In the confusing subterranean region of menswear classification, I can understand how some people can despise Ralph Lauren as a brand. A common and reasonable complaint / dislike will no doubt revolve around aesthetic creativity and the corresponding brand image burned onto the retina and stored in the inner sanctum. They are not a brand for the non conformist or the individualist.
A clothing line in many a sense tells a story and the essence of a good collection is to captivate, entertain, and whisk oneself into that parallel world of fantasy. There is more to clothing than mere "look", "whimsy", "attitude" or "presenting oneself". One only has to look at Prada / Lanvin / Dior / YSL and see how their story unfolds season after season. Like a good movie, it intertwines numerous sub plots intricately to form a masterpiece. While Ralph Lauren are by no means a one trick pony, it is clear that season after season the story repeats over and over. Ralph Lauren do the basics well, but appear to be completely captured / bound by their own image engine.
To me they are nothing but a minor update on Brooks Brothers with a few more niche areas covered. That is not to say Brooks Brothers themselves are horribly one dimensional - an argument could be placed where Black Fleece holds a brighter torch of sartorial creativity than anything pumping out the Black Label and Purple Label lines.
From another viewpoint, if ones motive is to dress well in a casual American / Pseudo British style, I can think of few brands that nail this area quite like Ralph Lauren. However, for those that hang out in different circles, Ralph Lauren clothing may as well be skeet blanket material.
From my perspective: I dress conservatively 5 days a week for 10 hours a day. Given that this is a societal limitation imposed and not my pure free will, I do find that Ralph Lauren belongs in the upper echelons of menswear brands. Basically they are the best out there regarding copper bottomed semi classic menswear. Given a free reign however, I would gladly dump Ralph Lauren for something where artistic integrity rules over streamlined conformity
That said, we have to define menswear properly - is it mere clothing and economy of scale or does artistic merit have its virtuous place? If the former, Ralph Lauren are the greatest brand ever. If the latter, Ralph Lauren are a standardized and well drilled machine that can do only one function (albeit doing it well). Whatever the case, Ralph will continue to steamroller through the industry for the foreseeable future. They are a brand that splits opinion. From one perspective, genius. From another perspective, limited.
Best post on this thread.
I do believe RL belongs on the list, but no way, no how at number 1.