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The appeal of ralph lauren?

post #1 of 64
Thread Starter 
Why do you think Ralph Lauren has so much appeal to most people today? Reading a biography of him, there's nothing that would make you think that he would reach his level of success. Middle class Jewish kid from the Bronx. Didn't really have an innate sense of style. He admits he developed it when he and his wife would shop at all these posh shops which they couldn't afford. And, his initial contribution to fashion were the wide ties in the 70s. I mean, it seems that this non-preppy guy basically repackaged himself as the ultimate preppy. Did he even add anything it or synthesize it with something else? Who would have thought the whole preppy thing would be so popular? It seems the preppy power phenomenom was its peak a long time ago, maybe 50. I used to think his clothes were well made, until I found this site. Now, only Purple Label is truly good, even though most people haven't heard of it. But, I still admire him as a great business guy with him selling the preppy lifestyle as a brand.
post #2 of 64
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post #3 of 64
It's an interesting question, esquire. Many great business people and innovators in a variety of industries started in a similar fashion (no pun intended) -- they were not from a related background and did not necessarily have a taste or interest early on in whatever they ended up designing or producing. But what they all did have in spades is business savvy, a sense of timing, an uncanny ability to "read" people and see what excites them, and a healthy dose of luck. Lauren correctly predicted that the preppy style would catch on if he advertised it appropriately, and he was right. This brings up an even more interesting question of why the preppy style caught on in the first place. This doesn't strike me as all that surprising, actually. Traditionally, before Lauren and other companies like J. Crew made it mass-market, the preppy style was associated with a certain slice of American society -- wealthy, East-coast elite, WASP, Ivy League, etc. And as much as we, as a society, like to deny it in public and in the press, large numbers of us Americans aspire to belong to that class. We are not a classless society even though we say we are, the concept of upper class is as strong as ever, and many people privately wish they belonged to that class, even as they may ridicule it publicly. The preppy style is simply a visual manifestation of belonging to that class, and by dressing this way people either make themselves feel that they are closer to that slice of society or hope to be more accepted by it. I think timing worked in Lauren's favor. The popularity of casual clothing exploded in the mid- and late sixties, but even though we think of the seventies as loose and casual too, I think the consumer at large got disillusioned with the more outlandish examples of the psychedelic-era casual clothing rather quickly, partly, again, becuase he/she felt that it lowered their perceived social status, and started to yearn for a return to more traditional, preppy clothing. Lauren's loud wide ties were a product of their time, a fad; it's the rest of his products that made him the force to be reckoned with. Regards, Tony
post #4 of 64
There's also definitely an Americana theme that has run through much of his imagery over the years. Down home, earthy, gritty, folksy, etc. That may have changed, or be constantly changing as he redefines himself, but it has been there, and may still be rooted in people's minds. And lots of Americana themes or people with that mystique have never fallen from popularity; Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth, actors like Robert Duvall and broadcasters like Walter Cronkite, etc. Americana sells almost consistently.
post #5 of 64
I agree with ArtDeco's sentiments. To (perhaps) put it another way, I think there are two motivations that drive many people to wear Polo (and other branded, designer labels). One is the hope to impress people; by wearing a well-known, (relatively) expensive designer label, some buyers expect this to convey a message about their wealth/economic status. It's important to them for others to know about the wearer's wealth (real or putative). On the other hand, there is also the confidence that wearing a Polo garment means that you will "fit in," that your clothes will be appropriate, since Ralph Lauren is perceived as tasteful and stylish; I think for many men, who lack confidence in their own sense of style, this guarantee is a powerful inducement. To me, an interesting analog is Rolex. Why do people buy Rolex? For some, it is an easy way to telegraph their wealth (viz. the success of the clunky gold President day-date models). For others, who may have reached the point where they can afford/want to buy an expensive watch (or give one as a present), a Rolex is a safe choice that is guaranteed (in most circles) to be considered tasteful and 'classy.' I think 99%, if not 100%, of humanity has some combination of aspiration and self-doubt, and these brands play on both of these emotions. [Note that I am not saying that either Polo or Rolex are poorly made or do not have positive qualities in their own right.]
post #6 of 64
With reference to the last post, while the two motivations identified may apply, for many people they just want to buy reliable, well made products, without having to give their purchases too much thought. I buy Polo polos and Polo button downs because I know my size, they wear well, they are not too expensive and they are comfortable. I am buying for myself, not for what others may think. And I do not want to put too much thought into it. Maybe I should buy myself a Rolex as well.
post #7 of 64
I agree esquire, Ralph Lauren is junk.
post #8 of 64
ralph lauren is a broker of clothes. When you buy a blue label suit, its really a corneliani suit. when you buy a pair of purple label shoes, you are really buying a pair of edward greens. His stuff isnt junk, that isnt fair. some of the lower level lines are not well made, so be it. most of the upper level stuff is. he is great at reproducing classic americana, with a subtle twist, and that what get people like me to buy the stuff.
post #9 of 64
Some very insightful responses already.... Junk seems like a strong word to me also, but I know that sentiment is there. I would just add that RL stuff just seems very "safe".  You're going to get items from his line that in most cases you will still be able to wear 5 or 10 years down the road.  Not that I've ever been to a runway show, but I would imagine that his collections for each fall season only have subtle differences from the previous years'.  Mr. Lauren just doesn't go schizo and put out stuff that seems totally out of line with his previous offerings...its predictable.  Some might say boring.  But with this consistency, I think a lot of men get a comfort level with his product.  If you are going to spend a bit of a premium to get a "label", you don't want that buyer's remorse shortly thereafter.  I don't see a whole lot of RL stuff that you can look at and say, that shirt is so 1996. Now, that may not explain the overall appeal.  Because there are certainly a lot of men, not a few here in the forum, who are just probably not RL fans.  Since he is what he is, you're not going to see the cutting-edge guys wearing much of his stuff.  He certainly didn't chase the hip-hop crowd a la Hilfiger with the overly baggy stuff and HUGE logos.  I think of it like he hits a sweet spot, so that Mr. Lauren appeals to that broad base of men who probably work in a business casual office, know at least something about style and buying quality, and who do not mind spending a premium over GAP chinos and mesh shirts.  In return, these men get that safety, a consistent look, no regrets or "OMG, what was I thinking when I bought that?" results.  I hate to call it the lowest, so how about....the highest common denominator?  But that's not quite right, either, because it would seem to heap too much praise on his desighs (leaving aside the question of whether the designs are "his").   I'll also leave the business analysis and marketing issues of this question to others, but no question the guy is astute with a capital A and has developed a winning strategy for himself.
post #10 of 64
Quote:
With reference to the last post, while the two motivations identified may apply, for many people they just want to buy reliable, well made products, without having to give their purchases too much thought.  I buy Polo polos and Polo button downs because I know my size, they wear well, they are not too expensive and they are comfortable.  I am buying for myself, not for what others may think.  And I do not want to put too much thought into it.
Agreed.  I said many, not all.  FWIW, I wear Polo polos, shorts, and chinos on occasion, as well as some Purple Label items.  These I own because I like their colors, fabrics, fit, and construction.  However, I prefer to wear items that don't display the logo, since I feel I should get paid to be a walking advertisement, rather than paying for the privilege. The whole notion of a "Brand" involves many different elements and connotations. Brands are really only about 150 years old; Ivory soap, the product that launched Procter & Gamble, was one of the first brands. Other powerful brands, such as Coca Cola, Ford, and Kelloggs evolved in the late 19th/early 20th century. Before that time, buyers relied on their own judgement and the representations of the vendor to ascertain quality, value, etc. Branding added the manufacturer's reputation and implicit guarantee to the equation; as we moved to a much more transient, commercial, and national/global econcomy, the importance of brand increased dramatically. In essence, we have replaced our relationship with the retailer with a relationship/reliance on the manufacturer. In clothing, this is generally true; the stores such as Louis Boston, which attempt to build relationships with their customers and reduce reliance on specific brands, are few and far between.
post #11 of 64
I really should post a broader response, because I always end up trumpeting RL's items. But, I'll post a direct comment regarding what shoefan posted last: As much as I, as well do not care for logos, I am willing to live with logos on Polo shirts (and maybe some T-shirts), because of their excellent fit and longevity. For my body and tastes, nothing fits as well as RL Polo's Custom-Fit Polo shirt. Does it have the Polo Pony? Yes. So what? If you wear sneakers, aren't you advertising for them as well? All the sneaker companies have some common design factor that lets someone know what they are and which company made them, whether it may obvious like the Nike swoosh, or simple like the Puma stripe. Jon. BTW: brands are a lot older than 150 years old. Take Beretta (500 years), Vacheron Constantin (250 years), Moxon Huddersfield (400 years), etc...
post #12 of 64
Quote:
 Traditionally, before Lauren and other companies like J. Crew made it mass-market, the preppy style was associated with a certain slice of American society -- wealthy, East-coast elite, WASP, Ivy League, etc.  And as much as we, as a society, like to deny it in public and in the press, large numbers of us Americans aspire to belong to that class.  
Lauren worked as a salesman at Brooks in the '60s. The Brooks prep image borrowed heavily from the supposed look of the British "aristocracy" (the "polo" Brooks long-point buttondown collar supposedly originated with British polo players as did the Brooks camelhair belted "polo" coat). Purple Label seems to be less of a brand than another reincarnation, 30 years later, of "model" British upper-class attire complete with pictures of old estates, 30's sports cars, all made by Chester Barrie of Savile Row (albeit not custom). Now it's made by St. Andrews (Cantarelli), who produced for Luciano Barbera (as British in look as he is Italian). It all seems to be about the same thing.
post #13 of 64
Well, the 1930's (and 1920's) (and the occasional McLaren F1) cars are all owned by Mr. Lauren. Mr. Lauren shops on Savile Row and owns at least one old estate (the one in Montauk), so basically he is selling his lifestyle. Jon.
post #14 of 64
I don't think RL is junk. The Purple Label stuff is obviously outstanding quality. The Blue Label can be slightly hit or miss, but sometimes the quality there is outstanding as well. Plus, he really has his thumb on "fit," at least for most pieces. I recently picked up 4 pair of Philip flat front shorts for $25 a piece. 3 paper chinos and 1 twill chino. The fit is absolutely outstanding, which is why I bought enough shorts to last me 3 years at least. Compared to mall stores at similar price, RL Blue Label is at least a step ahead in terms of quality.
post #15 of 64
Lauren is more "fashiony" than he is sometimes credited with; for example, see some of his 1970s suits (wide lapels, low-sitting pleatless trousers with flared legs), or his more recent suits with 1960s styling (narrow lapels with flat fronted, slim-cut trousers). I'm not crazy about Lauren's stuff overall, but he certainly deserves credit for perpetuating the idea of classy, traditionalist garb; whether he often delivers such garb is another matter. Lauren created a retail milieu that celebrates the upper-class aspirations of many Americans (and many non-Americans); he also made it possible to speak of a more permanent, idealized design style (Anglo-American '20s/'30s) than many of his designer competitors have done.
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