10 Best Moments from ‘Very Ralph,” The Documentary Chronicling Five Decades of Lauren’s Incredible Career
He’s built one of fashion’s most recognisable and enduring brands and to mark his 50th anniversary in business, Ralph Lauren has collaborated with HBO and Sky on a feature length fashion documentary. It details the story of Lauren’s rise from a Bronx teen with an uncanny sense of taste to the man who came to define American style. Along the way, he revolutionised retail (his flagship stores were like complete worlds, which shoppers entered into as if stepping onto a film set) and brand building (he went public in 1997, to the tune of $767m). In Very Ralph, the 80-year-old design legend takes us on a tour of his world. There are wide ranging interviews with Ralph at his many homes and plenty of archive fashion footage (people used to smoke on the front row of fashion shows: fact!). What comes across is how focused and determined Ralph is, how aligned he is to the American Dream, the consistent nature of his style is and what a great guy he is. His love for wife Ricky and her effortless elegance is at the heart of both the film and his brand. “Beauty, comfort and dreams,” is one commentator’s summation of the Ralph world. These are bits you’ll want to rewind and watch over.
1. Becoming an adjective
Some people want to be rich. Some people want to be famous. But the most powerful and enduring thing you can aspire to be is an adjective. The Very Ralph of the film’s title, refers to how people, places and things can have an identifiable Ralph-like quality. Becoming an adjective is the ultimate sign that you’ve made it, which in itself is “very Ralph.”
2. Ralph’s Teen style
The unbelievable consistency of Ralph Lauren’s style is illustrated in one shot of him as a kid. The Bronx teen is shown leaning back against a wire fence, arms outstretched, smiling, confident and looking unbelievably good in a baseball jacket and elk-motif jumper worn over a white shirt. His jeans hang perfectly on his hips. This was not a kid who threw himself together without a care. All the pieces look timeless but could be in his collection today.
3. The Ricky Montage
Ralph credits the influence of his wife Ricky on his design aesthetic. Long hair, minimal make-up coupled with a tomboy elegance and sense of simplicity are the hallmarks of Ricky’s style. Ricky is the kind of woman who makes wearing a bespoke ball gown look as effortless as wearing her favourite pair of jeans and the documentary stitches together a glorious montage of her best looks. Whether it’s strolling on the lush lawns of her Colorado ranch in a check shirt tucked into faded denim, or wearing dungarees in the seventies for a family snap, or dressed for a glittering party strapless white silk, and wet hair – it is clear that Ricky’s is Ralph’s ultimate fashion icon.
4. Rollerblading models
There’s lots of great vintage catwalk footage in the movie but one of the most memorable clips is from a Polo Sport catwalk show. Inspired by the active lifestyles fo the New Yorkers he saw on the street, Ralph sent models down his catwalk on rollerblades, dressed them in boxing gear and had them pose with mountain bikes. “Ralph was the first to see how street style would become the world’s uniform,” says Anna Wintour.
5. House Porn
One of Ralph’s greatest achievements was to evolve beyond fashion into a global lifestyle brand. “All of a sudden he said ‘I’ve got to do homeware, because I’ve got to put stuff in my house. I need napkins,” remembers his film director son, Andrew of the moment his father moved into interiors. The lifestyle element of the Ralph brand was a natural expression of his father’s desire to create worlds. “Every place is a set. It’s my parent’s movie,” he explains before describing his father’s collection of homes. In upstate New York, the Bedford estate, “feels like you are in England,” the Colorado ranch is the most glamorous and cosy log cabin in the world. The bright simplicity of the beach house in Montauk feels intimate and relaxing, the Jamaica house is glamorous and laid back whilst the white-and-steel interiors of the New York apartment exude sleek, city chic.
6. Karl Lagerfeld’s seal of approval
Karl Lagerfeld is one of many notable fashion figures to appear in the film. Lagerfeld was famous for his sharp remarks but he had nothing but respect for Lauren. “Ralph Lauren: He looks good as a cowboy. I like it for him. I would be ridiculous. He is not,” he says, adding, “for me his is the American designer who represents America and American fashion best for the rest of the world.”
7. Naomi Campbell’s Cameo
No fashion documentary is complete without a Naomi Campbell cameo. The supermodel talks about the impact of the 1997 Polo Sport campaigns she starred in with fellow iconic Ralph Lauren model Tyson Beckford. “It was a big deal to have two people of colour in a global ad campaign,” says the super who praised Lauren for his long held embrace of diversity in his ads.
8. Kanye gets lyrical about the Polo shirt
Ralph’s influence has been felt across the culture not least in hiphop. Lo-Life gang members, Wu-Tang’s Raekwon and Snoop Dog embraced the brand in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Kanye West makes a brief appearance in the documentary to talk about how the Ralph Lauren Polo shirt was an aspirational symbol to him. Students of West will know that he wore a Polo Bear sweater for the cover shoot for The College Dropout and rapped on the track Barry Bonds, “But I’m doing pretty good as far as geniuses go, and I’m doing pretty hood in my pink polo.” In the documentary, footage of a young Kanye, mic in hand, wearing a lemon yellow loose fitting version rolls and West says, “I needed a way to set myself apart. What would be my magicians cloak? And it was the Polo shirt. It said that I could travel from the south side of Chicago to the beaches of Montauk.”
9. Ralph’s cultural power
The film illustrates how Ralph defined not only an era of American style but also of advertising. There’s fascinating behind the scenes footage of the designer’s epic 1980s Bruce Webber-shot campaigns with kids and dogs and tribes of beautiful Ralph models. Ralph and Ricky also feature in the cinematic campaigns which were shot in idealised American settings (dude ranches, on speedboats or the stables of a Gatsby-esque mansion). Such was Ralph’s clout that these lavish images would run over 18 consecutive pages in glossy magazines.
10. Ralph as a fashion Yoda
At the end of the film, after he’s celebrated fifty years in business, with an emotional and uplifting show in New York’s Central Park, Lauren reflects on his life and imparts some wisdom. “I’m living the life I dreamt about living and I’ve enjoyed creating my own world,” he says, as the camera pans across the lake at his Bedford estate. That shot segues into a lingering photograph of Ralph and Ricky arm in arm, walking away. “Sometimes you have to fulfil your dreams to know what your real dream is about. The real dream is about family, children. Having peace.”
‘Very Ralph’ is now available to stream on HBO.