The Origins of Ralph Lauren
Polo Ralph Lauren is the name of the brand created by Ralph Lifshitz. Born and raised in the Bronx to Ashkenazi immigrant’s parents, he served in the army, studied economy and first worked in the historical Brooks Brothers. A while after, he worked for Beau Brummell, a brand that used the name of the mythical dandy, considered the creator of the actual man’s suit.
Ralph got the idea of creating a tie brand with a different style. Soon after, he started working with Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus. The instant success pushed him to expand the company and develop other lines of products.
The Creation of Polo
The original idea was to increase the tie offerings in the catalogue for clients. To achieve that, he had to create a preppy and elegant image with a typical American aesthetic. He chose the name Polo and the logo that we all know today, together with an image inspired by the WASP and the university students from well-off families who played tennis in the Hamptons.
Ralph Lauren’s Expansion
In 1972, he launched women’s collection that kept the masculine cut in its beginning, and where, for the first time, the famous logo that we know today of the man on the horse appeared.
The brand first evolved in the United States where it extended into perfumes, home decoration, denim, sportswear and even restaurants. This expansion created a conglomerate under the Ralph Lauren style signature. According to his own statement, Ralph Lauren was selling more than just clothes. He was selling the American dream.
Ralph Lauren became an inspiring brand that first grew in the United States and took on the rest of the world, establishing a real legacy far from the Bronx and from his Jewish origins. The image of Ralph Lauren was associated to the Ivy League, to the costumes created for The Great Gatsby, to Annie Hall and to Native Americans.
One of his collections was randomly created in the nineties with a product that was far from its origins: a tie brand.
In 1902, American president Theodore Roosevelt was the guest of honor of a hunt in Mississippi. During many days, the press was talking about how unlucky the president was in catching preys and it started to become a state affair. To stop the rumors, the hosts ended up tying up an animal to the tree so the President could achieve his goal. However, his love for nature and animals made him change his mind and see this as a dishonest act. His attitude practically became a satire in The Washington Post and helped him earn the reputation of a noble man.
Following the Washington Post article, a toy store of a so-called Morris Michtom in Brooklyn manufactured a cuddly bear that recreated the publication and called it “Teddy” as a reference to Theodore Roosevelt.
The shop even asked permission from the President to start making these bears in his own company, Ideal Novelty (a company that used to be part of the groups Hasbro and Mattel).
This bear was supposed to remain a joke that would never be approved by New Yorker but its commercialization took a different turn with Richard Steiff, the nephew of a big toy company founder. Five years after the famous hunt, the company produced more than a million Teddy Bears annually. What started as a joke quickly became a collectible.
Ralph Lauren & Teddy Bears’ Relationship
Jerry Lauren, the brother of Ralph and the creative director of the brand during many years, was a collector of Teddy Bears. In 1990, one of Jerry’s colleagues gave him Teddy Bears dressed as Ralph for his birthday.
As a private joke, they created a limited edition of those stuffed animals dressed in Polo attire. It sold out on the first week. The bear of Ralph Lauren was considered the most stylish bear of the world. It had clothes similar to the “human” collection. The clothes were made using the same fabrics, along with watches adapted to the bear’s size.
Teddy Bears Launch
These inaccessible Teddy Bears were the excuse to launch a collection of clothes and became a reference, first to the preppy style, and after, to hip hop gear that used some of these elements to give the style a fresh new spin. Raven-Symoné, the little girl who played Will’s stepsister in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” dedicated a rap song to Teddy Bear.
There were bears wearing the classic sweater of the American flag, others playing Polo, tennis, golf or basketball. Some were even raising their glass or wearing collections of Ralph Lauren. It became an essential piece in everyone’s wardrobe. Some bears had patterns too! The Teddy Bear became an emblem for the brand.
An End With a New Beginning
The agreement with Steiff, the original manufacturer of the bears, was over in 2001. For almost a decade, the bears disappeared from Ralph Lauren’s collections. The absence helped them become even more exclusive as they were already considered mythical and surpassed the preppy frontiers.
Drake and Kanye West associated the bear to hip hop. So has Raekwon and Lo-Life back in the nineties.
In 2013, Ralph Lauren brought back his Teddy Bears, determined to revive them. He launched editions of the classic and of new models, including the ones dressed like American Olympians. The Teddy Bear turned into a true symbol of identity. It became as notorious as the man on the horse logo.
The Gist of it
Ralph Lauren shot to fame when he expanded his line into women’s wear, denim, home décor, and even restaurants. From joke to glory, he reimagined the infamous Teddy Bear, designed after Teddy Roosevelt, and incorporated it into his line. People enjoyed the Teddy Bear products since the 1990s and now it’s back with a punch.
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