“I wish you well.”
When a certain Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow emerged from the courthouse, freshly victorious in a symbolic $1 ski-collision lawsuit, the internet world burst into a veritable state of collective hysteria, forever meme-ifying her sardonic remark to her legal adversary in the pages of pop-culture history. What also exploded simultaneously, at least, onto the fashion scene was the Oscar-winning star’s scene-stealing double-breasted navy blazer from Ralph Lauren – no doubt, another one for the history books!
In fact, although nearly all of Paltrow’s courtcore lewks had gained an obscene amount of attention thanks to the fashion fanzines (from her Celine boots and Prada cashmere, right down to her Mountain Valley water bottle!), it was really her verdict-day outfit that heightened the minimalism madness. And all of a sudden, Ralph Lauren, the underrated all-American powerhouse previously accredited for the quintessential Polo, had become a poster child for the quiet luxury movement. So, of course, we, as the fashion-obsessed folks we are, simply couldn’t get enough of it!
Classic Americana, Boldly Reimagined
Uniquely rooted in New York, Ralph Lauren’s origins date back to 1968, when the man himself began selling up-crafted neckties from a tiny drawer unit in the Empire State Building. Legend has it that Mr. Lauren originally pitched an idea for European-style ties inspired by those he saw the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. wearing. But having been subsequently dismissed, he set up his own operations at 26, going on to launch the tell-tale Polo label in 1971 and even designing the entire menswear ensemble for the cast of The Great Gatsby in 1974.
At its core, the influence of the 1920s remained pervasive in Lauren’s silhouettes (and continues to even today, as Mr. Lauren finds himself among the eager enthusiasts of Downton Abbey), and the era’s boxy blazers, crisp shirts, and tailored pants presented a sharp contrast to Lauren’s dreaded “three buttons and narrow lapels” of the sixties.
The appeal, therefore, was obvious and nearly instantaneous. In many ways, it was this vision of a cosmopolitan, wealthy polo-playing lifestyle Polo peddled that drew shoppers and designers alike, and for the next generation of American Creative Directors, like Tory Burch, Vera Wang, Michael Bastian, and Thom Browne, working at Ralph Lauren served as a canon event of sorts.
Eventually, the brand expanded into accessories, fragrances, homeware, silverware, and more, with over 25 registered names ranging from the high-end Purple Label to Denim & Supply and Lauren by Ralph Lauren. And that’s how we, as purse lovers, find ourselves at the juncture we are at today.
Ricky, Marcy, and More!
Back when I was desperately scouring the market for a work-school-gym tote (hey, a guy needs a bag to live in!), I discovered a little-known gem from Ralph Lauren’s diffusion label, Lauren by Ralph Lauren – the Brigitte tote. With an organized, three-compartment interior that is, in no small part, reminiscent of the Sac de Jour (*sighs*), my decision to purchase the gem of a purse was originally purely functional. As the brand has since materialized in the arms of fashionistas around the world, however, I find myself increasingly appreciative of my vintage find (and the object of quite a few envious glances, might I add), and, like said fashionistas, I too have begun to look at the brand with renewed interest.
Of course, when speaking of the heritage label’s handbags, the Ricky is what’s automatically conjured in our minds, and for a good reason too. Fashioned and named after his wife and muse, the Ricky was a structured affair that debuted in 2005 and has since not only been seen on lady Ricky herself but also on Jessica Alba, Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon, and most recently, Charlotte York from the And Just Like That universe.
In fact, while Charlotte’s croc Ricky is one of those bags that remains on your wishlist for such an inordinately long period of time, you develop an unhealthy obsession with it (or it becomes a Holy Grail), the 2013 addition to the product line, the soft Ricky, has long been a regular go-to for New York-dwellers. Other popular renditions of the Ricky include mini, crossbody, and clutch versions, while a tech-savvy 2015 iteration even came with its own battery bank and LED lights!
That’s not all, though. The RL50, the Marcy, and, lately, the Polo ID have all had their moments under the sun, with distinctive designs and perfect proportions garnering fans who swear by them. And yet, Ralph Lauren isn’t a brand you see everywhere or splattered across social media every other day, which, in an industry where exposure is expected, may seem like a bizarre choice.
The Stealthy and the Wealthy
Slept-on, underrated, a hidden gem – however you’d like to put it, it was probably by design. As a matter of fact, unlike its premier counterparts primarily preoccupied with the idea of an It-girl, Mr. Ralph quietly went on to determine the It-boy uniform for decades to come. Neither did he wish for the label of a traditional stamp of a high-end house, largely steering clear of major luxury department stores, despite going public in 1997.
Although it specializes in neutrals, Ralph Lauren’s more vibrant offerings are just as delightful.
Plus, when compared to its contemporaries, few brands have been able to stay true to their ethos of exclusivity like Ralph Lauren has. It may not be the hardest bag to find on the market, but it’s nowhere near the ubiquity of a Chanel or Hermès. And perhaps that’s the real reason why the house has become such a darling among the stealth wealth set. Classically American, chic yet casual, the brand relies on tried-and-tested designs and a largely subdued palette (even though they can do color with equal aplomb) to create, as Amanda says, “a ladies-who-lunch cachet, but bolder.”
And in an industry incessantly chattering about the latest and the greatest, perhaps the privilege of falling back on effortless, familiar styles encapsulates the spirit of quiet luxury best. Well, folks, that’s Ralph Lauren for you.