A new book celebrates Ralph Lauren’s irrepressible ability to conjure beautiful interiors and gives us a peek at his own enviable homes. By Kim Parker
‘I design more like a writer or cinematographer creating a world of characters and environments – a way of living for each of us to live in and dream in,’ says Ralph Lauren, in his latest book, Ralph Lauren: A Way of Living, which is available at his New Bond Street flagship store.
Over the last six decades, the American impresario and designer has gone from selling ties to founding his own fashion business and nurturing it into an international $7 billion-a-year corporation, encompassing everything from cable-knit cashmere to coffee shops. But it is through his own-branded homeware, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, that Lauren’s famously exacting taste, talent for romantic storytelling and eye for exquisite detailing can truly be appreciated.
Unlike many fashion designers who have made tentative forays into interior décor via a single line of bed linen or co-branded collaborations with storied retailers, Lauren unleashed a fully-fledged lifestyle phenomenon when he debuted the Ralph Lauren Home Collection in 1983, replete with bath towels, wall coverings, rugs, crystal glasses and silverware.
These were divided into four themes that complemented his fashion aesthetic: Log Cabin, New England, Thoroughbred (a chic East Coast take on the typical English country manor), and Jamaica. It was an unprecedented move and one that was immediately successful, prompting the respected American author and architectural critic Paul Goldberger, writing in The New York Times, to dub Lauren ‘a kind of one-man Bauhaus, a producer of everything from fabrics to furniture to buildings, all of which, taken together, form a composite, a fully designed life’.
Lauren would agree, and says: ‘The reason I decided to enter home furnishing 40 years ago was because I had something to say. I knew I wanted to make as complete a statement for the home as I had with my fashion collections. The Home collection was my way of sharing a complete world – a way to share my vision of living.’
This extensive, Bauhaus-like approach to interior design (which has also earned the designer comparisons to Walt Disney, such is his commitment to imaginative world-building) is what Ralph Lauren: A Way of Living explores in glorious detail. The chapter devoted to Home takes in Lauren’s own luxurious abodes in Montauk, Colorado, Massachusetts, Jamaica and New York, accompanied by lush photography and extensive styling notes, revealing the thoughtful planning that went into each property. ‘I love the character of old things. I built the house out of old barn wood. I wanted a screen door with a squeak. If something’s really old, let it feel that way,’ recounts Lauren, describing details of his family’s lodge at the 12,000-acre Double RL ranch near Telluride which he bought in 1982.
There’s no doubt as to where the designer has derived both solace and inspiration throughout his career: cue sumptuous images of curated piles of handcrafted Diné (Navajo) rugs, trade blankets and saddle bags dotted around Lauren’s Double RL ranch, and the eclectic mix of tartans, oil paintings, vintage diaries, photographs and miniature model cars that adorn the library at his estate in Bedford, Massachusetts. Personal recollections also abound, providing a fascinating insight into family life à la Lauren, from his penchant for wearing ‘a crisp white pleated evening shirt with cuff links, then slipping into a beautifully cut dinner jacket and trousers, barefoot instead of in cowboy boots’, for supper in Jamaica, to a series of touching black-and-white portraits of the Lauren children photographed by his wife of nearly 60 years, Ricky.
A subsequent chapter, Lifestyles, is manna for lovers of mood-boarding. Dreamy archival pictures from past fashion and homeware campaigns have been gathered under themes that make up the now-iconic Ralph Lauren aesthetic, from Estate (think romantic equestrianism blended with monogrammed slippers and tartan swags) and Safari (billowy canvas tents, woven pith helmets and languid day-beds complete with lion cubs frolicking amongst needlepoint cushions) to Nautical (which, according to Lauren himself, is about ‘the contrast of rich mahogany and steel riggings, the graphic shape of portholes and the ship’s wheel’). Finally, the chapter on History provides a visual romp through significant moments in the Ralph Lauren Home journey since its inception in 1983, with comments from a diverse range of admirers including Hamish Bowles, Oprah Winfrey, the late André Leon Talley, and Hillary Clinton.
Lauren is a lifelong Anglophile, so it’s fitting that his latest tome will be available at the designer’s New Bond Street flagship boutique. The 24,000 sq ft building has become a veritable Mayfair landmark, with a lower level entirely dedicated to homeware – a portal into the serene universe that Lauren has lovingly created over four decades, a unique skill that no other fashion designer, save perhaps Lauren’s contemporary (and nearby Bond Street neighbour) Giorgio Armani, has ever achieved. ‘Ralph shows us a different way of looking at the world,’ said Lauren’s friend and muse, Audrey Hepburn, as she presented him with the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award back in 1992. ‘He has added beauty, comfort, and dreams to our lives.’
Ralph Lauren A Way of Living: Home, Lifestyles, Inspiration (Rizzoli, £60) is available from Ralph Lauren’s flagship store at 1, New Bond Street, London W1S 3RL
Kim Parker is the former Executive Fashion and Jewellery Editor of Harper’s Bazaar and writes for the magazine online, as well as for Telegraph Luxury, Times Luxx, Condé Nast Traveller and Vanity Fair