My Car Quest

July 9, 2020

Ralph: Why We Luv Ya

by Wallace Wyss –

If there is anyone in the rag trade that’s anybody it’s good ol’ Ralph Lauren (aka Lifshitz). Ralph was always firm for believing clothes make the man. The story is that he started out in fashion selling paisley ties out of the trunk of his Morgan. He built his business until it was an empire.

Now he has a world class car collection topped by a Ferrari 250GTO (of which there are 36 or 39 depending on how you want to parse them). He tastefully weaves his own cars into a few of his car ads, never letting the car demand too much attention–after all the cars are there not only to sell the clothes but to sell the preppie life style.

Ralph Lauren Ad

Polo ad 2019. The clothes are let’s go out and enjoy the weather. Nothing in the clothes say “Mercedes” but you know this guy would drive this car.

Now Ralph himself was not a preppie. He grew up in a tough neighborhood, the son of a Russian immigrant. I don’t think he ever played polo though one of his labels is Polo. But I remember being in his flagship store in Manhattan, in an old mansion, and there were pictures all over the walls of preppie looking guys with different sports accoutrements. I recognized the tennis racket (I played the game myself) but some were foreign to me? Squash?

Back to the cars. What Ralph has done in his ads and own magazine is showing how cars can be part of a man’s fashion ensemble and how he, the man ( women are in some of the ads but these are menswear ads) can complement the car. I hate to think that I’ve owned some of the cars sought after by preppies (gullwing, Ferrari, Porsche 356) but I wasn’t always dressed in the spirit of the car. You know what I mean.

I cite for example say the pilot of a restored WW2 plane, We would not like to see the pilot emerge from the cockpit of say a P51 Mustang wearing a suit, but instead pressed khakis, engineer boots, a bomber jacket, maybe a white scarf, mirrored Ray bans.

So in a salute to Ralph Lauren here’s some pictures he’s used in his ads and RL magazine that show what to wear to make it look like you own the car. Send in your pictures of you with your car and we’ll pick a few we think Ralph would approve of…

Ralph Lauren Ad

2010 ad with a Morgan. This is where the owner dresses to match the Morgan. And no socks! how brave!

ralph-lauren-50th-anniversary-2018-habituallychic-001

Ralph with old truck. I even credit Ralph with starting the “patina” look-by showing himself with an old car or truck unrestored, as if to say “I, am a working man, I ain’t got time to dress up me or my truck.” Here he was selling denim, leather belts, and his youthful look (how does a guy stay so young looking with grey hair?)

Ralph Lauren Ad

Land Rover. While Ralph is often photographed in his Jeep, in some ads he goes to the more up-market Land Rover as a prop. I’d ding this guy for no socks but hey maybe this was before Ralph sold socks. Land Rovers have an image of we-can-conquer-anything though these clothes are a tad too preppy.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph in his jeep. He likes to wear one of those cheap straw cowboy hats, the mirrored shades, the down vest. It’s like he can remember every cool car he ever saw and what the driver was wearing. He even owns a ranch in Tellluride, CO which is often in his RL Ranchwear ads. He bought the ranch partly because it had a 100-year old barn stocked with 100-yer old clothes. So he really knows how cowboys dressed back in the 20th Century.

Ralph Lauren Ad

Suede jacket with D-type Jag. Or is it C-type? If it is aluminum bodied, and I was the owner I’d be tempted to give that lad a cuffing. On the other hand that beard, could be a savage response. Maybe this is the most wild-haired of RL models.

Ralph Lauren Ad

Prewar Bugatti. Almost right on, Ralph me man. Long topcoat, looks matte finished (seude?). Nice earth tones, only the alligator skin bag might be a little too frou-frou. Maybe only thing wrong is the collar. I’d have the prewar rounded edge collar or maybe no tie, but instead an ascot. I live in the Inland Empire where they don’t know (or care) what an ascot is. They are not Ralph disciples…

I met Ralph once at Pebble where his Bugatti coupe took first place. I think he had a blue blazer, dress shirt and tie, white pants and slippers. Velvet with his monogram. I thought “slippers, why slippers on a golf course?” and then I got it. He was saying in an oh-so-subtle way, “I can wear slippers because I just came over from my hotel room in the Lodge.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Ralph Lauren has arrived…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has written 18 books on classic cars. He is co-host of Autotalk, a radio show broadcast once a week from KUCR-FM Riverside.

 
 
 
 

A note from Mike Gulett, Publisher

Ralph Lauren’s Ferrari 250 GTO once belonged to Stephen Mitchell who drove it as a daily driver back in the day in Southern California.

Ferrari 250 GTO

Stephen Mitchell’s Ferrari 250 GTO in the parking lot at Riverside Raceway – photo by Larry Crane, circa 1970

Ferrari 250 GTO

Stephen Mitchell and friends with Ralph Lauren’s Ferrari 250 GTO in a Paris museum.

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Ralph: Why We Luv Ya
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Ralph: Why We Luv Ya
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Now Ralph himself was not a preppie. He grew up in a tough neighborhood, the son of a Russian immigrant. I don't think he ever played polo though one of his labels is Polo.
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Comments

  1. Interesting comparing the 2 250 GTO pics, as it looks to have had a bit of a nip and tuck nose job. In the newer pic, we see chrome edged rectangular lights in what was an inner circular recess, and I think that the main now chrome edged main mouth is a different shape compared with the 1970 oval. Was this a reversion to 1963 stock? On reflection, the 1970 pic looks like the one that’s different from stock.

  2. Peter Heimann says

    Before Mr. Lifschitz there was Brooks Bothers of course – further downtown from where he grew up. I got my first credit card from BB at age 16 – they knew how to hook a prepster ! But those of us who did attend NE boarding schools (St. Mark’s ‘70), may also remember the roving salesmen from The Andover Shop who would appear in the school’s village every year in the Fall and tempt those of us with sartorial interests. All else that came after in the US: J. Crew, Ralph, Paul Stuart etc were simply variations on the same theme. The best shop that ever thematically blended fine clothes with classic automobiles was the original Connolly shop in the mews behind the Lanesborough Hotel (in my humble opinion) in London.

    P. Heimann, Vienna, Austria

  3. Great piece, I love it! I was surprised to not see the car I stared at for three days straight in Scottsdale back in the early 90s while working on the grounds of the Barrett-Jackson auction…Ralph’s Bugatti Atlantic. I walked by it, took a double take, and was literally frozen in my tracks for the next hour. I kept finding excuses to go back and look at it day and night. That riveted seam that runs up the middle, tracing the sexy line of the car…one of the coolest things on the planet to me.

  4. Wes Stewart says

    “We would not like to see the pilot emerge from the cockpit of say a P51 Mustang wearing a suit, ”

    I’ve seen Bob Hoover, one of the best pilots who ever lived, crawl out of a P-51 in a business suit, particularly at air shows where he also drove an Aero Commander.

  5. Robb Northrup says

    Great to see Ralph in his “casuals” on the ranch in a beat-up Jeep. It’s like Italian farmers: they can look so classy in their bib overalls (I have a photo in an Italian book that proves it!). See, he’s still one of us, and maybe the one who can teach to dress up a little for car events so we don’t look like slobs…

  6. Wayne Watkins says

    I don’t know how many paisley ties he fitted in the trunk/boot of his Morgan as they don’t have one . Instead you will find one or two spare wheels . Maybe he stuffed them behind the seats under the soft top roof !

  7. Glenn Krasner says

    Mr. Lauren grew up the son of immigrant parents in the Bronx, New York, and allegedly sold ties out of a briefcase with legs in front of Bloomingdale’s at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Besides all the preppy themes, Ralph thoroughly embraces both the old and new West, with many ads featuring horses and western fashion, even with him sporting such clothes. When his son, David, married Lauren Bush, the wedding was held at his huge ranch out west, and the entire theme of the wedding was Western. I read a magazine interview with him not too long ago, and he said that once he saved up enough money he bought a used Mercedes convertible, root beer brown on the outside with tan leather. So, he aspired to and embraced the preppy lifestyle like his prospective customers.

    Glenn in the Bronx, NY.

  8. Rob Krantz says

    Always loved the Ralph Lauren preppy look and have owned many Polo branded clothes over the years. Maybe because I’m an East Coast boy from my formative years and because of that, became more used to seeing Khaki pants and penny loafers or boat shoes, sans socks. BTW Wallace, there’s nothing wrong with the “sockless”, quintessential preppy look 🙂! I prefer my Rockport boat shoes (over Sperry Topsiders), sans socks…..it’s just a “thing” and perhaps more of an East Coast vs. West Coast look! Ralph Lauren represents the perfect “rags to riches” story and is to be celebrated as part of the American Dream….to be a self made man (or woman as the case may be) and creating a successful business. His love of cars and using them as effective props in his ads, makes his story that much better IMO.

  9. Rob,

    I love “rags to riches” – great line. I have been a big fan of Ralph Lauren clothes for many years especially the socks I bought at the Ralph Lauren store at the Stanford shopping center in Palo Alto, CA.

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