Business and Fashion

I watched the documentary, Very Ralph, on HBO that tells Ralph Laurens story the other night. He was the ultimate brand builder. The business was first, fashion was second. He trusted his gut, he saw trends, he understood how to build an image and fuel it season after season. He had a critical eye and was competitive and confident.

He started out in the men’s tie space. He made wider ties. That, of course, gave reason for new suits and shirts which Lauren got into as well. When Bloomingdale’s knocked on his door and wanted to carry his brand but without his name on it (white label), he refused. It was quite a ballsy move to turn them down but they came back and carried his brand with his name.

The time was the 1970’s and it was the beginning of a very different retail era. I came into retail in 1983, the booming tail end of the end of that era. As large chains such as the Gap came into the market, the market share of large stores such as Bloomingdales and Macy’s began to wain. Today retail has become lost. Even the newest brands aren’t really creating something so significantly different than stores of the past, they just feel more in line with how we live, dress and buy for ourselves today.

Today there is nothing as desirable as Ralph Lauren was in the day. He created a cinematic life, an aspirational life, he understood the power of advertising and he believed in a utopian America.

What comes next? Is it just new brands in new stores appealing to a new generation that looks the same and kinda is the same? There are plenty of new designers out there, plenty of casual clothing, plenty of cash just pushing to build these brands but where is the savvy garmento who understands trends, brand building and making money at the same time?

Where is the next Ralph Lauren?

Comments (Archived):

  1. Susan Rubinsky

    As someone who came of age in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I remember those days. He understood how to take classic styles and refresh them with new colors or fabrics or changes in details, etc. His clothes always looked great on everyday people. I actually think that was his genius. There are very few designer brands I am interested in because they seem to have lost the focus on creating something new and interesting that will look good on everyday people. I think Gloria Vanderbilt also had that touch. Today when you open my closet it is still predominantly filled with Ralph Lauren. You can just grab a dress, pull it on and it looks great. Not so with many other designers.

    1. Pointsandfigures

      I can’t speak for dresses….but I was “preppy” back in the early 80s and never grew out of it. That stuff never seems to go out of style and since I am such a hard size to fit, I buy stuff and never get rid of it. I have shoes that I still wear from the 1990’s that I take care of. I am a huge fan of Hermes ties (when I wear one). Got hooked on them in the early 2000’s and still have a drawer full of bow and regular ties. The last suit I bought was an Oxxford which I totally love. Got it in 2007. Will be the last one I buy I suspect…The thing that sort of bugs me today is the style seems so forced. If I were to look at a “modern man” I don’t know who I’d aspire to dress like. But anytime I see Cary Grant, well, there it is.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        I have Lauren dresses from the 90’s that still look timeless. I’m also a “difficult” fit — curvy, long legs, etc. Today’s designers don’t make clothes that fit people like me, but Ralph Lauren still does.

        1. LE

          I have RL Polo suits from the 80’s.The thing with design (whether it’s clothes, graphic arts, decorating, renovation) is it’s tied to a particular individual’s brain.For example let’s say you hire a company to design a kitchen for you. They show you work they have done. But what you don’t know is if the person who designed the kitchen is still even working for them. If not, what you get is not going to be the same. I mean it could be better or it could be worse but it will most likely be different.When I was in the printing business I ran into this (where I developed the theory). You might have a graphic artist that did great work so you would use their examples to show new clients or customers. But when the job came in another person did the design. Same is true for most creative. My point is you can’t carry that on w/o the usually the same person in charge.Easier for some fashion items and yes companies have done that. I immediately took to what Polo looked like in suits though. Something about the colors resonated with me.

      2. LE

        Same here. (I went to a ‘prep’ school although it was more 70’s grunge there was for sure ‘plaid’ on the women). No doubt you remember Lisa Birnbach’s ‘The Preppy Handbook’. [1] I had to explain to my wife the other day a reference that I made to the ‘Party Hardy Girl’ as a type. (Watching Bachelor there was a contestant that reminded me of that). My wife is a different generation and had no idea what I was talking about.People tend to stick with what they did back when they were in high school or college. For example an older cousin of mine came of age before dungarees were popular. So years later he would dress (as btw Bill Gates does – did you see the documentary with him?) in those ‘haband’ type pants ‘slacks’. Just like today I can’t dress in a younger style I am dated to what I have been wearing forever basically. When I wear a suit (wedding etc.) it’s always dark with a white shirt button down very traditional.Older men (older generation than you or me) have you ever noticed they tend to be in suits even when they don’t need to be?[1] In the attached picture you are most likely ‘The Aesthete’. https://uploads.disquscdn.c

        1. Pointsandfigures

          Ha probably more like the Good Ole Boy…..

  2. jason wright

    Fashion is the second most polluting industry after oil, powered by mimetic desire.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Yes it is but hopefully change is happening

      1. jason wright

        It needs to. Fashion verses style. One is never out of fashion.

    2. LE

      You are saying that as if it’s all down side. Desire is good it drives people. People do all sorts of things for what could be considered the wrong reason.What about the Super Bowl? How much ‘pollution’ will be caused by that ‘stupid game’ ‘all in’. A great deal.How much downside is there (pollution or otherwise) to NYC holding an annual Macy’s parade?How much downside is caused by Fred and Joanne flying ‘all over the place’?That said my own personal example of ‘reverse’ mimetic desire (and by the way until you mentioned it I had never heard of that at all) is the fact that I have zero interest in buying a Tesla. I have not been primed by the right thoughts to find that attractive at all. I (as I think many people) aspire to things they desired back in high school and college not things that are newly invented so to speak.

      1. jason wright

        With mimetic desire it is not your direct thoughts of desire for an object (a Tesla) that drives you. It is your perception that another person has thoughts of desire for a Tesla that drives you to desire a Tesla. This is called suggested desire. The idea is that our thoughts of desire for an object are mediated by our perception that a (role) model desires the object, a perception that may be true but may also be false. Whether true or false desire is still triggered. The use of the celebrity to endorse a product or service is a technique for triggering such suggested desire in a consumer. There are natural ‘appetites’, which are ‘good’ (necessary) for survival, for living, to sustain one, but mimetic desire is not that. Mimetic desire is a kind of contagion of the mind contracted from others, for ‘wants’ and not ‘needs’, which is down side.

  3. WinkieBoy

    but where is the savvy garmento who understands trends, brand building and making money at the same time? … Virgil Abloh as soon as he finds the right business partner.

  4. awaldstein

    Does Carbon 38 offer a new equivalent in a different segment or is simple a bygone thing I wonder.Replaced by a series of tiny brands like Allbirds, Free Fly Apparel and others.Interesting question.

    1. Gotham Gal

      They just built a solid brand

      1. awaldstein

        no small feat.realreal as well.