Ralph Lauren’s ‘Very Ralph’ biopic released in Paris
‘Very Ralph’ opens with a speech by a very emotional Audrey Hepburn. It was 1992, and the American actress and peerless fashion icon presented Ralph Lauren with the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s award for his career achievements. After a wait of nearly two decades, the 80-year old designer has now looked back on his half-century career in the fashion and apparel industry, this time facing the camera himself to tell his story and open up about his life in this biopic.
“There is a cinematic aspect to the work of Ralph Lauren, reflecting his sources of inspiration and the influence of classic and contemporary films. His work is very similar to that of a film director,” said Guillaume Jouhet, general manager of French TV broadcaster OCS, which released the ‘Very Ralph’ documentary in France on November 16. For the documentary’s advance preview in Paris, Ralph Lauren staged a private screening for some one hundred guests at the Beauregard cinema in the French capital. The atmosphere was quite Nouvelle Vague, the cinema being located in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a few hundred metres from the Ralph Lauren flagship store, where the party continued with a nod to American pop culture, including customised Coca-Cola bottles and plenty of popcorn.
The documentary’s director and producer, Susan Lacy, is well-known in the film industry for her eclecticism and her penchant for challenging projects, having directed ‘Jane Fonda in 5 Acts’ and ‘Spielberg’. ‘Very Ralph’ spans 50 years in the US designer’s career and life, capturing nostalgic moments with intimate pictures from family photo albums and Super 8 films, and moving on to interviews with fashion journalists and designers, top models and other industry personalities. The ideal way of discovering some of the multiple facets of a designer who is a cornerstone in the world of fashion.
Like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren was born in New York’s Bronx district. From Ralph’s early childhood, his family was quick to spot that he was clearly endowed with remarkable sensibility and sense of style. Lauren’s ability to sublimate and offer a fresh new take on the iconic men’s clothes worn in 1940s and 1950s films encouraged him to launch his own label when he was very young. In just a few years, the precocious young designer upgraded from making ties to creating an entire menswear wardrobe, drawing inspiration from James Dean’s rebel spirit as well as from the elegance of Humphrey Bogart and the ruggedness of Steve McQueen. Along the way, the only thing he shed was his original family name, swapping it for a more commercial one with fewer Jewish connotations, advised by his older brother. Thus, Ralph Lifshitz became Ralph Lauren, much before he was even aware that his name would one day designate a fashion empire.
“I’d never have believed that I’d end up designing women's clothes,” said Lauren. His drawing ability and garment production savvy enabled Lauren to endow with a clearly identifiable style all his collections and lines, which now also include home decoration and lifestyle products. An evolution which the film portrays alongside his building of the Ralph Lauren brand image, while also highlighting the designer’s talent for creating unforgettable advertising campaigns, for positioning his label as an epitome of the American dream and for being ahead of the game in trends like women’s emancipation, inclusive fashion and streetwear.
Managing to establish and transform the company into an international fashion benchmark was one of Lauren’s greatest achievements. His first retail presence at Bloomingdale’s in New York is such a distant memory! Nowadays, Ralph Lauren is busy signing licensing deals and staging highly publicised catwalk shows. He also succeeded in listing the Ralph Lauren Corporation on Wall Street, despite struggling to find a CEO of sufficient calibre to drive its future projects. No mean feat, as Ralph Lauren Corporation generated a revenue of $1.5 billion in 2018.
What does the Editor-in-chief of Vogue USA Anna Wintour think? “Ralph Lauren never really wanted to be in vogue, nor not in vogue. He wanted to get somewhere, and stay there, becoming part of the system and transforming into an empire worthy of Nike or Coca-Cola,” said Wintour about the iconic US fashion designer par excellence. Many share her opinion, from Hillary Clinton to Woody Allen, Naomi Campbell, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Jason Wu, Jessica Chastain, Diane von Furstenberg and André Leon Talley. Not to mention Ralph’s European counterpart, Karl Lagerfeld, sadly no longer with us, who recognised Lauren’s influence as an ambassador of American culture. “Ralph Lauren is a kind of cow-boy. It works well, for him. Me, I’d be ridiculous, but he isn't,” quipped Lagerfeld.
As Lauren takes stock of his life in ‘Very Ralph’, he looks to his family and their low-profile stays in secluded mansions immersed in nature. “I love my work,” he says as the images of Ralph Lauren’s 50th anniversary show, staged in New York in September 2018, roll on the screen. What does the future have in store after all this success? “When they ask me whether catwalk shows still stress me out after all these years, I reply ‘Are you joking?’ They always stress me out, now more than ever. Sometimes, you have to realise your dreams to understand them,” said Lauren. A statement celebrated by the 200 guests at the documentary’s Central Park screening, and hailed by the rapturous applause of the spectators in a small Parisian cinema.
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