Ralph Lauren’s Most Iconic Fashion Moments

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On this 78th birthday (October 14), we look back on some of Ralph Lauren’s most iconic fashion moments.

In 2015, Ralph Lauren stepped down as CEO of the fashion empire he built over the last five decades—but he stayed on as chief creative officer and ensured the successful fashion brand he marketed and sold to the American public and the world at large as a bucolic lifestyle will live on.

The Ralph Lauren world is one of healthy, beautiful tanned citizens who seemed to wile away the hours of the day in pursuit of leisurely pursuits like polo, yachting and going on opulent safaris.

It’s a rarified world – one where less than the one-per-centers occupy, hence his multitude of lower-priced brands catering to the masses so they- too, can buy into the fantasy.

But the world of luxury, heritage and refined taste the 78-year-old designer embodies is a lifestyle away from his humble upbringing in the Bronx where he was born as Ralph Lifshitz and started his fashion career designing neck ties.

But nevertheless, Lauren was one of a handful of New York designers who came to cultivate a look that defined what American fashion would look like.

Here we look at some of his defining fashion moments.

The Polo Shirt was not invented by Ralph Lauren – that was René Lacoste – but Lauren came out with his version in 1972 with the emblem of a galloping polo player on horseback, which was not only his most iconic design but it became a symbol of the preppy era of the 1980s. No prepster would be caught in any other branded pop collared shirt.

The pink princess-style gown he designed for Gywneth Paltrow for the 1999 Oscars, where she won the Best Actress Academy Award for Shakespeare in Love, was hailed as one of the greatest – and worst – Oscar dresses of all time by some fashion pundits. Even the actress’s mother was not a fan, declaring it ill-fitting. However, a sign of the success and influence of this pink dress were the many copies that flooded the market after the event.

The designer came out with a fragrance, several collections and ads that evoked a languid, colonial-looking safari expedition – all khakis and billowing white dresses. However, according to news reports, he never stepped foot on the continent of Africa. Just chalk it up to really savvy marketing, styling and iconic imagery, which he was a master at – for conveying such a rich tapestry of storytelling.

Since Lauren was so adept at using clothing to convey a story, time and place, he was the most apt designer to create the costumes for one of the most sumptuous fashion movies about the 1920s – The Great Gatsby. The movie, when released in 1974, sparked a trend for bias-cut dresses.

Another big pop culture moment for the designer was on the popular sitcom, Friends. One of the main characters, Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston, works for the Ralph Lauren company. The designer made a guest appearance on the show.

Since the Ralph Lauren esthetic is also one of the good sporting life, the designer was tapped to create the outfits for the American athletes at Wimbledon 2006, US Open 2005, the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.