The Real Life of Ralph Lauren
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Tepid, unauthorized biography of The King of Lifestyle Merchandizing.

“Ralphie had a thing for clothes,” writes Gross (Model, 1995, etc.) of young Ralph Lifshitz, who grew up in the Bronx during the 1940s and ’50s. The chapters about the youthful Lauren and the old Jewish neighborhood in which he spent his early years are the most interesting here. Ralph’s mother had his future mapped out as a rabbi, but instead he got into haberdashery (ties, that is), and his destiny was sealed. “I'm promoting a level of taste, a total feeling,” the designer now named Ralph Lauren declared of his ties in 1967. Sound familiar? So does much of this account, which suffers from the author’s lack of access to Lauren and most of his family, many of his associates, and a host of industry insiders who didn't want to alienate him. What readers get instead of interviews with those in the know is hardly surprising: rival designers dis Lauren and dismiss his ideas as knock-offs; the photographers Slim Aarons and Bruce Weber are credited with playing big roles in his image; he’s criticized for commodifying status and elevating traditional to immortal; his workplace is depicted as having an unsavory atmosphere (“in later years, employees would equate Lauren with cult leader Jim Jones”); and Gross writes little about his character more complimentary than: “The checklist of narcissistic personality traits seems to fit Lauren like a bespoke suit.” Nor is it exactly a shock that an ace image manipulator would also be an utter control freak. On the other hand, the author handles with clinical circumspection Lauren's admitted affair with model Kim Nye and views the company’s bottom line as more important than his less-than-elegant behavior as an employer, which “typically began with seduction and ended with abuse.”

One-note and strangely impersonal: the public Lauren when readers were looking for the private. (12 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-019904-0
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003


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