Lauren Corporation, the role of chief executive will pass in November to Stefan Larsson.
Larsson, from Sweden, spent almost fifteen years at H&M before becoming global president of the Gap-owned budget chain Old Navy. Under his leadership, from October 2012 Old Navy increased its revenue by nearly $1 billion, enjoying three consecutive years of profitable growth, transforming the chain into Gap’s biggest business.
Ralph Lauren will turn 76 in October. Shares in his company rose more than 11% on Wednesday, following an announcement made late on Tuesday evening. Commending his replacement, he said of Larsson:
‘He understands what dreams are. In this business, it’s about dreams because you are dreaming ahead and you’re about progress and change and newness.’
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Ralph Lauren was born in 1939 as Ralph Lifshitz, in The Bronx to Ashkenazi Jewish parents from Belarus in the Soviet Union. He would go on to establish the quintessential American fashion house of the late twentieth century, a company with a flair for mythologising its own history.
Founded in 1967 under the label Polo, the brand initially focused solely on atypically wide men’s silk neckties, before launching a full menswear collection the following year. In 1969, Polo Ralph Lauren opened a boutique outlet within the famous New York City department store Bloomingdale’s.
In 1970, Polo Ralph Lauren won its first Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award. 1971 saw the innovation of traditionally tailored shirts for women, with the Polo emblem making its first appearance on the shirt cuff. And in 1972, a full womenswear collection was launched, the iconic polo shirt was introduced in twenty-four colours, and the label’s first store was opened in Beverly Hills, California.
In 1974, Polo Ralph Lauren designed the male costumes for the film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which starred Robert Redford. By the end of the decade, Ralph Lauren had entered the Coty Hall of Fame for both menswear and womenswear, had launched the label’s first fragrance lines, and had created a groundbreaking Western-inspired collection, featuring shearling vests, prairie skirts, chaps, and fringed jackets. Ralph Lauren himself appeared in the advertising campaign, and the collection was hailed as something uniquely American in the world of fashion.
Polo Ralph Lauren soon became renowned for its glossy multi-page, full-colour magazine spreads, often shot in distinctive outdoors locations, with models – frequently drawn from the worlds of sport and the arts – draped in front of cars, motorbikes, and planes, camping, navigating the wilderness, and riding horses. Ralph Lauren continued to emphasise his abiding ethos, stating:
‘Style is very personal. It has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion is over very quickly. Style is forever.’
At the beginning of the 1980s, the company went international, with the opening of a store on New Bond Street in London. The decade saw Santa Fe, safari, and equestrian collections, the introduction of Ralph Lauren Home, and the opening of the brand’s flagship store at The Rhinelander Mansion on 867 Madison Avenue.
The story of the label since the early 1990s has been one of brand diversity. New brands were devised to cater for every taste and wallet, including Polo Sport, RRL, RLX, Purple Label, Black Label, and Lauren Ralph Lauren; and in addition to flagship stores in the United States, in London and Paris, new flagship locations were opened in Milan, Tokyo, and Moscow.
In 1997 Polo Ralph Lauren became a publicly traded company. Across the 2000s the company became the official sponsor of Wimbledon, the United States Tennis Association, various professional golfers, and the United States Olympic Team. The Ralph Lauren Corporation made $7.5bn in revenue in 2014.