The DeWitt Clinton High School yearbook, in the year 1957 saw an iconic emblem make a bold prediction. The legendary Ralph Lauren wrote “millionaire” as one of his life goals. Not many believed in him, but he sure did. Today, he has an estimated net worth of $7 billion, according to Forbes, after he made billions with his signature brand, Polo Ralph Lauren.
Not many know this, but long before he became a fashion icon, he was known as Ralph Lipschitz, the youngest son of a Jewish immigrant family living in the Bronx. Growing up, he learned to escape his family’s poverty by going to the movies and immersing himself in the fictional plot lines.
“He would literally fall into the fantasies of the movies of that era,” Michael Gross, author of ” Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren ,” told Bloomberg. “He truly did project himself into the scenes in which men like Gary Cooper and Cary Grant were playing. He saw the characters that populated his dreams and visions, and that vision – that ability to step into a fantasy world – Ralph brought to the fashion business.”
He further detached from his humble origins in his late teens when he chose to change his name from Lipschitz to Lauren after enduring years of teasing and bullying. Later, after a short stint in the army, Lauren moved back to New York City and started working as a clerk at Brooks Brothers.
Then came his crucial transformative experience – his first polo match – this helped shape his perspective and activate his entrepreneurial spirit. “We were exposed to fabulous things,” recalled Warren Helstein, the friend that took him to the polo match. “The silver, the leather, the horses, the tall slinky blondes with the big hats, and the high society that we really weren’t knowledgeable of.”
The event inspired young Ralph to start developing a high-class, elegant brand, which would eventually become Polo Ralph Lauren. His friend Warren’s contribution will invaluable, later on he would go on to be a key aspect of the Warner/Lauren distribution network. Who said you shouldn’t combine friendship and business? None of these iconic individuals would have been where they are without each other.
Ralph only had a high school diploma and a few business classes under his belt, the decision to start his own company was the first of the many risks Lauren would take in his legendary career.The next decision of his would go on to be the most important one he would take. Designing wide, colorful neckties at a time when narrow and plain was the norm.The radical approach won over Bloomingdale’s – and loads of customers. He sold over $500,000 worth of ties in one year. This was an astronomical sales figure for those times.
Despite such quick success, Lauren relentlessly expanded his company. “Ralph doesn’t sit on his laurels for one minute,” Lauren’s protege John Varvatos told Bloomberg . “You can enjoy the moment, but you have to keep things going – and you can’t be a one-trick pony.”
What separated him from the rest was that when it came to new design ideas, Lauren kept it simple. He envisioned clothing that he would want to wear, clothing fit for a movie star.”What you thought Cary Grant was wearing, you could not walk into a store and buy,” he told Charlie Rose in 1993. “The things that I made, you could not buy. You could not find them anywhere.”
The wide-eyed kid who dreamed of becoming a millionaire now, at age 75, enjoys the spoils of his success, with homes in Jamaica, Long Island, Bedford, and Manhattan, as well as a 17,000-acre ranch in Colorado.
He also boasts one of the world’s most valuable car collections. “Others collect art, but for me owning a rare and magnificently designed car offers a different kind of experience,” he told Architectural Digest . “In the end you can enjoy both the beauty of the machine and the journey it takes you on.”
In one of the most inspiring success stories, this blue eyed boy from the Bronx continues to inspire the countless that idolized him. Whether it’s his clothing range or beauty grooming, he’s revolutionized it all. This story is yet another witness to the fact that destiny is what we make of it, and not something out of hand.
So, what are you waiting for? Keep going at what you love and maybe someday you’d feature on one such story too!