Growing up in the Bronx, Ralph Lauren never dreamed of clothes—at least, not at first. He dreamed of baseball. “As a kid, I played sandlot baseball and didn’t know a designer’s name,” he says, recalling a boyhood centered on local stickball games and the towering walls of nearby Yankee Stadium. Designers weren’t his heroes; the pinstripe sluggers of the ’40s and ’50s were. When he’d go to watch the games, Ralph sat way up in the bleachers. Singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with the rest of the fans in the seventh inning, Ralph was just another kid from the Bronx who loved America’s pastime.
“All I thought about then was making the winning catch for my baseball team,” he says, “but as I grew older, sporting prowess figured less in my daydreams. Impressing the girls started to be more interesting.” As many a young man has found before and since, a smart wardrobe can help in this endeavor, and Ralph’s longtime wife, Ricky, would later recall how dapper Ralph looked on the day they first met.
Decades later, Ralph’s impact on American style is beyond dispute, but those early days watching the Yankees had an equally lasting impact on him. They informed the name of his brand—which he half-jokingly considered calling “Baseball” before landing on something a bit more polished and sophisticated: “Polo.”
As Ralph’s company grew and his vision for American style spread across the country and the world, he never forgot his roots as a kid from the Bronx. Over his past 50 years shaping America’s wardrobe and sense of self, Ralph has been generous in giving back to the city and the country that laid the foundation for his success. From founding the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care in Harlem to a $13 million donation to preserve the Star-Spangled Banner, he has made a point, loudly and clearly, to support the place that inspired and allowed him to become who he is today.
Back then, though, Ralph was just like any other kid from the Bronx—watching, wide-eyed, as the Yankees took the field.
- PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF RALPH LAUREN CORPORATION