With a net worth of $6.5 billion, it’s hard to imagine that Ralph Lauren’s luxury label and privileged lifestyle is a far cry away from his modest upbringing.
But in the recent documentary, Bloomberg's Game Changers: Ralph Lauren, the richest man in American fashion reveals the struggles of his youth growing up as part of a Jewish immigrant working-class family.
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Youngest of four children, Ralph Lauren or Ralph Lifshitz, shared a bedroom with his brothers, whilst growing up in the Bronx, New York in the 1940s and 50s.
At the age of 12, he worked after school to fund his extravagant taste in clothing and was known for selling hand-made ties to his fellow students at school - little did he know this would become the driving force of his entrepreneurial success.
He would spend his afternoons as a teenager at the cinema dreaming of a better life. And this dream of fantasy and fiction translated into the designer’s later work which was influenced by actors such as Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.
Michael Gross, author of the biography Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren says ''that vision, that ability to step into a fantasy world, Ralph bought to the fashion business.''
Ralph's love for elegant style and fine living was rivalled only by his drive for success. And this determination to step away from his childhood misfortune was ever present from an early age.
The Daily Telegraph published an article in 1986 that ''he doesn’t like talking about his roots, but his towering ambition discovered itself early: Asked to list his goals in the De Witt Clinton High school’s class of 1957 yearbook, Ralph wrote: 'millionaire.''
But after leaving the army in 1964, the designer worked as a sales clerk at Brooks Brothers. He married receptionist Ricky Low-Beer, who is still his wife, and moved to New York to live his American dream.
It was only by 1967 that he started designing and making professional ties after having gained fashion experience at Rivetz & Co. His innovative wide tie designs made over half a million dollars.
And following the release of his infamous Ralph Lauren polo shirt in 1972, the designer was transformed from cinema dreamer to worldwide fashion mogul.
It had taken him two decades to progress from his first low-payed job as a glove salesman to multi-millionaire status.
Since then Ralph Lauren’s brand has rocketed with over 300 stores in the US and 100 others worldwide. All collections boast the label's renowned all American-style which combines easy-to-wear pieces in luxurious materials and fashion-forward ensembles.
And Ralph's children are following in their father's footsteps. David Lauren, married to Lauren Bush (niece of former US president George W Bush) is the senior vice president at Polo Ralph Lauren. Andrew Lauren by contrast is a singer and actor and Dylan Lauren owns the famous Dylan's candy bar, in New York.
Ralph once asked: ''People ask how can a Jewish kid from the Bronx do preppy clothes? Does it have to do with class and money? It has to do with dreams.'' And influenced by this sense of dream, the 79-year-old’s impressive empire has earned his style icon status. As the 122nd wealthiest man in the world, the fashion designer resides a deluxe home on Fifth Avenue, New York. He also owns beach resorts in Jamaica and Montauk, Long Island and despite his advancing years is still a regular on the US social scene.
His motto 'we don’t sell an item, we sell a way of life' certainly proved a point. The living legend stands for a dream - and it was a dream that certainly came true.