Mode: Les sionistes ont même inventé le look WASP ! (50 years of Ralph Lauren: How a Brooklyn-born son of Russian-Jewish immigrants almost single-handedly sold America and the world the old money New England look)

Cheveux blancs, peau bronzée, sourire conquérant. Le petit Ralph Lifschitz - Lauren est un pseudo - s'est constitué un personnage taillé pour la publicité. Une image idéalisée de l'Amérique qui tapisse son bureau comme ses boutiques. https://scontent-cdt1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/10407816_10152590664390071_4019207009613686867_n.jpg?_nc_cat=107&_nc_ht=scontent-cdt1-1.xx&oh=dde54470b8d9ecba6716cdd408368e75&oe=5D0BB99F
https://i.pinimg.com/originals/59/b7/6e/59b76ec056faf8a0816d30ef1b00e1c7.jpgImage result for RALPH LAUREN PREPPY LOOKhttps://i.pinimg.com/originals/43/58/30/43583079d810c463669af4caa33bd32e.jpghttps://i2.wp.com/comm396-s16.ascjclass.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2017/10/Royalty-Lauren-Ad-2.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/www.ivy-style.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/wallpaper.jpg https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/lauren.jpeghttps://i.etsystatic.com/14608849/r/il/019bbc/1608803273/il_fullxfull.1608803273_gcnp.jpg
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Au début, on me disait : « Mais Ralph, tu viens du Bronx, tu te prends pour qui ? » Ralph Lauren
There were also people who thought that because I was Jewish, I had no right to create these preppy clothes. Harvard, Yale, Princeton. Ralph Lauren
Petite garce juive, c’est toi qui vas lui laver ses chaussettes ? Mayo Methot
The novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example are peopled with earnest heroes who hailed from the Midwest but who came to play in the racy world of New York via Princeton or Yale. Cooke
Not only will I not say that again, but I’ll be more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage, and also the way in which I acknowledge the truth of the criticism that I have enjoyed white privilege. So yes, I think the criticism is right on. My ham-handed attempt to try to highlight the fact that Amy has the lion’s share of the burden in our family — that she actually works but is the primary parent in our family, especially when I served in Congress, especially when I was on the campaign trail — should have also been a moment for me to acknowledge that that is far too often the case, not just in politics, but just in life in general. I hope as I have been in some instances part of the problem, I can also be part of the solution. Beto O’Rourke
It was the second apology O’Rourke made during the podcast. The first was for his writings as a teenager when he was a member of a group of activist hackers. Those writings, which came under the pseudonym « Psychedelic Warlord » and included a piece of fiction from a killer’s point of view, were revealed in a Reuters report. He said he was « mortified to read it now, incredibly embarrassed … whatever my intention was as a teenager doesn’t matter. » « I have to look long and hard at my actions, at the language I have used, and I have to constantly try to do better, » he said. The comments came as O’Rourke responded to a question about how he would combat white supremacy. O’Rourke criticized President Donald Trump, saying that Mexican and Muslim children « internalize it » when the President attacks them with a broad brush. He also criticized Trump’s response to the violence at a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. « We also have to confront this racism, this xenophobia, this nativism and this hatred, or else I’m confident it will consume us. And so calling it out is part of it, and then setting an example of how we want to treat each other, » he said. CNN
The Vanity Fair cover photo of Beto O’Rourke, taken by Annie Leibovitz, is an apparent homage to the famous Time magazine portrait of Ronald Reagan when he was chosen as Man of the Year in 1980. (…) Reagan was shown in a blue shirt and jeans with a brown leather belt and his hands on his hips. (…) O’Rourke, a former Democratic Texas congressman, was photographed with a light-blue shirt, tucked into a pair of jeans and a leather belt. He is standing next to his truck on a dirt road and has his hands on his hips. (…) O’Rourke is entering a crowded field of candidates for the Democratic nomination. The latest Real Clear Politics average puts O’Rourke a distant 6th place with 5.3 percent. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet announced a bid, leads the pack in the high-20’s with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sitting in second place. O’Rourke exemplifies a new normal. None of the other major white progressive candidates—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Kirsten Gillibrand—invoked God in their presidential announcements either. (Amy Klobuchar, who is running as a comparative moderate, did.) Today’s white liberals don’t only talk about faith less than their predecessors did. They talk about it in a strikingly different way. Earlier Democrats invoked religion as a source of national unity. (…) The implication was that religious observance was something Americans of both parties shared. Today, by contrast, progressive white candidates more often cite religion as a source of division. In his announcement video, O’Rourke boasted that during his Senate campaign in Texas, “people allowed no difference, however great or however small, to stand between them and divide us. Whether it was religion or gender or geography or income, we put our labels and our differences aside.” The only reference to faith in Warren’s announcement speech was an acknowledgment that “we come from different backgrounds. Different religions.” The lone reference in Sanders’s was a call for “ending religious bigotry.” While white progressives once described religion as something that brought Americans together, they’re now more likely to describe it as something that drives them apart. It’s not hard to understand why. For starters, the percentage of white Democrats who express no religious affiliation has skyrocketed. According to unpublished data tabulated for me last year by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 8 percent of white Democrats expressed no religious affiliation in 1990. By 2016, the figure was 33 percent. In 1990, white self-described liberals were 39 points more likely to describe themselves as Protestant than as religiously unaffiliated. By 2016, religiously unaffiliated beat Protestant by nine points. Secular Democrats haven’t only grown more numerous. They’ve also become some of the party’s most motivated activists. As The Atlantic’s Emma Green has noted, a PRRI poll taken last August and September found that Democrats who shun organized religion were more than twice as likely to have attended a political rally in the previous year than Democrats who identify with a religious group. The other reason liberal candidates more often describe religion as a source of division is the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Before Donald Trump, Republican religious discourse was more ecumenical. The 2000 Republican convention featured a Muslim prayer, and George W. Bush regularly spoke about Americans who attended a “church, synagogue, or mosque.” In such an environment, it was easier for Democrats to depict an America divided by race, class, and gender but unified by religious faith, even if different Americans expressed that faith in different ways. Today, by contrast, since more Americans don’t practice a religion, and the president demonizes some of those who do, it’s more natural to describe religion as a rift to be overcome. But while there are legitimate reasons to talk about religion less (America has become a less religious country) and to describe it more negatively (religious bigotry has risen sharply), doing so could hurt Democrats such as O’Rourke in their efforts to defeat Trump. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, while a small plurality of Democrats thinks politicians talk about religion too much, Republicans overwhelmingly think politicians talk about it too little. Among those Republicans are devout Christians who agree with Trump on abortion but consider him a detestable human being, and might be lured into voting against him by a Democrat who both spoke compellingly about a guiding faith and appeared to live by it. Democratic candidates might be tempted to pursue an opposite strategy: employing secular rhetoric to rouse their secular base. But the Democratic base isn’t overwhelmingly secular; it’s partly secular and partly religious. Republicans, by contrast, are overwhelmingly religious. Which may explain why, according to a 2017 study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, candidates who were perceived as secular experienced a “drop in Republican support that … was not balanced by an increase in Democratic support.” That’s partly because of African Americans. While many white Democrats want politicians to speak about religion less, black Democrats overwhelmingly want them to speak about it more. When asked in 2016 whether political leaders were talking about “their faith and prayer” too much or too little, black Protestants said “too little” by a larger margin than even Republicans. While only 41 percent of Democrats said it was very or somewhat important that a president shared their religious views, among black Protestants, the figure was 72 percent, again even higher than among Republicans. (…) For Harris and Booker, whose path to the Democratic nomination requires winning the black vote, religious language is a necessity. And the same religious language that helps them win over African Americans in the primary may help them win over Republicans in the general election. In their appetite for public professions of faith, black Democrats and white Republicans are similar. It’s white liberals who stand out. White progressives such as O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren tacitly recognize that religion is no longer the force for national unity it once was. For Harris and Booker, the intriguing possibility is that it’s still unifying enough to propel them to the White House. The Atlantic
Let us count the ways in which college admissions are corrupt. They are corrupted by the reserving of spots for ‘legacy’ applicants. To qualify for one of these highly selective non-competitive places, you need to be born with forebears who attended your choice of college, and to be able to sit straight without drooling out of either corner of your mouth. Legacy places are essentially affirmative action for the wealthier sort of white people. They should not be confused with a more recent form of corruption, affirmative action for the wealthier sort of non-white people. Reserving a certain number of spots on the basis of race was originally intended to assist the upward mobility of black people, many of whose ancestors having been owned by the ancestors of the people who still monopolize legacy admissions. But these days, affirmative action effectively preserves the class advantages of any non-white applicant with good-enough SAT scores, and at the expense of a poorer non-white applicant. The exceptions to this rule are American applicants of East Asian and Indian background. These hard-working children of hard-working immigrants are penalized for their hard work and family values, and have to get higher SAT scores than other racial groups, especially African Americans. It is an inarguable fact that if America’s top colleges admitted students solely by academic merit and potential, their entire intake would be of Chinese and Indian extraction, with a sprinkling of Jews to make the jokes. All colleges rig the racial profile of their intake by explicitly racist measures. The Ivy League adds an extra layer of racial screening by insisting on ‘character’, which means impersonating the manners of white people. This is an elaborately cruel form of corruption which has grown out of the corruption of affirmative action, itself a corrective to the earlier corruption of college admissions by race and class. As William ‘Rick’ Singer is alleged to know, college admissions are openly corrupted by sporting ability. I’ve taught in what are laughably sold as top liberal arts colleges. Almost all the students on sports scholarships are semi-literate. They sleep through their lectures, which is understandable, given their rigorous training schedules. They pay their less athletic fellow students to write their papers for them, which is also understandable, given their selfless donation of their sporting talent to the community. They just sit there like sleepy bears, giving off a faint whiff of locker rooms and vanilla protein shake as they twiddle with their cellphones. College admissions are also corrupted by admitting foreign students who can’t speak or write English, but whose parents are willing to pay top dollar. It’s an open secret that many mainland Chinese and South Korean applicants to ‘top liberal arts colleges’ don’t write their application essays; either that, or their English goes into reverse after sending off the essays. But, just as you can’t fire an athlete, you can’t send the foreign students home. Finally, colleges are begging to be corrupted by donations. The more colleges replace merit with profiling on the basis of racial background, family connections, economic origin, or sporting ability, the greater the squeeze on the remaining places. This creates an incentive for bribery by ‘donation’. When colleges claim that they’re not swayed by donations, they’re lying. If they were serious about reducing the scope for bribery, they’d refuse to accept donations from families with applications active or imminent. William Deresiewicz, one of the few people to have taught at an American university and spoken honestly about the hollowing of the system, wrote a book in 2014 called Excellent Sheep. Deresiewicz believes that the risk-averse selection strategies of elite colleges have created a narrow and risk-averse elite. It now turns out that elite colleges do admit a wide and risk-embracing pool of applicants with low SAT scores — providing their parents pay a bit extra, or a lot. Everything is for sale in the American university except a decent liberal education. Money talks, and merit comes last. Huffman, Loughlin and the other parents are in court not just because they seem to have been blessed with children of inordinate stupidity, but because they grasped the rules of college corruption perfectly, and played the game the wrong way, and perhaps too well. William ‘Rick’ Singer knew the system so well that he created a simulacrum of the admissions process. He invented a fake charity, which is what most private colleges are. He paid competent students to sit entry exams, which happens all the time. He cut deals with sports coaches, rather than the coaches and the scouts cutting deals with the family. He obtained sports scholarships for students who didn’t lift a finger or a bat once they were in. And, like the elite schools, he extracted a fortune from suckers. When he gets out of prison, a brilliant career awaits, possibly as dean of a liberal arts college in Vermont. Dominic Green
Ralph Lifschitz, dit Ralph Lauren (né le 14 octobre 1939 à New York), est un entrepreneur et un styliste américain, fondateur de la marque homonyme ; il est également un symbole du style preppy et du prêt-à-porter américain. Ralph Lauren est né dans le Bronx à New York, de parents immigrés juifs de Russie : Frank et Frida Lifschitz. Son père était peintre en bâtiment. Il habite dans le même quartier que Calvin Klein, de deux ans son cadet. Les deux enfants se connaissent alors simplement de vue. Ils se soutiendront par la suite dans leur carrière respective. Dès son plus jeune âge, Ralph commença à travailler après l’école pour s’acheter d’élégants et onéreux costumes. (…) À l’âge de seize ans, Ralph et son frère aîné Jerry changent leur nom de famille Lifschitz en Lauren, à cause de moqueries de leurs camarades de classe sur ce patronyme. Le choix de « Lauren » viendrait de l’actrice Lauren Bacall, une incarnation du « rêve américain ». Certains considèrent pourtant ce changement comme un déni de leur héritage juif mais Ralph jugeait cela nécessaire pour le succès. Il étudie la gestion au City College de New York, qu’il quitta après deux ans, sans diplôme. De 1962 à 1964, il sert dans l’Armée américaine, affecté dans un centre d’entrainement, Fort Dix dans le New Jersey. (…) Passionné de mode et sans avoir étudié dans une école de stylisme, il devient vendeur dans différentes boutiques. Il se fait embaucher chez Brooks Brothers en tant que vendeur, dans leur boutique de Madison Avenue. Ses idées de nouvelles formes et couleurs n’étant pas retenues, il décide de créer une collection de cravates, très larges et à rayures, en expliquant que c’est à travers des cravates que les hommes de l’époque pouvaient s’exprimer. Ces cravates sont fabriquées à son compte et il démarche lui-même des magasins. Après un premier refus, Bloomingdale’s accepte de les vendre. (…) souhaitant créer sa propre marque, fasciné par le style chic des WASP (sans pour autant rêver de faire partie de ce monde) ainsi que du « rêve américain » (…) Il (…) emprunte 50 000 dollars (…), ce qui lui permet d’ouvrir une boutique de cravates où il vend notamment sa propre marque nommée Polo. Un an plus tard, il élargit à la vente de chemises et autres vêtements pour homme. (…) il crée, à la demande de sa femme, une ligne pour les femmes taillée dans un style masculin. Cette ligne voit pour la première fois l’emblème de la marque : le cavalier joueur de polo. En 1972, il diffuse ses fameux polos à manches courtes sortis dans plus de 24 coloris. Les polos deviennent bientôt un classique. Ralph Lauren gagne la reconnaissance du public en fournissant la garde-robe du film Gatsby le Magnifique. En 1984, il transforme la « Rhinelander Mansion », l’ancienne maison des photographes Edgar de Evia et Robert Denning, en vitrine pour Polo Ralph Lauren. Au cours des années 1980, il se lance dans la production d’accessoires pour la maison, afin de diversifier la gamme de produits de sa compagnie. C’est plus tard dans les années 1990, qu’il lance la ligne Polo Sport avec laquelle il connaît un grand succès. De cette marque Polo, il y a aussi des incontournables comme la chemise Oxford Col pointe boutonne, les pantalons Chinos, les deux très preppy, les vestes en tweed, les chemises en denim et en chambray. Le 11 juin 1997, la marque Ralph Lauren entre en bourse, au New York Stock Exchange, avec pour symbole RL. En 2007, Ralph Lauren a 35 boutiques aux États-Unis et 23 villes distribuent Ralph Lauren Purple Label. (…) En 2014, l’entreprise compte plus de 300 boutiques dans 80 pays, pèse 13 milliards de dollars en bourse et génère 6,9 milliards de dollars de chiffre d’affaires. Ralph et sa femme Ricky, personnalité des Hamptons, ont deux fils et une fille (…) En 2012, sa fortune est estimée 7,5 milliards de dollars, ce qui la classe comme la 122e personne la plus riche au monde. (…) Il possède une villa à la Jamaïque, un manoir dans le Connecticut, une maison dans les Hamptons, un ranch dans le Colorado et un appartement dans l’Upper East Side, à Manhattan. (…) Ralph Lauren est aussi connu pour être un collectionneur automobile de sport et de luxe. Il est d’ailleurs fasciné par leur esthétique et l’histoire des concepteurs comme Enzo Ferrari ou Ettore Bugatti. Il possède, en 2011, 70 voitures de collection, qui sont stockées à Katonah, dans l’État de New York. (…) 17 des voitures de sa collection ont été exposées deux fois à Paris au Musée des arts décoratifs. Ces voitures, dont certaines ont plus de 80 ans, retracent l’histoire de l’automobile sportive de 1929 à 1996. (…) La Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation soutient des initiatives de traitement du cancer, d’assistance et d’éducation dans les communautés défavorisées. Wikipedia
Betty Joan Perske naît le 16 septembre 1924 dans le quartier du Bronx à New York. Elle est la fille unique de Natalie (née Weinstein-Bacal), une secrétaire, et de William Perske, un vendeur. Ses deux parents sont issus de l’immigration juive de l’Europe centrale. Lauren Bacall rapporte dans ses mémoires que sa mère, née à Ellis Island, a ses racines en Roumanie et son père est né dans le New Jersey de parents immigrés originaires de la région de Valojyn en Biélorussie. Elle confie également qu’elle aurait fait de ses origines sa force intérieure. Betty n’a que cinq ans quand ses parents divorcent. Elle est alors élevée par sa mère, qui la pousse à apprendre la danse et la comédie. Elle ne voit plus beaucoup son père et est très proche de sa mère. Elle décide de prendre le deuxième nom roumain de sa mère, Bacall. À l’adolescence, pendant ses études secondaires à la Julia Richman High School (en) à New York, Lauren Bacall entame une carrière de mannequin au Garment Center. Parallèlement, elle fait de petites apparitions sur scène à Broadway. En 1941, elle quitte l’école et commence des études à l’American Academy of Dramatic Arts, où elle côtoie Kirk Douglas, alors qu’elle cumule un emploi d’ouvreuse de cinéma et de mannequin. Engagée par le magazine Harper’s Bazaar en 1942 comme mannequin, elle en fait la couverture en mars 1943. Elle apparaît aussi dans Vogue. Elle se fait remarquer pour « sa grâce féline, ses cheveux blond épais et ses yeux bleu-verts ». Elle fait ses débuts sur les planches à Broadway en 1942, à l’âge de 17 ans dans Johnny 2 X 4. (…) Durant la période où elle continue à être mannequin, la femme d’Howard Hawks, Nancy, tombe sur la couverture du Harper’s Bazaar Magazine et presse son mari de lui faire passer une audition pour Le Port de l’angoisse. Cette dernière voit en elle la possibilité de réaliser l’ambition de son mari qui consiste à « créer » un nouveau profil de star de cinéma. (…) Hawks lui fait changer son prénom pour Lauren et Perske adopte définitivement le deuxième nom de sa mère, Bacall ; Lauren Bacall devient son nom de scène définitif (il y ajoute un « l », le nom de jeune fille de sa mère étant « Bacal »). Nancy Hawks la prend sous son aile. Nancy lui apprend à s’habiller de manière sophistiquée, la guide en matière d’élégance, dans ses goûts et manières. Howard Hawks demande à Bacall de s’entraîner à avoir une voix plus basse, profonde et sexy. Lorsqu’il l’emmène à Hollywood, il lui fait prendre des cours auprès d’un moniteur vocal pour abaisser la tonalité de sa voix et en faire l’archétype de la femme fatale. Lorsqu’Howard Hawks lui annonce qu’elle aura pour partenaire Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall ne se montre guère enthousiaste, indiquant qu’elle aurait préféré jouer avec Cary Grant12. Le tournage est marqué par deux événements importants pour Bacall. Premièrement, elle est terrifiée par la caméra et garde la tête baissée contre sa poitrine, levant seulement les yeux pour regarder son partenaire. C’est de là que lui vient son surnom « The Look ». Ceci reste comme sa marque de fabrique. Deuxièmement, sa relation avec Bogart quitte le registre professionnel et les deux acteurs entament une relation amoureuse, au grand dam de Hawks. L’alchimie entre les deux acteurs est visible à l’écran et la réplique de Bacall à Bogart « Si vous avez besoin de moi, vous n’avez qu’à siffler. Vous savez siffler, Steve ? Vous rapprochez vos lèvres comme ça et vous soufflez ! » est classée à la 34e place dans le « Top 100 » des répliques les plus mémorables de l’American Film Institute. Le film est un succès et, à seulement dix-neuf ans, avec sa voix rauque si particulière, sa carrière est lancée. Elle va désormais « incarner la femme fatale du film noir et de la comédie sophistiquée, personnifiant un idéal de beauté à la fois androgyne et féminin ». (…) Lauren Bacall épouse Humphrey Bogart le 21 mai 1945 à Mansfield, dans l’Ohio. Pour elle, il quitte sa femme Mayo Methot, qui lança à Lauren Bacall : « Petite garce juive, c’est toi qui vas lui laver ses chaussettes ? » (…)  Lauren a 20 ans et Bogart 45 ans. (…) Lauren Bacall était la cousine germaine de Shimon Peres, né Szymon Perski, ancien président de l’État d’Israël et Lauréat du prix Nobel de la paix. Wikipedia
Preppy ou preppie, souvent utilisé sous le diminutif prep, est un style vestimentaire à tendance sportswear, un courant de mode, ayant pour origine les milieux de l’upper class (en) WASP de la Côte Est des États-Unis aux environs des années 1950, puis répandu entre autres dans les Hamptons plus au sud. Ce style, au départ élitiste par ses origines, est l’héritier de l’Ivy League apparu dans le groupe éponyme des grandes universités américaines ainsi que du Bobby-soxer. Son étymologie vient de « preparatory » (élève de classe préparatoire à l’université ; le terme est inventé par Erich Segal dans les années 1970, où ce style devient un classique après la sortie du film Love Story et le lancement peu de temps après d’une collection du styliste Ralph Lauren parmi ses premières. Ses représentants, pour la plupart de grandes entreprises américaines de prêt-à-porter, sont principalement l’historique J. Press (en) symbole du style Ivy League à l’origine, Brooks Brothers1, Paul Stuart (en), le mondialement connu Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, également Fred Perry, marque immortalisée par Kennedy, J.Crew et Kate Spade dans une moindre mesure, ou plus récemment Vineyard Vines ainsi que le styliste Marc Jacobs. Pour les marques d’origine européenne, Lacoste, qui a rencontré un grand succès aux États-unis, ou plus tard Daniel Crémieux, sont des entreprises emblématiques de ce style. Le look preppy se caractérise symboliquement pour les hommes par des mocassins type « penny loafer » ou des chaussures-bateau (tels que ceux de la marque Sebago), un pantalon Chino ou type Nantucket Reds, un polo ou une chemise Oxford, une cravate reprenant les couleurs de l’université. Par extension, une sweat-shirt également aux couleurs de l’université et à larges écritures, ou une veste anglaise Barbour peuvent être un élément classique de la tenue définie comme « preppie ». Pour les femmes, des sandales en cuir aux pieds, le short ou la robe (notamment celles de Lilly Pulitzer), ou une jupe le plus souvent à motifs tartan. Les vêtements ont parfois un rapport avec les sports, dont le tennis ou le bateau ; Tommy Hilfiger précise que « l’esprit marin est la base même du preppy américain, ce style sportswear que l’on adopte chez nous, même pour aller travailler. » Le preppy, bien que très différent par ses symboles vestimentaires, est parfois comparé au « Bon chic bon genre ». Wikipedia
New England is home to four colleges that comprise the Ivy League athletic conference: Harvard, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth. The other colleges – Princeton, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia – are also in the Northeast. In the conformist 1950s, students at these colleges popularized the Ivy League look, which had its roots in the conservative styles of New England. For men, the Ivy League look consisted of a suit with a narrow-shouldered unfitted jacket, worn with a button-down shirt, skinny tie, and penny loafers (preferably Bass Weejuns). Charcoal gray and olive were the preferred colors. Chinos and tweed blazers offered a casual alternative. The look spread beyond campuses to young men in all parts of suburban America where details such as buckle straps from Ivy trousers were transplanted to caps, shirts, and shoes. High school students wore a more extreme four-button jacket bearing the name « Jivey Ivy. » By 1960, most men sported modified Ivy models that incorporated unpadded shoulders, narrow lapels, and tapered trousers. Brooks Brothers, a citadel of conservatism, came to the forefront as the Ivy League style became popular. When the young John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a senator from Massachusetts, became the president of the United States, the Ivy League look reached the White House. Ivy League women wore cashmere twin sets, Shetland sweaters, or blazers with kilts or tweed skirts. In the summer, blouses with peter pan collars were worn with Bermuda shorts. A pearl necklace set off any outfit. The Ivy look is well bred, understated, but not fussy. Many New England men and women held to the conservative, classic styles that compromised the Ivy League look during the sartorial upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1970s, conservative styles once again seemed right for the times, and the Ivy League look resurfaced as the preppy look. The essential ingredients for the male preppy wardrobe included a conservative gray flannel suit, preferably made by Brooks Brothers, a long-time favorite label of New Englanders. For less formal wear, button-down oxford shirts or Lacoste polo shirts worn with khakis or corduroys sufficed. Other favorites included Harris Tweed jackets, down vests, Burberry tench coasts, L.L. Bean field coats, and camel hair Polo coats. Preppy women wore female versions of masculine styles: khaki, flannel, or corduroy slacks; a kilt or plaid skirt, a blazer or tweed jacket; and a Shetland or Fair-Isle sweater over a ruffle-necked white blouse or cotton turtleneck. Preppy styles for women were rather androgynous: female versions of the men’s styles produced by the same companies. Both genders wore clothes of Indian madras, a cotton plaid fabric that had first become popular in the early 1960s. Shoes common to both men and women were loafers or Sperry Top-Siders (boat shoes). Socks were optional. Men donned wing tips for dressy affairs while women wore simple pumps.vLike the Ivy League look before it, the preppy look emphasized the wearing of classic fabrics from natural fibers. The only departure from conservative dressing was the bright pink and green color combinations seen in preppy ensembles. Preppy clothes were well made, with attention to detail. Brand names were important. The American designer Ralph Lauren has built a financial empire on fashions inspired by this old money New England look. Michael Sletcher
The clothes look good in magazines, but look older in stores. I would never buy Polo at full price. Christina
Sometimes, I hear designers from older generations saying, ‘Oh, fashion needs to make women dream. I feel that this is really difficult today. I think it’s dated. Fashion shouldn’t make you dream in 2016. It should just be there, for us to wear. Gvasalia
Lauren built a career by brazenly positioning himself as the quintessential interpreter of the American zeitgeist. More than any designer, he has used America’s mythology — our secular religion — for profit. In doing so, he has displayed a keen understanding of our cultural symbols. He can parse the difference between a pair of blue jeans worn with cowboy boots and those worn with a black leather jacket. He sees the romance in a prairie skirt or a well-worn Native American blanket. He knows what it means in our racially conflicted society to photograph a dark-skinned, athletic black man in his preppiest, old-money brand. And he knows how a bright-eyed blonde feeds our vision of Mayflower blue bloods. And as consumers, we have bought into those symbols and made Lauren an extremely wealthy man. The Washington Post
Entering the Rhinelander Mansion on New York’s Upper East Side is like quietly opening a window into Ralph Lauren’s mind. Many describe Lauren’s superpower as his ability to turn his wildest dreams into reality, and inside that mansion, Ralph Lauren’s original flagship location, his dreams are made real in every nook and cranny of the place. Each room presents one lavish scene after the next, and it’s not hard to imagine Lauren himself toiling at the displays to make sure everything sits just right. Spaces are small and illuminated with candles and the softest of lighting, beckoning shoppers to linger. A glass of water arrives on a small silver platter, garnished with a single slice of lemon, just for you. It’s stunningly clear here, walking slowly up a staircase lined with oil paintings from the company’s collection, that Ralph Lauren is a lifestyle. No detail is left to chance: Ralph Lauren ties are fanned out on a table in front of a bar stacked high with Ralph Lauren shirts, next to a case of monogrammed Ralph Lauren cufflinks. Ralph Lauren briefcases are placed next to Ralph Lauren paperweights on a Ralph Lauren desk topped with Ralph Lauren stationery, positioned underneath a giant, glittering chandelier that can’t possibly — but maybe? — be branded Ralph Lauren. Everything, right down to the 82,000 square feet of mahogany hauled in for the mansion’s renovation in the 1980s, reeks of style and status and money. Old money. [but] Once you leave the giant department stores of New York City and head to the malls of suburbia, Ralph Lauren becomes a few racks of Oxfords, polos, and pleated pants. Reliably found in your local Dillard’s, and just as reliably found on sale. (…) Most shoppers haven’t encountered the totality of Ralph Lauren’s world. How could they? Since the early 2000s, Ralph Lauren Corporation has owned and operated at least 25 different brands. It’s a staggering list: Polo Ralph Lauren, Polo Jeans, Polo Golf, Pink Pony, Purple Label, Blue Label, Black Label, Ralph by Ralph Lauren, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Lauren for Men, Women’s Collection, RRL, RLX, Rugby, Denim & Supply, Club Monaco, Chaps, Ralph Lauren Childrenswear, Ralph Lauren Watches, Ralph Lauren Fine Jewelry, American Living, Ralph Lauren Home, Lauren Home, Ralph Lauren Paint, and Lauren Spa. Not all are still in operation. For the shoppers who actually are familiar with the company’s multitude of lines, it’s still exhausting. « The identity of the brand gets lost, » laments Efney Hall, who has been shopping Ralph Lauren for over a decade. Lauren has stepped aside to make way for a new CEO, Stefan Larsson — the first person besides Lauren to ever hold that title in the company’s 50-year history. The company has been in the process of whittling down the brand list and there are plans to refocus on just three main lines: Ralph Lauren (the new umbrella label for Women’s Collection and Purple Label), Polo Ralph Lauren, and Lauren Ralph Lauren. At the same time that Ralph Lauren is reevaluating its structure and bringing in fresh leadership, it also has to contend with the fact that the specific style of Americana that’s so deeply embedded in every inch of the brand isn’t something shoppers are clamoring to align themselves with now. If the privileged, preppy aesthetic that Lauren built his company around is no longer the height of aspiration, what will the future of Ralph Lauren look like? Ralph Lauren did not grow up living the lifestyle that would later make him a billionaire. No, Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz, a shy Jewish kid who lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with his parents and three siblings. In Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren, writer Michael Gross paints a picture of young Ralph as a dreamer, never one to run with the crowd. « If white bucks were in fashion, he wore saddle shoes, » a former classmate told Gross. « When we wore crew necks, he wore V-necks. He was always a step ahead. » lLauren’s perception of taste and class was constructed by what he saw around him, according to Gross. His richer friends’ parents drove convertibles, went on European vacations, and had country club memberships. In films, he watched Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and Fred Astaire glide across the screen, wearing beautiful suits and getting the girls every time. (…) However, Lauren’s mother had set a strict path for Ralph: he was to be a rabbi. (…) At 19, he and his brother Jerry changed their last name from Lifshitz to Lauren. (As Gross reports it, Ralph polled friends on two alternatives, London or Lauren; he was personally partial to London.) In the official document filed for the name change, the reason listed was confusion over people, both at school and at work, who shared the same last name. In reality, Lifshitz had the word « shit » in it and Ralph’s plans for himself did not include dealing with that for the rest of his life. (…) Lauren had no professional training in design, but he believed so deeply in his wild ties that other people did too. He caught the attention of Norman Hilton, one of the biggest names in the menswear industry at the time, who eventually became the first investor in Lauren’s business. Polo Fashions, Inc., named after the posh sport (not the shirts Lauren would later become famous for), launched in 1968 and, as Hilton’s son Nick remembers it, his father poured $75,000 into the startup. By the end of his first year running Polo Fashions, Lauren had expanded from ties into full suits that the Daily News Record (a menswear trade publication that was later folded into WWD) featured alongside heavyweights like Bill Blass and Oleg Cassini. (…) It was then that he decided to change the name on his labels from Polo Fashions to Polo by Ralph Lauren, in part to imitate how other designers were using their own names on their womenswear labels. And then, for the launch of women’s button-down shirts, the company added a new design element: a small embroidered polo player. It was an overnight success. (…) As Lauren’s business grew, buoyed in large part by the ‘80s prep revival, the polo player became an integral part of the women’s and men’s lines, including on the polo shirts that became a signature of the Ralph Lauren look. Chaps was the first of many extensions that Ralph Lauren would experiment with. Chaps was Lauren’s answer to Polo knockoffs that were flooding the market. He couldn’t stop the knockoffs from being produced, so he created a cheaper line to compete with them. The company also expanded quickly through a number of licensing partnerships, a relatively easy way to put the Ralph Lauren name on a variety of products without having to deal with manufacturing any of it. (…) Lauren’s vision of America drew heavily from the world of Ivy League preps, but the brand appealed far beyond the country club crowd. (…) Ralph Lauren went public in 1997 and continued to thrive throughout the early 2000s, opening new lines seemingly on a whim. (…) By 2012, Ralph Lauren stock was trading at more than $170 per share, having shot up by $100 in five years. There was so much faith in the success of the company. (…) The company employed approximately 25,000 people in 2012, and was reporting $6.8 billion in sales and net profits of $681 million. Then came the slide and Ralph Lauren’s literal and metaphorical stock began to tumble. Shares fell nearly 50 percent from a high point of $192 in May 2013 to $82 in February 2016. Sales were still holding steady, but profits slid drastically. (…) Ralph Lauren is going through operational struggles during not only a tumultuous period in the retail industry, but also a time that’s seeing a cultural shift away from what the brand stands for. The prep aesthetic has always smacked of privilege, something accessible primarily to white people with trust funds and monogrammed shirtsleeves. Now, the WASP lifestyle that completely captivated Lauren as a young entrepreneur is considered out of touch at best, offensive and oppressive at worst. Take, for instance, the media’s reaction to the company’s Olympic uniform designs this year. Headlines announcing the kits included: « Ralph Lauren’s Olympic Uniforms Are Straight Out of Prep School Hell »; « USA’s Olympic Uniforms Are WASPy Bullshit »; « Team USA’s Official Olympic Uniforms are Peak Vanilla »; and Racked’s own contribution, « I Need More From Team USA’s Olympic Uniforms ». The Daily Mail rounded up the best tweets from the debacle. (…) Today’s shoppers are interested in more democratic clothing options — options that are casual, practical, and mass. Athleisure is a $97 billion business in the US, accounting for nearly one-third of the entire apparel, footwear, and accessories market. Vetements, the French design collective led by Demna Gvasalia that no one can stop talking about, is making a killing off of what can best be described as incredibly ordinary clothing. (…) The counterculture revolution of the late ‘60s and ‘70s ushered in an era of long hair and bell bottoms as a response to the conservative style of the ‘50s. Then, in the ‘80s, Lauren led a massive preppy revival that other traditional menswear retailers like Brooks Brothers and J.Press also felt the effects of. This aligned with the Reagan era, a time when conservative politics replaced the freewheeling ideals of the previous two decades. When Lisa Birnbaum published The Preppy Handbook in 1980, it was meant to satirize the prep scene that was reemerging, but ended up being regarded as a literal handbook. The Financial Times described Ralph Lauren as the greatest fashion beneficiary of the book, saying he « cashed in as the preppy wannabe’s clothier. » Then the pendulum swung back away from prepsters in the ‘90s, when grunge became the go-to cool kid look. But in the early aughts, prep was popular yet again. Birnbaum published a sequel to the Handbook called True Prep. Lauren’s business was on an upswing. Abercrombie & Fitch had infiltrated every high school in America. (…) And now, here we are again, back at a place where anti-establishment sentiment runs deep. How does a company like Ralph Lauren react to these cultural ebbs and flows? By giving its take on whatever the look of the moment is. (…) Patricia Mears, the deputy director of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, remembers observing how Lauren’s merchandise morphed to speak to different generations when she was conducting research for a book and exhibition on Ivy style at FIT in 2012. Racked
L’empire Ralph Lauren était à l’origine une ligne de cravates! Près de 40 ans après sa création, la marque est devenue un symbole américain, au même titre que Coca-Cola ou Ford. Ce qui l’inspire: les symboles américains, le cinéma, l’univers des cow-boys, des personnalités comme Ernest Hemingway et F. Scott Fitzgerald… (…) Jamais provocant, toujours propret, le style Ralph Lauren a séduit par son alliage de praticité et d’élégance discrète. Refusant de jouer le jeu de la mode périssable, Ralph Lauren a préféré produire des pièces indémodables, comme son célèbre polo. Dans les années 70, lorsqu’il se lance dans le prêt-à-porter féminin, il crée des pièces élégantes et simples. Ses tailleurs sont soignés, ses chemisiers impeccables et ses jupes toujours bien taillées. Résultat, la marque preppy a fini par représenter la bonne société américaine, prospère et distinguée. Utilisant à foison le bleu, le blanc et le rouge (les couleurs du drapeau américain), Ralph Lauren cultivera avec soin cette image très américaine, puisant notamment ses références dans l’univers du western (le jean, le cuir et les imprimés Navajos…). Homme d’affaire redoutable, il diversifiera ses activités dans les années 80, produisant également des accessoires pour la maison. Dans les années 90, sentant que les Américains se préoccupent de plus en plus de leur santé et de leur forme physique, Ralph Lauren lancera sa ligne Polo Sport qui connaît un important succès populaire depuis. Elle (Québec)
Qui ne se souvient pas des sweats estampillés Harvard et des pulls nonchalamment posés sur les épaules d’Ali MacGraw et de Ryan O’Neal dans Love Story? En 1970, Erich Segal inventait le terme « preppy ». Abréviation de « preparatory » (élève de classe préparatoire ), ce mot décrivait les jeunes Wasp (White Anglo-Saxon protestants) acceptés dans l’une des huit prestigieuses universités de l’Ivy League, sur la côte Est. Selon Segal, « l’une des caractéristiques du preppy est qu’il s’habille parfaitement au naturel »: chemises de polo, manteaux Barbour et chaussures de voile étaient les icônes d’un style populaire depuis 1933, lorsque les chemises brodées d’un crocodile créées par René Lacoste devinrent le dernier cri aux Etats-Unis. Prenant la relève pendant les années 1950 et 1960, des marques comme Brooks Brothers, J. Press et Fred Perry s’installent dans les campus et habillent les Kennedy. Le look est déjà devenu un classique quand, deux ans après la publication de Love Story, le jeune Ralph Lauren dévoile sa première collection complète pour femme: une allure 100% East Coast. Le créateur inspirera Perry Ellis ou Tommy Hilfiger, et même l’écrivain Lisa Birnbach (Ivy Leaguer invétérée elle-même), qui en 1980 publie Official Preppy Handbook, un guide satirique pour aspirants au prepdom aussitôt devenu un best-seller. « Ce style bostonien est facile à porter tout en étant très élégant », commente Gildas Loaëc, directeur artistique de Kitsuné, lui-même vêtu d’un sweat « I was in college Kitsuné ». « On parle beaucoup de son retour, ces dernières saisons, mais le preppy est un style intemporel. Il est simplement devenu plus médiatisé, donc moins associé à un certain statut social. » L’Express
Lauren Bacall a envoûté le cinéma hollywoodien par sa voix grave et son regard bleu glacé pendant plus de 60 ans de carrière. Née le 16 septembre 1924 à New York, Betty Joan Perske de son vrai nom est la fille unique d’immigrants juifs roumano-polonais, de la famille de l’ancien président israélien Shimon Peres. Une couverture du Harper’s Bazaar et quelques photos de mode à l’intérieur du magazine ont décidé de son destin, en mars 1943. Elle a dix-neuf ans, se partage entre mannequinat, petit boulot d’ouvreuse et cours d’art dramatique, dans son New York natal. La femme de Howard Hawks remarque ce physique altier, visage aux traits aigus, regard vert perçant sous les arcades sourcilières prononcées. Elle presse son mari d’auditionner la jeune beauté pour son prochain film, Le Port de l’angoisse(To Have and Have Not). Betty dit parfaitement son texte ; mais elle est si intimidée qu’elle baisse le menton tout en levant les yeux vers la caméra. Ainsi naissent les légendes: elle sera «the look», ce fameux regard en dessous, étrangement direct et mystérieux. Il y passe de la sensualité et de l’insolence, du défi et de la distance. La future star dispose encore d’un atout que ne laissaient pas soupçonner les photos: sa voix grave, aux intonations presque rauques, que Hawks lui fait aussitôt travailler. Elle s’appelle encore Betty, mais elle a déjà pris le nom de jeune fille de sa mère: Bacal. De son père, qui les a abandonnées quand elle était enfant, elle ne veut plus entendre parler. Howard Hawks, cinéaste Pygmalion qui la prend sous contrat pour sept films, lui fait ajouter un «l» à Bacal, choisit le prénom de Lauren. Dès sa première apparition à l’écran, la voilà prête à devenir la nouvelle femme fatale des films noirs qui connaissent alors leur âge d’or. Un autre Pygmalion l’attend sur le tournage: son partenaire, Humphrey Bogart, alors au sommet de sa gloire. Il a 44 ans, il est marié à l’actrice Mayo Methot, il boit trop. Le coup de foudre est réciproque, et la passion qui dévore les personnages déborde vite hors champ. Les luttes entre gaullistes et pétainistes dans les eaux de Fort-de-France, qui servent d’intrigue au Port de l’angoisse, ont laissé un souvenir plus obscur que la rencontre éclatante de sensualité et d’insolence du patron de bateau et de l’aventurière. Et la réplique fameuse: «Si vous avez besoin de moi, vous n’avez qu’à siffler. Vous savez siffler, Steve?» Cet aplomb garçonnier, cette distinction un brin voyou, ça on ne l’avait pas encore vu. La manière Bacall de traiter la séduction en bonne camarade est restée inégalée. (…) Dans les années 1950, Lauren Bacall se tourne vers la comédie, où son élégance sûre d’elle-même, sa drôlerie, son côté abrupt, un peu masculin, font merveille. Negulesco lui offre Comment épouser un millionnaire etLes femmes mènent le monde, Minnelli La Femme modèle. Elle y interprète une dessinatrice de mode mondaine, genre d’emploi qu’elle retrouvera plus tard dans Misery de Rob Reiner (1990) etPrêt-à-porter de Robert Altman (1994). (…) Pour que les choses soient claires, elle a écrit deux autobiographies, Par moi-même (éditions Stock) etSeule (éditions Michel Lafon), qui en est le complément. Des titres éloquents. Elle y raconte ses origines de fille d’émigrés juifs, roumains, allemands et polonais (elle était la cousine de Shimon Pérès), le brusque départ de son père, qu’elle refusera de revoir quand il ressurgira des années plus tard, les hommes de sa vie: après Bogart, il y a eu Sinatra, qui l’a plaquée goujatement, Jason Robards, épousé en 1961, dont elle divorcera huit ans plus tard à cause de son alcoolisme. «J’ai passé seule la plus grande partie de ma vie», a-t-elle observé. Elle trouvait que les hommes intelligents et spirituels se faisaient rares. Howard Hawks avait sans doute raison de penser que, plus qu’une actrice, Bacall était une personnalité. Un fier tempérament. Elle portait l’indépendance et les volutes de fumée comme personne. Le Figaro
Avec Bogart, elle formait le couple le plus mythique de Hollywood. Pendant plus de cinquante ans, elle a continué sa route sans lui, avant de s’éteindre à 89 ans. Elle a tout d’une princesse, mais elle est née d’un représentant de commerce et d’une émigrée juive roumaine du Bronx. Il a l’air d’un dur mais il est fils de bourgeois, cousin d’aristocrates anglais. Dès leur premier film, elle est la lumière et lui, l’ombre. Entre Lauren Bacall et Humphrey Bogart, tout commence par une réplique culte, « Vous n’aurez qu’à me siffler », lancée en 1943 sur le plateau du « Port de l’angoisse », d’une voix rauque, travaillée à la cigarette pendant trois semaines. Ce n’était que le signe extérieur d’un aplomb qui annonçait une ère nouvelle. Mais face au héros tragique, bagarreur de 44 ans qui savait si bien encaisser les vacheries du destin, elle avait, en la prononçant, le menton qui tremblait. Tant pis, elle le regarderait par en dessous pour assurer son équilibre. Une panthère qui surveille sa proie. Ainsi naquit son surnom, « The Look ». Du fond de son désespoir tranquille, Bogie a deviné la bluffeuse hors pair, qui joue comme si elle avait un brelan d’as… En réalité, elle en est encore à courir après l’ombre de papa, disparu dans la jungle où se perdent les hommes infidèles. Lauren adule sa mère. Elle survit de petits boulots : ouvreuse, mannequin dans les grands magasins, c’est-à-dire portemanteau. Il lui a fallu renoncer à l’école de théâtre, car on n’y donnait pas de bourse aux filles. Un garçon lui a déjà fait du gringue : Kirk Douglas. Mais elle a gardé ses distances. Peut-être a-t-elle deviné que, au fond, elle n’était pas son genre : pas de seins, pas de fesses, trop grands pieds. C’est l’époque où Marilyn se fait refaire le nez, la poitrine, et teindre en blonde. Une gueule de fantasme. Lauren Bacall mise sur la différence. Une jeune vierge au visage de femme fatale qui s’impose dans le style de la copine insolente et affranchie, elle qui connaît si mal les hommes. (…) La troisième Mme Bogart est, comme les autres, une actrice (…) Mayo Methot (…) A Lauren, elle lancera : « Petite garce juive, c’est toi qui vas lui laver ses chaussettes ? » (…) L’alcool est alors un attribut essentiel de la virilité.  (…) Elle avait 33 ans quand Bogie est mort. Pendant plus d’un demi-siècle, elle a porté vaillamment le fantôme écrasant, ça ne l’a pas empêchée d’épouser un autre acteur, Jason Robards, qui disparaissait pendant des nuits entières de beuverie. Elle a eu un troisième enfant, des amants, elle a tenté de refaire sa vie mais personne n’avait la carrure. (…) La solitude, Lauren Bacall l’a apprivoisée, elle qui disait : « J’ai passé bien plus d’années sans Bogart qu’avec lui. Mais après sa mort, je me suis mise à penser et agir comme lui. Je suis un peu devenue lui. » Paris Match
J’adorais les vieux vêtements de l’armée, j’allais en acheter dans les surplus. J’avais des idées fixes. Par exemple, je voulais une veste indienne avec des franges. Il n’y en avait pas dans les magasins mais c’est ce que je voulais. Comme j’étais très athlétique, je portais aussi des vêtements de sport. J’allais beaucoup au cinéma, j’étais un fan de westerns. J’aimais Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant. Les films, les livres, les vitrines des magasins, les gens que je regardais, tout cela était dans ma tête, je fabriquais des histoires sans forcément m’en rendre compte. Peut-être parce que j’ai hérité de mon père peintre le sens du style et des couleurs, ces histoires se traduisaient sous une forme esthétique. Le sport, le western, les ranchers, les ouvriers… J’étais comme « romancé » par différentes vies. Au début, on me disait souvent : « Mais Ralph, tu viens du Bronx, tu te prends pour qui ? Pour un cow-boy, pour un gentleman-farmer anglais ? » Je répondais : « L’Amérique s’est faite avec des rêves. » (…) Je suis passé entre les gouttes de ces époques. A ce moment-là, je formais mon style. Je retrouvais mes copains, on fumait, j’étais bohème, je portais la barbe et des baskets, mais je n’étais pas contestataire, pas hippie. J’avais les cheveux courts. Je n’ai pas fui l’armée, j’ai fait mon service militaire. Les hippies sont venus après moi, quand j’étais trop vieux pour l’être. J’aimais profondément l’Amérique comme je continue à l’aimer. (…) Il ne faut pas non plus exagérer. J’ai eu une enfance très heureuse, avec beaucoup d’amis. On n’était pas riches, je me rappelle avoir eu très envie d’un vélo et que mes parents n’avaient pas de quoi me l’offrir, mais je ne me sentais pas pauvre. J’étais juste comme tout le monde, attiré par ce que l’on n’a pas. Les pauvres rêvent de ce qu’ils pourraient s’acheter avec de l’argent. Les Chinois rêvent de s’habiller en Gucci. Et moi, je rêvais d’une veste à franges qui n’existait que dans les films ! (…) J’aime le sport, je voulais ce symbole. J’étais fan de baseball mais ça n’aurait pas collé. Je voulais un sport plus stylé. Avec le polo, je pensais au play-boy dominicain Porfirio Rubirosa, collectionneur de femmes illustres, qui nous faisait envie. Je n’avais jamais joué au polo mais l’image de ce sport correspondait à ce qui me faisait rêver. Les chevaux, le côté play-boy, athlétique, esthétique, romantique. (…) Je n’ai jamais voulu vivre comme un WASP à la Gatsby, aller de fête en fête comme dans un roman de Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Les clubs de sport ne me faisaient pas spécialement envie, et d’ailleurs je n’ai jamais fait partie d’aucun. Ce n’est pas mon truc. Je ne suis pas un mondain, je n’aime rien autant que la vie de famille. (…) Je fais de l’antimode. J’ai mélangé le goût de l’Amérique pour la nouveauté au goût de l’Europe pour ce qui ne se démode pas. La veste en jean simple et bien coupée est un symbole de mon style. Mes vêtements correspondent à ce que je rêvais d’être, or je me rêve en différents personnages. En cow-boy, en athlète, en gentleman-farmer de la campagne anglaise, chacun n’étant pas conforme à la réalité mais à l’idée que je m’en fais. Je vois un gentleman farmer en boots et blouson de moto, il est comme ça dans mon rêve. Le style, c’est un rôle d’acteur, la représentation que vous vous faites de vous-même. Je me vends dans mes rôles, je me vends dans mes rêves. Je vends un idéal. Ralph Lauren
Mon père est moins un styliste qu’un écrivain ou un cinéaste qui utilise les vêtements pour raconter des histoires. David Lauren
On me demande toujours pourquoi les gens qu’il habille sont si « waspy ». On ne pourrait être plus loin de la vérité. Polo a été la première entreprise de mode à habiller un modèle afro-américain pour les magazines. Et il a construit un hôpital à Harlem spécialisé dans le traitement du cancer. Bruce WeberL’aventure a commencé là, 3220 Steuben Avenue, en plein cœur du Bronx, dans ce petit immeuble de cinq étages de brique rouge, avec ses escaliers métalliques dégringolant en biais sur la façade. C’est là que Ralph Lifschitz grandit avec sa soeur et ses deux frères après que ses parents, des juifs russes originaires de Pinsk, en Biélorussie, eurent choisi de tout quitter pour débarquer à New York. America ! America ! Le pays de la liberté et de tous les possibles, ils en avaient rêvé comme tant d’autres au point de s’entasser sur un bateau et de se jeter, affamés, dans la cacophonie des immigrés d’Ellis Island. Le père est peintre en bâtiment, artiste peintre à ses heures, le quartier du Bronx est alors ce qu’ils trouvent de mieux pour leurs moyens, avec ses rues calmes et ses grands parcs boisés. Une ambiance tranquille de la middle class américaine, aujourd’hui cernée, quelques pâtés de maison plus loin, par des zones délabrées et des repaires de dealers. Près d’un siècle plus tard, à 73 ans, Ralph le New-Yorkais est un pur produit de l’Amérique. De l’épopée de ses parents, il se rend compte qu’il ne sait au fond pas grand-chose. Sont-ils partis avant ou après la révolution de 1917 ? Qu’ont-ils fui ? Il l’ignore. Ils n’étaient pas du genre à s’attarder sur le passé. On ne parlait pas yiddish à la maison mais sa mère, pratiquante, veillait au maintien des fêtes juives. (…) Même son propre nom ne le retient pas. A l’école qu’il fréquentait, juste à côté de l’appartement de Steuben Avenue, ce patronyme suscitait les moqueries. A la récré, haut-lieu des cruautés collectives, « Lifschitz » se transformait en gros mot, « Lif-shit », à coups de gros rires gras. Ralph Lifschitz a 16 ans quand il décide d’abandonner cette consonance encombrante. Le choix du pseudo lui vient sans peine. Le jeune homme juge plus commode de conserver ses initiales et il admire Lauren Bacall, l’une des incarnations de son rêve américain. Deux bonnes raisons pour décider du sort de sa métamorphose. En un tour de main, Ralph Lifschitz devient Ralph Lauren. (…) Il y avait certes de l’ambition chez ce gamin du Bronx qui s’obstinait comme un fou à jouer au baseball et au basket-ball, malgré son 1,68 m. Il adorait le basket. Il courait comme un mille-pattes et compensait son handicap de taille par l’adresse et la stratégie. Il rêvait aussi d’être Joe DiMaggio, le champion de baseball qui avait épousé Marilyn. Ou une star de cinéma comme Cary Grant, son autre idole. (…) Qui aurait pu deviner que ce nom deviendrait celui de l’une des marques de vêtements les plus célèbres et les plus vendues dans le monde ? Que Ralph Lifschitz serait un jour le créateur de Polo Ralph Lauren, une multinationale cotée en Bourse, employant plus de 26 000 personnes et dont le chiffre d’affaires, 6,7 milliards de dollars (plus de 5 milliards d’euros) en 2013, dépasse celui des autres entreprises de vêtements de luxe, loin devant Giorgio Armani, son premier concurrent ? Que le petit cavalier de polo serait le logo universel des élites et des classes moyennes aisées de toute la planète, jusqu’aux Libanais qui avaient fui la guerre civile et arboraient leurs chemises « RL » en s’autobaptisant « Réfugiés de Luxe » ? S’il y a un mythe Ralph Lauren, il est dans ce chic populaire qui fonde son épopée de self made man. Une histoire si américaine. (…) La 122e fortune mondiale selon le magazine Forbes (classement 2012), avec une fortune évaluée à 7,5 milliards de dollars, est un homme doux et courtois, cool et raffiné, comme son immense bureau empli d’objets beaux et insolites. Une immense photographie de rodéo prise d’en haut, une bicyclette en chrome et cuir, des fauteuils design conçus par lui, des livres, des avions, tout un monde. (…) un immense patio tout en boiseries vernies et à la lumière tamisée, tel un vieil hôtel anglais, avec fauteuils clubs, canapés en cuir, lustres, peintures anciennes, sculptures d’animaux en bronze, pieds de lampe cuivrés, livres et magazines d’art sur les tables, coupelles de Smarties et autres bonbons colorés. Et des photos de Ralph Lauren, bien sûr. (…) C’est le péché mignon et le paradoxe de ce petit homme, pourtant curieux des autres et apparemment modeste : rares sont les murs de ses bureaux ou de ses boutiques, ou les pages de ses catalogues, où l’on ne retrouve pas plusieurs portraits géants de lui aux côtés de photos de cow-boys, de légendes d’Hollywood ou de voitures de collection. Ralph Lauren à cheval, Ralph Lauren sur la plage avec sa femme et ses enfants, Ralph Lauren jouant avec son chien, Ralph Lauren en blouson d’aviateur sur fond de villa atlantique, Ralph Lauren habillé en cow-boy dans son ranch du Colorado, Ralph Lauren en blazer et col roulé dans un intérieur cosy, Ralph Lauren au volant d’un roadster… Ralph Lauren himself, paisible, abouti, comme un emblème de sa réussite et de ses rêves. Un visage taillé pour le cinéma et les publicités des magazines : cheveux très blancs, peau très bronzée, yeux très clairs, paupières lourdes, sourire décontracté… Dans le Bronx déjà, il s’était concocté un style. Un de ses voisins d’alors s’en souvient bien : un dénommé Calvin Klein, né Richer Klein. Il a grandi dans les mêmes rues, à quelques pâtés de maison de la famille Lifschitz. (…) Il ne sait pas dessiner. Mais il a ses rêves en tête. Une certaine idée de l’Amérique, un brassage confus de ses grands mythes, les mêmes qui avaient donné à ses parents la force de s’exiler. Il rêve de la conquête de l’Ouest. Il rêve du chic vestimentaire de la haute société WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) – nom américain donné aux premiers arrivés, blancs et protestants -, de ce que raconte le cinéma sur le look des étudiants des campus et l’ambiance des country clubs. Il rêve de ce que lui, l’enfant de la classe moyenne juive du Bronx, ne pouvait espérer posséder. (…) A force d’acheter en série des chemises de chez Brooks Brothers, son magasin préféré, il se fait embaucher dans une boutique de la marque sur Madison Avenue. Il fourmille d’idées, suggère de nouvelles formes, d’autres couleurs. Personne ne l’écoute. Pourquoi prêter attention à ce petit vendeur qui n’y connaît rien et n’a même pas fait d’école de dessin ? Lui voit ses idées sortir chez les autres. Et rumine son obsession : faire des cravates très larges. Il les a bien en tête, entrevues dans de vieux films et de vieilles photos de magazines. Il aime le style des années 1930, 1940, 1950, les vêtements des étudiants de la Ivy League (le peloton des meilleures universités), ce look Preppy de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, la manière dont la jeunesse aisée s’habillait sur les campus. (…) Il en fait fabriquer pour son compte, très larges avec des rayures, et démarche lui-même les grands magasins vêtu d’une veste en jean, ses cravates dans des sacs. Chez Bloomingdale’s, on regarde ça d’un air circonspect. OK pour les diffuser, à condition qu’elles soient plus étroites, et estampillées de leur label à eux. (…) Six mois plus tard, Bloomingdale’s le rappelle et lui prend ses cravates larges à rayures. (…) Ralph Lauren (…) emprunte 50 000 dollars et ouvre une ligne de cravates sous son propre label, Polo. Un succès. Il a 26 ans. Au bout d’un an, il élargit sa collection aux chemises et autres vêtements pour hommes, pas encore aux modèles pour femmes et enfants. Le petit joueur de polo fait son apparition. (…) Il fallait sans doute cela, être né juif dans le Bronx, pour avoir envie du contraire, les tenues décontractées arborées le week-end par les riches WASP, devenues les symboles de l’élite privilégiée, cultivée et raffinée de la Côte est. Il fallait peut-être naître pauvre dans le Bronx pour prendre conscience que les vêtements de sport représentaient une esthétique. Pour admirer ce style au point d’avoir été choisi par le réalisateur Jack Clayton pour habiller Robert Redford et Mia Farrow dans son Gatsby le Magnifique (1974), ou par Woody Allen pour Annie Hall (1977). Mais ce ne sont pas les WASP qui fascinent Ralph Lauren. Ce qu’il cherche depuis ses débuts à Steuben Avenue, c’est un style. « Je n’ai jamais voulu vivre comme un WASP à la Gatsby, explique-t-il, aller de fête en fête comme dans un roman de Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Les clubs de sport ne me faisaient pas spécialement envie, et d’ailleurs je n’ai jamais fait partie d’aucun. Ce n’est pas mon truc. Je ne suis pas un mondain, je n’aime rien autant que la vie de famille. » Le photographe Bruce Weber, chargé des campagnes publicitaires Ralph Lauren depuis plus de quarante ans, renchérit : « On me demande toujours pourquoi les gens qu’il habille sont si « waspy ». On ne pourrait être plus loin de la vérité. Polo a été la première entreprise de mode à habiller un modèle afro-américain pour les magazines. Et il a construit un hôpital à Harlem spécialisé dans le traitement du cancer. » Ralph Lauren vient d’annoncer qu’il serait le mécène unique de la restauration de l’Ecole des beaux-arts à Paris pendant deux ans. Une manière de s’ancrer davantage dans la capitale de la mode pour cet Américain pur jus déjà décoré en 2010 de la Légion d’honneur par le président Nicolas Sarkozy, un fan notoire de ses chemises. Le style Ralph Lauren est à l’image de l’homme : sans artifice, cool et fondamentalement heureux. Quand les créateurs de mode dessinent des vêtements, lui dessine sa vie rêvée, un style de vie inspiré du bonheur. De son enfance à son immense succès, rien n’a jamais semblé compliqué à l’enfant du Bronx. Il n’est pas un artiste, pas un créateur, ne prétend pas l’être : il observe, il détourne, il reproduit. Cela donne des vêtements élégants mais pas compliqués et pour tous publics, du sportswear aux habits de soirée, du décontracté à l’ultra-chic. Sophistiqués mais sans effet de coupes ou de motifs. Du western aux universités de la Ivy League, cela raconte l’histoire d’une Amérique fantasmée, se donne à tout le monde, jamais à la mode. (…) Celui qui ne sait toujours pas dessiner un croquis a sa façon bien à lui de faire du stylisme : en racontant à ses équipes les histoires qu’il imagine. (…) La 122e fortune mondiale sort peu, ne s’échappe de son travail qu’avec sa famille, ses chevaux et ses voitures de collection, dans l’une de ses cinq propriétés : sa villa à la Jamaïque, son manoir dans le Connecticut, sa maison dans les Hamptons, son ranch dans le Colorado, son logement principal du Upper East Side à Manhattan. Il est fier de sa famille : de son fils producteur, de sa fille qui a fondé une boutique de bonbons à Manhattan, de son autre fils, David, son possible successeur à la tête de l’empire. De sa femme Ricky, qu’il avait rencontrée chez son ophtalmologiste en 1964 et qui est « toujours la plus belle », comme il le constate fièrement à voix haute à l’occasion des cérémonies. De ses boeufs dont il exporte les steaks pour son restaurant français, Ralph’s, attenant à la boutique du boulevard Saint-Germain. Les plus chers de Paris. Il y a un mystère Ralph Lauren. Sa vie, à l’exception d’une tumeur au cerveau dont il a réchappé, ressemble à un conte de fées. Son empire, il l’a bâti sans effort apparent. (…)On laisse le Gatsby de la Côte est sur le seuil de son patio aux boiseries vernies. Demain, il sera un autre de ses personnages, avec jeans, bottes et chapeau de cow-boy, dans son ranch du Colorado. Le Monde

Après l’école, Supermanl’humourla fête nationale, Thanksgiving, les droits civiques, les Harlem globetrotters et le panier à trois points, le soft power, l’Amérique, le génocide et même eux-mêmes  et sans parler des chansons de Noël et de la musique pop ou d’Hollywood, la littérature, les poupées Barbie… le look WASP  !

A l’heure où face à la double menace du rouleau compresseur Trump et de la corbynisation de leur propre aile gauche …

Les Démocrates nous refont le coup du Reagan de gauche

Mais en plus jeune et, air du temps politiquement correct oblige, avec juste ce qu’il faut de culpabilité à la fois blanche et chrétienne

Et où, avec le nouveau scandale, nos médias font mine de découvrir le secret de polichinelle …

Du contournement systématique, face à la concurrence des nouveaux juifs d’Asie et derrière les dérives et le dévoiement de l’affirmative action et du système de « legacy », de la méritocracie universitaire par nos élites donneuses de leçon …

Devinez qui …

De ses racines judéo-russes de fils de violoniste devenu peintre en bâtiment …

Et de sa fréquentation assidue du cinéma et des terrains de polo …

A réussi presque à lui tout seul et, même au risque de la saturation, pendant si longtemps …

A incarner à l’instar de son ainée de Hollywood et coreligionnaire du Bronx à qui il empruntera le nom lui aussi emprunté

Ce fameux rêve américain repris en fait du look WASP …

Tant du côté BCBG universitaire dit « preppy » …

Que du côté cowboy avec la version américaine du gentleman-farmer ?

Ralph Lauren, pur produit de l’Amérique

Il aurait voulu être Cary Grant mais a bâti son empire dans la mode. Ce fils d’immigrés juifs russes élevé dans le Bronx a réussi à vendre au monde entier l’image d’une Amérique fantasmée.

Marion Van Renterghem

Le Monde

23 août 2013

L’aventure a commencé là, 3220 Steuben Avenue, en plein cœur du Bronx, dans ce petit immeuble de cinq étages de brique rouge, avec ses escaliers métalliques dégringolant en biais sur la façade. C’est là que Ralph Lifschitz grandit avec sa soeur et ses deux frères après que ses parents, des juifs russes originaires de Pinsk, en Biélorussie, eurent choisi de tout quitter pour débarquer à New York. America ! America ! Le pays de la liberté et de tous les possibles, ils en avaient rêvé comme tant d’autres au point de s’entasser sur un bateau et de se jeter, affamés, dans la cacophonie des immigrés d’Ellis Island. Le père est peintre en bâtiment, artiste peintre à ses heures, le quartier du Bronx est alors ce qu’ils trouvent de mieux pour leurs moyens, avec ses rues calmes et ses grands parcs boisés. Une ambiance tranquille de la middle class américaine, aujourd’hui cernée, quelques pâtés de maison plus loin, par des zones délabrées et des repaires de dealers.

Près d’un siècle plus tard, à 73 ans, Ralph le New-Yorkais est un pur produit de l’Amérique. De l’épopée de ses parents, il se rend compte qu’il ne sait au fond pas grand-chose. Sont-ils partis avant ou après la révolution de 1917 ? Qu’ont-ils fui ? Il l’ignore. Ils n’étaient pas du genre à s’attarder sur le passé. On ne parlait pas yiddish à la maison mais sa mère, pratiquante, veillait au maintien des fêtes juives. « L’Amérique incite à regarder devant soi, pas derrière, constate leur fils. Il y a trop à faire quand on arrive ici. Les gens ne vous demandent jamais d’où vous venez. Mes parents étaient très gentils, peu éduqués, autodidactes, et ils se sont battus pour aller de l’avant. Je suis comme eux : je vis dans le présent, je pense à ce que j’ai à faire ici et maintenant, je ne me retourne pas. »

Même son propre nom ne le retient pas. A l’école qu’il fréquentait, juste à côté de l’appartement de Steuben Avenue, ce patronyme suscitait les moqueries. A la récré, haut-lieu des cruautés collectives, « Lifschitz » se transformait en gros mot, « Lif-shit », à coups de gros rires gras. Ralph Lifschitz a 16 ans quand il décide d’abandonner cette consonance encombrante. Le choix du pseudo lui vient sans peine. Le jeune homme juge plus commode de conserver ses initiales et il admire Lauren Bacall, l’une des incarnations de son rêve américain. Deux bonnes raisons pour décider du sort de sa métamorphose. En un tour de main, Ralph Lifschitz devient Ralph Lauren.

COW-BOY

Il y avait certes de l’ambition chez ce gamin du Bronx qui s’obstinait comme un fou à jouer au baseball et au basket-ball, malgré son 1,68 m. Il adorait le basket. Il courait comme un mille-pattes et compensait son handicap de taille par l’adresse et la stratégie. Il rêvait aussi d’être Joe DiMaggio, le champion de baseball qui avait épousé Marilyn. Ou une star de cinéma comme Cary Grant, son autre idole. « Mais je n’étais pas assez beau », dit-il avec coquetterie en attendant d’être contredit. Bref : sa carrière de sportif n’était pas convaincante, il ne prenait pas la voie d’Hollywood, il n’était pas particulièrement bon à l’école, n’avait rien à voir avec le stylisme, ne savait pas dessiner…

Qui aurait pu deviner que ce nom deviendrait celui de l’une des marques de vêtements les plus célèbres et les plus vendues dans le monde ? Que Ralph Lifschitz serait un jour le créateur de Polo Ralph Lauren, une multinationale cotée en Bourse, employant plus de 26 000 personnes et dont le chiffre d’affaires, 6,7 milliards de dollars (plus de 5 milliards d’euros) en 2013, dépasse celui des autres entreprises de vêtements de luxe, loin devant Giorgio Armani, son premier concurrent ? Que le petit cavalier de polo serait le logo universel des élites et des classes moyennes aisées de toute la planète, jusqu’aux Libanais qui avaient fui la guerre civile et arboraient leurs chemises « RL » en s’autobaptisant « Réfugiés de Luxe » ? S’il y a un mythe Ralph Lauren, il est dans ce chic populaire qui fonde son épopée de self made man. Une histoire si américaine.

Le mythe, en ce jour caniculaire du mois de juillet, porte un costume crème et une cravate noire, des chaussures noires, une chevalière en argent à l’annulaire. « Je suis plus souvent en jeans et en boots, mais il fait si chaud aujourd’hui… », dit-il comme pour s’excuser. La 122e fortune mondiale selon le magazine Forbes (classement 2012), avec une fortune évaluée à 7,5 milliards de dollars, est un homme doux et courtois, cool et raffiné, comme son immense bureau empli d’objets beaux et insolites. Une immense photographie de rodéo prise d’en haut, une bicyclette en chrome et cuir, des fauteuils design conçus par lui, des livres, des avions, tout un monde.

Il nous a conviée au 650 Madison Avenue, plus au sud que le pâté de maisons où sont réunies quelques-unes de ses somptueuses boutiques sur la même avenue de Manhattan. L’entrée est celle d’un banal gratte-ciel new-yorkais jusqu’à ce que l’ascenseur s’ouvre sur une autre planète : un immense patio tout en boiseries vernies et à la lumière tamisée, tel un vieil hôtel anglais, avec fauteuils clubs, canapés en cuir, lustres, peintures anciennes, sculptures d’animaux en bronze, pieds de lampe cuivrés, livres et magazines d’art sur les tables, coupelles de Smarties et autres bonbons colorés. Et des photos de Ralph Lauren, bien sûr.

C’est le péché mignon et le paradoxe de ce petit homme, pourtant curieux des autres et apparemment modeste : rares sont les murs de ses bureaux ou de ses boutiques, ou les pages de ses catalogues, où l’on ne retrouve pas plusieurs portraits géants de lui aux côtés de photos de cow-boys, de légendes d’Hollywood ou de voitures de collection. Ralph Lauren à cheval, Ralph Lauren sur la plage avec sa femme et ses enfants, Ralph Lauren jouant avec son chien, Ralph Lauren en blouson d’aviateur sur fond de villa atlantique, Ralph Lauren habillé en cow-boy dans son ranch du Colorado, Ralph Lauren en blazer et col roulé dans un intérieur cosy, Ralph Lauren au volant d’un roadster… Ralph Lauren himself, paisible, abouti, comme un emblème de sa réussite et de ses rêves. Un visage taillé pour le cinéma et les publicités des magazines : cheveux très blancs, peau très bronzée, yeux très clairs, paupières lourdes, sourire décontracté…

Dans le Bronx déjà, il s’était concocté un style. Un de ses voisins d’alors s’en souvient bien : un dénommé Calvin Klein, né Richer Klein. Il a grandi dans les mêmes rues, à quelques pâtés de maison de la famille Lifschitz. « On n’était pas amis, il avait deux ans de moins que moi, on se disait bonjour mais ce n’est qu’une fois devenus célèbres que nous nous sommes souvenus l’un de l’autre. On s’est toujours soutenus », raconte Ralph Lauren. « Il était plus âgé que moi mais je me souviens très précisément de lui, a rapporté de son côté Calvin Klein à l’occasion d’une conférence en 2011. Il s’habillait toujours de manière originale. Moi, j’étais plus marginal, plus provoc. Je voulais ressembler à un dur, comme James Dean. Ralph, lui, avait l’air de venir d’ailleurs. »

ÊTRE INDÉPENDANT

Ralph Lauren, en effet, ne s’habillait pas comme les autres. Toujours soigné, une façon d’être élégant sans luxe apparent, détournant des uniformes de leur usage premier : les vestes militaires, les polos des équipes locales de baseball et de basket-ball auxquelles il appartenait. « J’adorais les vieux vêtements de l’armée, explique-t-il, j’allais en acheter dans les surplus. J’avais des idées fixes. Par exemple, je voulais une veste indienne avec des franges. Il n’y en avait pas dans les magasins mais c’est ce que je voulais. Comme j’étais très athlétique, je portais aussi des vêtements de sport. J’allais beaucoup au cinéma, j’étais un fan de westerns. J’aimais Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant. Les films, les livres, les vitrines des magasins, les gens que je regardais, tout cela était dans ma tête, je fabriquais des histoires sans forcément m’en rendre compte. Peut-être parce que j’ai hérité de mon père peintre le sens du style et des couleurs, ces histoires se traduisaient sous une forme esthétique. Le sport, le western, les ranchers, les ouvriers… J’étais comme « romancé » par différentes vies. Au début, on me disait souvent : « Mais Ralph, tu viens du Bronx, tu te prends pour qui ? Pour un cow-boy, pour un gentleman-farmer anglais ? » Je répondais : « L’Amérique s’est faite avec des rêves. » »

Ralph Lauren a 20 ans quand commence l’explosion des Sixties, il a une trentaine d’années quand se généralise le mouvement hippie. Il a vécu une enfance heureuse dans le Bronx, il traîne désormais à Manhattan sur fond d’explosion des libertés individuelles, d’émancipation des femmes, de reconnaissance des droits civiques, de contestation de la guerre du Vietnam, de l’ordre établi, des élites, de la rigidité morale. Il s’amuse et profite de la vie sans prendre part à l’agitation politique. Au rock d’Elvis et de Jerry Lee Lewis il préfère les mélodies de Frank Sinatra et de Bob Dylan, et les paroles révoltées des Protest Songs ne sont pas sa préoccupation première. Ralph Lauren est déjà ailleurs, dans son monde à lui. « Je suis passé entre les gouttes de ces époques, explique-t-il. A ce moment-là, je formais mon style. Je retrouvais mes copains, on fumait, j’étais bohème, je portais la barbe et des baskets, mais je n’étais pas contestataire, pas hippie. J’avais les cheveux courts. Je n’ai pas fui l’armée, j’ai fait mon service militaire. Les hippies sont venus après moi, quand j’étais trop vieux pour l’être. J’aimais profondément l’Amérique comme je continue à l’aimer. »

Il ne sait pas dessiner. Mais il a ses rêves en tête. Une certaine idée de l’Amérique, un brassage confus de ses grands mythes, les mêmes qui avaient donné à ses parents la force de s’exiler. Il rêve de la conquête de l’Ouest. Il rêve du chic vestimentaire de la haute société WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) – nom américain donné aux premiers arrivés, blancs et protestants -, de ce que raconte le cinéma sur le look des étudiants des campus et l’ambiance des country clubs. Il rêve de ce que lui, l’enfant de la classe moyenne juive du Bronx, ne pouvait espérer posséder. « Il ne faut pas non plus exagérer, nuance-t-il. J’ai eu une enfance très heureuse, avec beaucoup d’amis. On n’était pas riches, je me rappelle avoir eu très envie d’un vélo et que mes parents n’avaient pas de quoi me l’offrir, mais je ne me sentais pas pauvre. J’étais juste comme tout le monde, attiré par ce que l’on n’a pas. Les pauvres rêvent de ce qu’ils pourraient s’acheter avec de l’argent. Les Chinois rêvent de s’habiller en Gucci. Et moi, je rêvais d’une veste à franges qui n’existait que dans les films ! »

Il est pressé de travailler, d’être indépendant, de gagner sa vie, de s’acheter une voiture de sport et de porter des vestes en tweed comme au cinéma. Il commence des études de gestion qu’il ne termine pas, fait son service dans un camp d’entraînement de l’armée à Fort Dix (New Jersey) puis, sans aucun diplôme, cumule les petits boulots. Il est animateur pour enfants, vendeur dans des magasins de mode. « J’étais bon vendeur, raconte-t-il. J’étais facilement convaincant car je ne travaillais que dans les magasins que j’aimais, pour vendre les vêtements que j’aimais. Cela a toujours été mon principe dans la vie : ne vendre aux autres que ce que je voulais pour moi-même. »

A force d’acheter en série des chemises de chez Brooks Brothers, son magasin préféré, il se fait embaucher dans une boutique de la marque sur Madison Avenue. Il fourmille d’idées, suggère de nouvelles formes, d’autres couleurs. Personne ne l’écoute. Pourquoi prêter attention à ce petit vendeur qui n’y connaît rien et n’a même pas fait d’école de dessin ? Lui voit ses idées sortir chez les autres. Et rumine son obsession : faire des cravates très larges. Il les a bien en tête, entrevues dans de vieux films et de vieilles photos de magazines. Il aime le style des années 1930, 1940, 1950, les vêtements des étudiants de la Ivy League (le peloton des meilleures universités), ce look Preppy de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, la manière dont la jeunesse aisée s’habillait sur les campus.

SANS ARTIFICE

Les cravates larges. Il est le seul à les vouloir. Il en fait fabriquer pour son compte, très larges avec des rayures, et démarche lui-même les grands magasins vêtu d’une veste en jean, ses cravates dans des sacs. Chez Bloomingdale’s, on regarde ça d’un air circonspect. OK pour les diffuser, à condition qu’elles soient plus étroites, et estampillées de leur label à eux. « J’ai refusé, raconte Ralph Lauren, j’ai refermé mon sac et je suis parti. J’étais content de moi. » Six mois plus tard, Bloomingdale’s le rappelle et lui prend ses cravates larges à rayures.

En 1967, un entrepreneur de mode, Norman Hilton, remarque ses cravates. Il lui fait une offre : « Accepteriez-vous de travailler pour moi ? – Non, lui répond le jeune homme, je veux créer ma propre maison. » Ralph Lauren lui emprunte 50 000 dollars et ouvre une ligne de cravates sous son propre label, Polo. Un succès. Il a 26 ans. Au bout d’un an, il élargit sa collection aux chemises et autres vêtements pour hommes, pas encore aux modèles pour femmes et enfants. Le petit joueur de polo fait son apparition. « J’aime le sport, je voulais ce symbole. J’étais fan de baseball mais ça n’aurait pas collé. Je voulais un sport plus stylé. Avec le polo, je pensais au play-boy dominicain Porfirio Rubirosa, collectionneur de femmes illustres, qui nous faisait envie. Je n’avais jamais joué au polo mais l’image de ce sport correspondait à ce qui me faisait rêver. Les chevaux, le côté play-boy, athlétique, esthétique, romantique… »Il fallait sans doute cela, être né juif dans le Bronx, pour avoir envie du contraire, les tenues décontractées arborées le week-end par les riches WASP, devenues les symboles de l’élite privilégiée, cultivée et raffinée de la Côte est. Il fallait peut-être naître pauvre dans le Bronx pour prendre conscience que les vêtements de sport représentaient une esthétique. Pour admirer ce style au point d’avoir été choisi par le réalisateur Jack Clayton pour habiller Robert Redford et Mia Farrow dans son Gatsby le Magnifique (1974), ou par Woody Allen pour Annie Hall (1977).

Mais ce ne sont pas les WASP qui fascinent Ralph Lauren. Ce qu’il cherche depuis ses débuts à Steuben Avenue, c’est un style. « Je n’ai jamais voulu vivre comme un WASP à la Gatsby, explique-t-il, aller de fête en fête comme dans un roman de Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Les clubs de sport ne me faisaient pas spécialement envie, et d’ailleurs je n’ai jamais fait partie d’aucun. Ce n’est pas mon truc. Je ne suis pas un mondain, je n’aime rien autant que la vie de famille. » Le photographe Bruce Weber, chargé des campagnes publicitaires Ralph Lauren depuis plus de quarante ans, renchérit : « On me demande toujours pourquoi les gens qu’il habille sont si « waspy ». On ne pourrait être plus loin de la vérité. Polo a été la première entreprise de mode à habiller un modèle afro-américain pour les magazines. Et il a construit un hôpital à Harlem spécialisé dans le traitement du cancer. » Ralph Lauren vient d’annoncer qu’il serait le mécène unique de la restauration de l’Ecole des beaux-arts à Paris pendant deux ans. Une manière de s’ancrer davantage dans la capitale de la mode pour cet Américain pur jus déjà décoré en 2010 de la Légion d’honneur par le président Nicolas Sarkozy, un fan notoire de ses chemises.

Le style Ralph Lauren est à l’image de l’homme : sans artifice, cool et fondamentalement heureux. Quand les créateurs de mode dessinent des vêtements, lui dessine sa vie rêvée, un style de vie inspiré du bonheur. De son enfance à son immense succès, rien n’a jamais semblé compliqué à l’enfant du Bronx. Il n’est pas un artiste, pas un créateur, ne prétend pas l’être : il observe, il détourne, il reproduit. Cela donne des vêtements élégants mais pas compliqués et pour tous publics, du sportswear aux habits de soirée, du décontracté à l’ultra-chic. Sophistiqués mais sans effet de coupes ou de motifs. Du western aux universités de la Ivy League, cela raconte l’histoire d’une Amérique fantasmée, se donne à tout le monde, jamais à la mode.

« Je fais de l’antimode, explique l’entrepreneur. J’ai mélangé le goût de l’Amérique pour la nouveauté au goût de l’Europe pour ce qui ne se démode pas. La veste en jean simple et bien coupée est un symbole de mon style. Mes vêtements correspondent à ce que je rêvais d’être, or je me rêve en différents personnages. En cow-boy, en athlète, en gentleman-farmer de la campagne anglaise, chacun n’étant pas conforme à la réalité mais à l’idée que je m’en fais. Je vois un gentleman farmer en boots et blouson de moto, il est comme ça dans mon rêve. Le style, c’est un rôle d’acteur, la représentation que vous vous faites de vous-même. Je me vends dans mes rôles, je me vends dans mes rêves. Je vends un idéal. » Selon son fils David, directeur de la communication et du marketing de l’empire, Ralph Lauren était même « très déçu, la première fois qu’il est allé en Angleterre, de constater que les gentlemen-farmers n’étaient pas habillés comme il l’avait imaginé. Mon père, analyse-t-il, est moins un styliste qu’un écrivain ou un cinéaste qui utilise les vêtements pour raconter des histoires ».

Celui qui ne sait toujours pas dessiner un croquis a sa façon bien à lui de faire du stylisme : en racontant à ses équipes les histoires qu’il imagine. « Généralement, je décris un film, un monde, un truc très romanesque. Par exemple, je pense à une fille et je me dis : « elle était riche, elle a perdu son argent. Elle est très séduisante mais n’a plus les moyens de s’habiller. Elle est cool. Elle trouve des fripes et elle les arrange elle-même. » J’explique ça à mon équipe. Ils prennent des notes et ils créent les habits pour cette fille-là. »

122e FORTUNE MONDIALE

Ralph Lauren est content de lui. « Voilà quarante-sept ans que je fais ce métier avec succès. Je me demande comment j’ai été capable de faire tout ça. » La 122e fortune mondiale sort peu, ne s’échappe de son travail qu’avec sa famille, ses chevaux et ses voitures de collection, dans l’une de ses cinq propriétés : sa villa à la Jamaïque, son manoir dans le Connecticut, sa maison dans les Hamptons, son ranch dans le Colorado, son logement principal du Upper East Side à Manhattan. Il est fier de sa famille : de son fils producteur, de sa fille qui a fondé une boutique de bonbons à Manhattan, de son autre fils, David, son possible successeur à la tête de l’empire. De sa femme Ricky, qu’il avait rencontrée chez son ophtalmologiste en 1964 et qui est « toujours la plus belle », comme il le constate fièrement à voix haute à l’occasion des cérémonies. De ses boeufs dont il exporte les steaks pour son restaurant français, Ralph’s, attenant à la boutique du boulevard Saint-Germain. Les plus chers de Paris.

Il y a un mystère Ralph Lauren. Sa vie, à l’exception d’une tumeur au cerveau dont il a réchappé, ressemble à un conte de fées. Son empire, il l’a bâti sans effort apparent. « On dit que le business est un monde de durs, moi je pense qu’on peut réussir sans être une brute », confie-t-il. Tout a l’air facile. Il y a chez lui la fluidité du geste des grands sportifs qu’il rêvait d’être : l’aboutissement d’un travail acharné dont on ne voit pas l’effort. « J’ai eu beaucoup de chance dans la vie. » Que deviendra sa société après lui ? « Je ne sais pas. Je n’ai jamais rien planifié. J’ai pu me construire une carrière sans argent, à partir d’un rêve, en vendant des cravates. ça m’a toujours réussi. » On laisse le Gatsby de la Côte est sur le seuil de son patio aux boiseries vernies. Demain, il sera un autre de ses personnages, avec jeans, bottes et chapeau de cow-boy, dans son ranch du Colorado.

Ces marques emblématiques milieu de gamme du style américain sont aujourd’hui dessinées par des femmes. Une nouvelle vie?
Fabrice Paineau
L’Express styles
05/06/2014

Ils étaient beiges, ils étaient brillants. Les Américains et leur paradoxe. A la fin des années 1970, la mode américaine peut se résumer à ces deux nuances. D’un côté, cette envie WASP qui définit tout un mode de vie propre et distingué -un esprit vain dans un corps sain? De l’autre, la débauche disco et paillettes du Studio 54, avec l’émergence folle de nouveaux créateurs américains. Puis Gap. Le meilleur d’une entreprise d’uniformisation où le jean, le chino et la chemise blanche dessinent une ligne de goût de New York à San Francisco.

C’est dans cette ville de Californie du Nord que naît ce titan du denim pour tous, en 1969, parce que son créateur, Daniel Fisher, ne trouve pas le bon jean adapté à sa morphologie -et à sa taille. Gap comme fossé ou fossé des générations et la réponse la plus juvénile à une Amérique qui s’émancipe dans ses moeurs. De ce géant du textile naîtront d’autres modèles du retailing, qui inspireront les voisins d’en face comme Club Monaco, filiale de Ralph Lauren, ou encore J.Crew.

La mode américaine s’émancipe

Mais il aura fallu plus de soixante-dix ans d’une toujours jeune histoire du textile américain pour que Gap et consorts émergent. Car tout commence avec ce Portrait de Madame X du peintre John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Elle est belle, son profil est altier, ses épaules sont dénudées et sa silhouette est mince. Voilà peut-être le premier acte d’une mode américaine qui privilégie les courbes, le corps et le confort d’une nation tout entière vouée à l’effort, donc au sport. La mode américaine naît de cette ambition.

L’émergence des titans de l’édition mode apparaît à cette même période: Harper’s Bazaar est créé en 1863 et Condé Nast rachète un petit magazine, en 1908, Vogue, pour en faire la publication de référence de la haute société. Laquelle commence à voyager et converse sur la nouvelle éthique du goût. Edna Woodman Chase devient la rédactrice en chef de Vogue et le photographe Edward Steichen remplace la luxuriance embuée des images de mode du baron de Meyer. La photographie de Steichen rehausse la simplicité graphique de l’Art déco, dans ses décors mais aussi dans le choix des tenues présentées. Si la mode européenne est toujours maîtresse, la crise économique de 1929 incite à un protectionnisme de taille. Les matières premières sont désormais américaines, comme le cuir ou le coton, qui va bientôt dominer le monde.

Les couturiers américains apparaissent. Ils se nomment Mainbocher ou Charles James, d’origine anglaise. A l’ouest, la machine à rêves s’emballe. Hollywood devient le puits sans fond de toutes les images iconiques, et l’empire cinéma impressionne déjà les pages des magazines de mode, embellies par la photographie de Cecil Beaton. Les stars commencent à diffuser leur aura médiatique, et, si « glamour » est un terme anglophone, des figures comme celles de Katharine Hepburn -son indépendance de style très boyish: un pantalon, des chaussures plates- vont condenser en images cette simplicité. Pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, la plupart des maisons françaises stoppent leur activité. L’Amérique en profite pour proposer une garde-robe plus fonctionnelle et adéquate aux femmes impliquées dans l’effort de guerre. Des créatrices comme Claire McCardell ou Claire Potter ne tarderont pas à anticiper cette nouvelle soif de conquête féminine. Un corps sain dans des formes simples.

En 1961, Jackie Bouvier-Kennedy devient la première dame des Etats-Unis et porte les créations de jeune designers comme Arnold Scaasi, Pauline Trigère, Oleg Cassini… Suivront des noms comme ceux de Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Beene. En 1971, Grace Mirabella a remplacé Diana Vreeland à la tête de Vogue. Elle conçoit une mode plus simple, plus dynamique, pleine de conseils pratiques pour répondre à cette attente qui lie le monde domestique à une ère plus technologique. Et la mode s’adapte, plus naturelle, plus casual dans ses propositions. Un certain sens du minimalisme s’impose, et des créateurs comme Calvin Klein ou encore Perry Ellis se chargent de radicaliser la silhouette. Un vêtement pur pour une allure simple.

Le succès de Gap, J.Crew, Club Monaco

La marque Gap arrive à bon port en 1969 pour exprimer toute cette volonté d’exalter les basiques: le charme propre et authentique du jean ou du tee-shirt hérité du vestiaire de James Dean, déjà piqué aux ancêtres les cow-boys. Gap garde dans un premier temps le parfum de l’émancipation hippie des étudiants de Berkeley et des événements bruyants de Woodstock. Plus pour longtemps. L’as du marketing Millard Drexler relooke toute la chaîne des magasins en 1983 et modifie l’attitude Gap. Sharon Stone s’affiche en jupe Vera Wang et chemisier blanc Gap à la cérémonie des Oscars de 1998. Gapinc., le groupe, est avant tout l’empire fondateur d’une mode « low high fashion » qui combine petits prix à une qualité de vêtements construits sur le rêve américain. Elle ouvrira la voie à d’autres modèles du fast retailing comme Club Monaco ou J.Crew, deux sociétés dirigées par des femmes inspirantes et qui s’implanteront bientôt en France.

Rebekka Bay et Gap

Elle est blonde, Rebekka Bay. Elle présente tous les signes d’une Nordique qui privilégie le port de vêtements simples à l’architecture douce comme sa liquette blanche. En 2006, elle est à l’origine du concept COS, pensé par le groupe H&M, où le minimalisme de créateurs peut se concevoir à petits prix. Les innovations techniques sont aussi au rendez-vous. Elle conçoit un style fonctionnel, ultracitadin et des matières nouvelles qui s’adaptent au classicisme de coupes radicales très épurées. Peu d’imprimés chez COS, mais du bleu marine, du noir, du gris. Après des études à la Designskolen Kolding, au Danemark, Rebekka devient conseillère auprès de marques comme Dunhill ou COS. Son leitmotiv depuis son arrivée chez Gap, en 2012: retrouver la force des authentiques et souligner l’intérêt contemporain de tels produits à travers une vision reboostée de l’americana. Rebekka Bay contrôle toutes les lignes, jusqu’au label 1969, implanté à Los Angeles.Et son pari semble réussi pour le printemps-été 2014, avec un grand retour du denim aux coupes plus ajustées. Le traitement des matières joue sur un délavé serein, avec cet esprit eighties aux couleurs tendres. Il y a autant de Céline que de Helmut Lang dans cette nouvelle proposition qui cherche la pièce iconique, pour femme comme pour homme.

Jenna Lyons et J.Crew

Elle est presque une star, Jenna. De par son allure identifiable entre toutes, celle d’une grande fille avec de grandes lunettes à monture noire. Médiatique, Jenna Lyons apparaît lors des Fashion Weeks ou en guest-star dans la série Girls, de Lena Dunham. En 2013, elle figure dans le classement des 100 personnalités les plus influentes du monde du magazine Time. Son parcours est limpide: cette fille de Palos Verdes, en Californie, diplômée de la Parsons School de New York, est entrée directement chez J.Crew en 1990 puis a gravi tous les échelons de l’assistante ultramotivée. Après avoir été nommée directrice de la création en 2007, elle devient présidente en 2010. Deux ans plus tard, le chiffre d’affaires de J.Crew dépasse les 2,2 milliards de dollars.

Son succès? Michelle Obama déclare, en avril 2008, « trouver de jolies choses sur le site de la marque » lors de son apparition à l’émission de télévision The Tonight Show.Le lendemain, le site explose dès dix heures du matin. En outre, J.Crew privilégie et soutient les créateurs maison, proposant des lignes développées en interne, comme celle du responsable du prêt-à-porter homme, Todd Snyder. Pour enrichir cette démarche, J.Crew s’est mis en quête de pièces fortes et intemporelles, de la Stan Smith d’Adidas à d’authentiques chaussures patinées en provenance du Kentucky, qu’elle vend dans son réseau de boutiques. Jenna Lyons est de toutes les attentions car, sous son influence, J.Crew développe une mode différente. Les imprimés comme les basiques se complètent et composent un vestiaire contemporain très new-yorkais. Acheter une pièce J.Crew est aujourd’hui devenu aussi crédible que porter du Proenza Schouler, le tout étant adoubé par des blogueurs reconnus comme Tommy Ton.

Caroline Belhumeur et Club Monaco

Club Monaco est à l’origine une marque canadienne créée par Joe Mimran et Alfred Sung en 1985. Son expansion commence par les Etats-Unis, avec une première implantation sur la côte Ouest, à Los Angeles. En 1999, le groupe Polo Ralph Lauren en fait l’acquisition, mais le label garde son indépendance de ton. Caroline Belhumeur est à la tête du prêt-à-porter féminin depuis 1999. Pour cette Anglaise née à Bristol, la formation s’est faite sur les bancs de la Kensington University, puis elle atterrit chez Calvin Klein et Theory. Les collections de Club Monaco émanent de choix personnels qu’elle désire faire partager à tous: une mode au classicisme évident avec un « twist » créateur et européen. Fan de musique punk mais aussi d’architecture new-yorkaise, Caroline Belhumeur donne une touche unique à des vêtements fonctionnels qui évoquent le charme d’une échappée dans les Hamptons. Pièces clefs: un trench, un pull d’homme en cachemire et une veste en cuir.

Voir encore:

Ralph Lauren’s American Dream

The iconic brand is struggling. How did we get here, and what happens next?

Entering the Rhinelander Mansion on New York’s Upper East Side is like quietly opening a window into Ralph Lauren’s mind. Many describe Lauren’s superpower as his ability to turn his wildest dreams into reality, and inside that mansion, Ralph Lauren’s original flagship location, his dreams are made real in every nook and cranny of the place.


 

Each room presents one lavish scene after the next, and it’s not hard to imagine Lauren himself toiling at the displays to make sure everything sits just right. Spaces are small and illuminated with candles and the softest of lighting, beckoning shoppers to linger. A glass of water arrives on a small silver platter, garnished with a single slice of lemon, just for you.

It’s stunningly clear here, walking slowly up a staircase lined with oil paintings from the company’s collection, that Ralph Lauren is a lifestyle. No detail is left to chance: Ralph Lauren ties are fanned out on a table in front of a bar stacked high with Ralph Lauren shirts, next to a case of monogrammed Ralph Lauren cufflinks. Ralph Lauren briefcases are placed next to Ralph Lauren paperweights on a Ralph Lauren desk topped with Ralph Lauren stationery, positioned underneath a giant, glittering chandelier that can’t possibly — but maybe? — be branded Ralph Lauren. Everything, right down to the 82,000 square feet of mahogany hauled in for the mansion’s renovation in the 1980s, reeks of style and status and money. Old money.

Twenty blocks away, inside the Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, the dream gets a little murkier. Lauren Ralph Lauren dominates one of the women’s floors, and while the gold-plated signage is shiny and the tan leather couches comfy, the endless sea of khaki dresses belted at the waist are not so much impressive as they are predictable. There are no nooks nor crannies filled with odds and ends from Ralph’s archives; nothing begs a pause. Jammed up in between racks of floral fit ‘n’ flare dresses and rows of athleisure, it’s harder to see Ralph Lauren’s appeal. A similar scene unfolds on the sales floor at the Herald Square Macy’s, a short 10-minute walk away.

Once you leave the giant department stores of New York City and head to the malls of suburbia, Ralph Lauren becomes a few racks of Oxfords, polos, and pleated pants. Reliably found in your local Dillard’s, and just as reliably found on sale.

« The clothes look good in magazines, but look older in stores, » says Christina, a 31-year-old from Long Island, flipping through a rack of button-down shirts at Macy’s. She likens the brand to Michael Kors — oversaturated and devalued. « I would never buy Polo at full price. »

Jan Freemantle, a tourist visiting New York from Sydney, Australia, recalled how her husband used to bring her back Polo shirts picked up on business trips to California before she could find the brand in Sydney. Polo was all she knew about Ralph Lauren until recently, when on a trip to Aspen, she came across a Ralph Lauren store that carried the Purple Label and Collection lines. « It was so nice, but so expensive, » she says.

Most shoppers haven’t encountered the totality of Ralph Lauren’s world. How could they? Since the early 2000s, Ralph Lauren Corporation has owned and operated at least 25 different brands. It’s a staggering list: Polo Ralph Lauren, Polo Jeans, Polo Golf, Pink Pony, Purple Label, Blue Label, Black Label, Ralph by Ralph Lauren, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Lauren for Men, Women’s Collection, RRL, RLX, Rugby, Denim & Supply, Club Monaco, Chaps, Ralph Lauren Childrenswear, Ralph Lauren Watches, Ralph Lauren Fine Jewelry, American Living, Ralph Lauren Home, Lauren Home, Ralph Lauren Paint, and Lauren Spa. Not all are still in operation.

Ralph Lauren is clearly a man who knows how to build an empire, but right now, the empire is in turmoil.

For the shoppers who actually are familiar with the company’s multitude of lines, it’s still exhausting. « The identity of the brand gets lost, » laments Efney Hall, who has been shopping Ralph Lauren for over a decade. She likes it for its classic, elegant appeal, but she’s noticed that lately, the fit of the pants has changed. She finds herself skimming over the brand’s Lauren Ralph Lauren racks. She’s over it.

Ralph Lauren is clearly a man who knows how to build an empire, but right now, the empire is in turmoil. Layoffs have struck the company two years in a row, eliminating 750 jobs in 2015 and another 1,000 this summer. (One former Ralph Lauren designer commented to a colleague on Instagram in June: « Glad you survived the RL Hunger Games this week! »)

Lauren has stepped aside to make way for a new CEO, Stefan Larsson — the first person besides Lauren to ever hold that title in the company’s 50-year history. The company has been in the process of whittling down the brand list and there are plans to refocus on just three main lines: Ralph Lauren (the new umbrella label for Women’s Collection and Purple Label), Polo Ralph Lauren, and Lauren Ralph Lauren.

At the same time that Ralph Lauren is reevaluating its structure and bringing in fresh leadership, it also has to contend with the fact that the specific style of Americana that’s so deeply embedded in every inch of the brand isn’t something shoppers are clamoring to align themselves with now. If the privileged, preppy aesthetic that Lauren built his company around is no longer the height of aspiration, what will the future of Ralph Lauren look like?


Ralph Lauren did not grow up living the lifestyle that would later make him a billionaire. No, Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz, a shy Jewish kid who lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with his parents and three siblings. In Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren, writer Michael Gross paints a picture of young Ralph as a dreamer, never one to run with the crowd. « If white bucks were in fashion, he wore saddle shoes, » a former classmate told Gross. « When we wore crew necks, he wore V-necks. He was always a step ahead. »

Lauren’s perception of taste and class was constructed by what he saw around him, according to Gross. His richer friends’ parents drove convertibles, went on European vacations, and had country club memberships. In films, he watched Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and Fred Astaire glide across the screen, wearing beautiful suits and getting the girls every time.

« I grew up playing a lot of basketball, reading, and living at the movies, » Lauren said in an old interview that Gross unearthed for the book. « I guess they influenced my taste level. I liked the good things and the good life. I did not want to be a phony. I just wanted more than I had. »

However, Lauren’s mother had set a strict path for Ralph: he was to be a rabbi. He shuttled between secular public schools and Jewish yeshivas during his youth, eventually convincing his mother to allow him to transfer from Manhattan Talmudical Academy, where he was on the Hebrew teacher-in-training track, to DeWitt Clinton High School, an all-boys public school. In his senior yearbook, listed right below his extra-curricular participation in « Lunch Room Squad » and « Health Ed. Squad, » Lauren declared what he wanted to be when he grew up: a millionaire.

At 19, he and his brother Jerry changed their last name from Lifshitz to Lauren. (As Gross reports it, Ralph polled friends on two alternatives, London or Lauren; he was personally partial to London.) In the official document filed for the name change, the reason listed was confusion over people, both at school and at work, who shared the same last name. In reality, Lifshitz had the word « shit » in it and Ralph’s plans for himself did not include dealing with that for the rest of his life.

College was never a big draw for Lauren, who dropped out of the City College of New York school system after three years. He was drafted into the Army and served for two years, but the military, with all its rules and regulations, wasn’t a good fit either. After the Army, he kicked off his career as a salesman, first for glove companies. Then he got into ties.

« I liked the good things and the good life. I did not want to be a phony. I just wanted more than I had. »

Lauren got his first shot at professional tie design at Rivetz & Co., a high-end neckwear company. It didn’t go over well. « Rivetz was a traditional firm, » David Price, whose father used to own the Rivetz & Co. business, explains. « They were doing all sorts of crazy pinks and oranges and all the Ralph colors, and the industry and the customer base at Rivetz thought it was just atrocious. »

But instead of backing down, Lauren went from Rivetz to Beau Brummell Cravats, where his boss, Ned Brower, let him sell his own ties — colorful, wide, and expensive — out of a drawer in the showroom. Lauren had no professional training in design, but he believed so deeply in his wild ties that other people did too. He caught the attention of Norman Hilton, one of the biggest names in the menswear industry at the time, who eventually became the first investor in Lauren’s business. Polo Fashions, Inc., named after the posh sport (not the shirts Lauren would later become famous for), launched in 1968 and, as Hilton’s son Nick remembers it, his father poured $75,000 into the startup. By the end of his first year running Polo Fashions, Lauren had expanded from ties into full suits that the Daily News Record (a menswear trade publication that was later folded into WWD) featured alongside heavyweights like Bill Blass and Oleg Cassini.

The company was a critical success from the beginning, although according to Nick Hilton, it was always almost bankrupt in its first few years. In 1970, Lauren won his first Coty Award (the predecessor to the CFDA Awards) for menswear, and he launched womenswear after that. In Ralph Lauren: The Man Behind the Mystique, author Jeffrey Trachtenberg describes how the move into womenswear transformed Lauren’s business. It was then that he decided to change the name on his labels from Polo Fashions to Polo by Ralph Lauren, in part to imitate how other designers were using their own names on their womenswear labels. And then, for the launch of women’s button-down shirts, the company added a new design element: a small embroidered polo player. It was an overnight success.

« The polo player became the new status symbol for women, » Raleigh Glassberg, the buyer who purchased Ralph’s first women’s shirts for Bloomingdale’s, told Trachtenberg. The shirts were as pricey as Lauren’s ties, but it didn’t matter. Everybody wanted one. As Lauren’s business grew, buoyed in large part by the ‘80s prep revival, the polo player became an integral part of the women’s and men’s lines, including on the polo shirts that became a signature of the Ralph Lauren look.

Chaps was the first of many extensions that Ralph Lauren would experiment with. Chaps was Lauren’s answer to Polo knockoffs that were flooding the market. He couldn’t stop the knockoffs from being produced, so he created a cheaper line to compete with them.

The company also expanded quickly through a number of licensing partnerships, a relatively easy way to put the Ralph Lauren name on a variety of products without having to deal with manufacturing any of it.

« The bulk of the company’s profits come from royalties on its extremely lucrative licensing agreements, which lend the Ralph Lauren name to manufacturers of eyewear, fragrance, furniture, and a range of apparel, » the New York Times‘ Stephanie Strom reported in the mid-’90s. « Polo Ralph Lauren only manufactures its men’s sportswear, coats, and furnishing lines; all other Ralph Lauren products, ranging from towels and sheets to shoes and sunglasses, are manufactured by others under license. »

The article also noted the voracity with which Lauren launched new lines, started new partnerships, and continually built upon his vision. « The sheer number of new ideas coming out of Mr. Lauren’s head at a time when the fashion industry seems to be satisfied with endlessly regurgitating old looks gives him an edge, » Strom writes. « In the last year alone, he has started RRL, Polo Sport, a line of Polo Sport skin treatments, and the Ralph label. »

As Lauren’s empire grew, the accolades kept coming. According to the CFDA, Lauren is the first and only designer to win four of the CFDA’s top honors: the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award (1991), the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award (1995), the Menswear Designer of the Year Award (1996), and the CFDA Award for Humanitarian Leadership (1998).

Lauren’s vision of America drew heavily from the world of Ivy League preps, but the brand appealed far beyond the country club crowd.

« Insecurity can sometimes make a man do bold things, » Cathy Horyn wrote in a profile of Ralph Lauren for the Washington Post. « It can make him create not one world but many worlds. And it can make him think that what he has done is not only good but better. The upshot has been rather intriguing: a quarter-century of glorious ephemera from a designer who can’t draw so much as a sleeve. Never could. »

In that profile, Lauren couldn’t help but describe his legacy in broad, sweeping strokes. « Did I lift America up a little bit? Did I give it a little bit of quality? Because we were known for polyester. People don’t remember that. You couldn’t buy good things here. America is mass, » he told Horyn.

« And so, as I traveled around and got more sophisticated, I started to see what wasn’t there, and I became more nationalistic. Every year of my life. And I’d think, ‘Why is this country so insecure about what it is?’ So, my thing became more than clothes. It became bigger. It became — America. »

Lauren’s vision of America drew heavily from the world of Ivy League preps, but the brand appealed far beyond the country club crowd.

The Lo Lifes, a Brooklyn gang officially founded in 1988, used to make a show out of shoplifting Ralph Lauren from department stores around New York City back when they first formed; now, it’s more about appreciating the Lifshitz to Lauren, self-made billionaire element of the designer’s story, as well as showing off vast collections of archival pieces. (Vice interviewed a Lo Life member who at one point had over 1,000 items.) However, the Lo Lifes’ influence on Lauren’s brand, specifically its place in hip-hop, isn’t officially recognized by the company.

« All together, it makes for a potent folk history of capitalist sedition, » Jon Caramanica wrote of the group. « In a time when Polo was being made for and marketed to the aspirational white middle class, some of the most rigorously sourced collections were sitting in closets in the Brooklyn housing projects. »

That’s not to say the company totally eschewed diversity. Ralph Lauren is credited with catapulting Tyson Beckford to supermodel status, making him the first black male model to hold that title. Beckford’s Polo ads were lauded when they first appeared, and the Times ran a story on his breakout success. « I believe I’m setting a good example, » Beckford told the paper. « The Polo ad says that I’m not a basketball star or a rap star, but an all-American type. It separates me from those stereotypes, which is good. »

« Lauren built a career by brazenly positioning himself as the quintessential interpreter of the American zeitgeist, » Robin Givhan later wrote in The Washington Post. « More than any designer, he has used America’s mythology — our secular religion — for profit. In doing so, he has displayed a keen understanding of our cultural symbols. He can parse the difference between a pair of blue jeans worn with cowboy boots and those worn with a black leather jacket. He sees the romance in a prairie skirt or a well-worn Native American blanket. He knows what it means in our racially conflicted society to photograph a dark-skinned, athletic black man in his preppiest, old-money brand. And he knows how a bright-eyed blonde feeds our vision of Mayflower blue bloods. And as consumers, we have bought into those symbols and made Lauren an extremely wealthy man. »


Ralph Lauren went public in 1997 and continued to thrive throughout the early 2000s, opening new lines seemingly on a whim. « At Ralph Lauren, there wasn’t that outside perspective, » says a former designer who requested anonymity since he still works in the industry. « We all, including myself, had our heads up our own asses. It was just so great to be there that even if we were doing something that we couldn’t validate based off of the competitive landscape it was like, ‘Well, this is Ralph Lauren. We can do what we want.’ We set the tone. »

By 2012, Ralph Lauren stock was trading at more than $170 per share, having shot up by $100 in five years. There was so much faith in the success of the company. « Everybody was just feeling the effects of the money that was rolling in, and that it was on a steady incline, » says the former designer. The company employed approximately 25,000 people in 2012, and was reporting $6.8 billion in sales and net profits of $681 million.

Then came the slide and Ralph Lauren’s literal and metaphorical stock began to tumble. Shares fell nearly 50 percent from a high point of $192 in May 2013 to $82 in February 2016. Sales were still holding steady, but profits slid drastically.

« I used to feel really good about working for that company, but there was so much uncertainty for so long and the lack of communication from the top down was almost absurd. »

Underlying problems with the company’s organizational structure became more pronounced as the good times gave way to struggling years. « People were just so unhappy, » says the former designer. « I used to feel really good about working for that company, but there was so much uncertainty for so long and the lack of communication from the top down was almost absurd. You didn’t even know what your job was, you didn’t know what your role was. You didn’t know if you were going to have a brand the next day. »

Several former employees pointed to that lack of communication as a real point of frustration within their departments. « It was like nowhere I had ever worked before, » says an employee who worked in materials sourcing for the company’s volume brands. « Everyone worked in silos. Manufacturers had one job that they were specific to and the designers only had to report to other designers and we really were kind of bumping into each other trying to do our own jobs. It was really inefficient. »

Compared to other retail companies where she had worked, the former employee was surprised by how many managers were assigned to each department. « Ralph is a very, very top heavy company, » she explains. « It was a lot of management and not a lot of doers, which is a huge problem. »

The organizational problems had long bled into the company’s dealings with its wholesale accounts. Michael Schumann, the owner of furniture retailer Traditions, eventually cut ties with Ralph Lauren after years of headaches associated with selling Ralph Lauren Home products in his stores.

« It was no longer worth it to put up with the bullshit in order to have the name, which was too bad, » says Schumann. He recalled how Ralph Lauren Home would issue beautiful, hardbound catalogs to stores and then not refresh them for two years since it was too costly to produce the books every six months when new collections would come out.

The rules around where and how to advertise the product were extra strenuous; Ralph Lauren’s logo had to be twice the size of the retailer’s logo, and ads could only be placed in premium locations. Schumann found success selling Lauren Home, a less expensive line, but then Ralph Lauren implemented a rule that Lauren Home and Ralph Lauren Home couldn’t be sold in the same store. « It was just impossible to work with these people, » Schumann says.

Ralph Lauren’s managerial structure was broken, relationships were being severed, the quarterly financial reports got more and more alarming, and Ralph Lauren himself wasn’t the same radical young guy wooing customers to buy into his dream lifestyle. Change was needed.

For years, David Lauren, Ralph’s only child who works at the company, was assumed to be the heir apparent. In 2006, The New York Observer wrote that it was « clear » Lauren would run the company at some point. Fast Company mentioned « industry-wide speculation » that he would take the throne in a 2011 profile. In 2014, Business of Fashion noted that many in the industry pegged the son as the father’s successor.

But when the time came for Ralph Lauren to relinquish his CEO title, David Lauren’s name wasn’t called. Instead, it was Stefan Larsson, a young retail industry darling who built his career at H&M and wowed the industry with a successful three-year stint as the brand president of Old Navy, who would inherit the crown.

When Lauren and Larsson tell the story of how they met, it often includes the tale of a magical first dinner together. Both walked in wondering what the hell they were doing there, both came out knowing that this partnership needed to happen. Larsson is a young star just as Lauren was back in the day, and Larsson has entrepreneurial roots as well — he started his own company to put himself through business school, according to the Financial Times.

Larsson also passed the most crucial test, in Lauren’s eyes. « He understands what dreams are, » Lauren told the Associated Press when Larsson’s new role was announced. (Ralph Lauren declined to make Lauren, Larsson, or any other executives available for comment for this story.)

« In terms of where Stefan is, I saw that he had the background and the excitement and the energy and the knowledge that I don’t have. »

David Lauren still retains his position as a company executive and a member of the board of directors, and if the new dynamic is awkward, it only comes through a little bit. At the company’s inaugural Investor Day presentation in early June, where Larsson laid out his plan for the future of the company, Lauren took the stage for about 20 minutes to talk about the brand history and endorse Larsson.

« I’ve had great people in my company over the years, wonderful people, » Lauren told analysts in the meeting. « But whether someone’s going to carry the CEO flag was a different thing because I’m entrusting my baby to him. And that baby has to grow up. And that baby is in the front row, David on the one hand and uh, Stefan on the other. But in terms of where Stefan is, I saw that he had the background and the excitement and the energy and the knowledge that I don’t have. »

Larsson spent nine months from the point of the initial CEO announcement last September to the Investor Day this summer to take stock of the business and figure out what needed to change.

For those watching the turnaround, there’s a lot of optimism about the possibilities under Larsson’s leadership. « When you look at Stefan and some of his core competences and what he brings to the table, it’s his ability to truly understand and diagnose a weakness within a company and go forth and make the necessary changes, » says Jerry Sheldon, an analyst for IHL Consulting Group.

« He really seems to have an understanding of consumers and is able to articulate that understanding, turn it into a business strategy, and execute on that strategy in a very effective way, » notes Sheldon.

First up, Larsson is assembling a new executive team filled with people from companies like H&M and Amazon. New blood will likely be just what Ralph Lauren needs. In recent years, employees witnessed how the old guard, which had been in their roles for years and years, weren’t cultivating an innovative environment anymore. There was also a sense that Lauren could not be questioned.

« When Ralph has an idea and starts something, nobody ever stands up and says, ‘Hey, this is not right. This is not the way to go,' » notes the former designer. « Everybody just kind of kneels to every word that comes out of his mouth. And when he personally would ask for opinions and direction, people had it and they didn’t voice it until he was out of the room, and that was just the way that it went for years and years. »

« If anything, I see the old management team as being beholden to Ralph and that was probably part of the problem, » says Paul Swinand, a retail analyst for Morningstar. « It wasn’t that he had lost his touch or that he was too old — you might have thought that — but it also might have been that the old management team was not trying to go out and create anything new, they were just trying to get along and finish out their last few years. »

Larsson’s public diagnosis of the company’s problems was unveiled via the aptly-named Way Forward plan. The main points include a new, more hands-off employee structure (eliminating three levels of management), cutting down the time from initial development of a product to getting it on the sales floor to nine months (down from 15), improving communication between departments, and focusing on three core brands while maintaining a smaller stable of secondary ones. The Way Forward also detailed 1,000 job cuts and 50 retail store closures.

« From a nostalgic, brand-loving perspective, I feel sad about the layoffs, and I’m very fearful that this will be like the JCPenney situation from a few years back, » says a former employee in Ralph Lauren’s digital operations, who requested anonymity. « But from the business side, it makes a lot of sense to me. Our department did not need three managers. »

Larsson is also pulling back from outlet stores, a market where Ralph Lauren had previously been expanding, and cutting down on promotional activity to try and retrain customers not to associate discounts with the brand.

« If anything, I see the old management team as being beholden to Ralph and that was probably part of the problem. »

In addition, Ralph Lauren has a huge wholesale business which accounts for nearly half of the company’s overall revenue. Macy’s in particular is a significant Ralph Lauren buyer; that account alone accounts for about 25 percent of the company’s wholesale revenue. But Macy’s reported a terrible financial quarter in May, and it doesn’t look like it will be making a comeback anytime soon.

« The department store channel is losing market share in general, » says John Kernan, an analyst with Cowen & Company, « and Ralph Lauren, the brand, needs to find new channels of distribution like Amazon and other areas where they can grow. »


Ralph Lauren is going through operational struggles during not only a tumultuous period in the retail industry, but also a time that’s seeing a cultural shift away from what the brand stands for. The prep aesthetic has always smacked of privilege, something accessible primarily to white people with trust funds and monogrammed shirtsleeves. Now, the WASP lifestyle that completely captivated Lauren as a young entrepreneur is considered out of touch at best, offensive and oppressive at worst.

Take, for instance, the media’s reaction to the company’s Olympic uniform designs this year. Headlines announcing the kits included: « Ralph Lauren’s Olympic Uniforms Are Straight Out of Prep School Hell« ; « USA’s Olympic Uniforms Are WASPy Bullshit« ; « Team USA’s Official Olympic Uniforms are Peak Vanilla« ; and Racked’s own contribution, « I Need More From Team USA’s Olympic Uniforms« . The Daily Mail rounded up the best tweets from the debacle. The comments on Ralph Lauren’s own Instagram post of the outfits were littered with prep jokes of varying degrees of wit.

« The uniforms couldn’t play more into the world’s most unflattering stereotypes of Americans unless they added cigars dangling out of the athletes’ mouths, Bibles tucked under their arms, and $100 bills falling out of their pockets, » Christina Cauterucci wrote for Slate.

Christian Chensvold, founder of the website Ivy Style and a regular contributor to Ralph Lauren’s RL Magazine, broached the subject in a series of posts last fall that questioned whether the Ivy League look was still politically correct. This included a satirical post that imagined a social justice warrior responding to different aspects of Ivy style (example: « Dinner jacket: Offensive to the underfed »); some readers were not amused.

The spring 2016 Polo Ralph Lauren presentation during New York Fashion Week. Photo: Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images

« I would imagine that some of your readers would certainly find ‘club ties’ exclusive and elitist, » one commenter wrote, referring to a line joking that club ties should be banned for their exclusionary symbolism. Club ties, identified by their repeating motifs, actually did historically denote membership to elite clubs. « I know clothing itself is not elitist; it is the choice behind what we wear that speaks volumes about who were [sic] are. »

Later on, when Chensvold published an April Fools’ post detailing how preppy style had been banned from college campuses due to the classism and racism that it signified, plenty of readers thought it was real news.

Today’s shoppers are interested in more democratic clothing options — options that are casual, practical, and mass. Athleisure is a $97 billion business in the US, accounting for nearly one-third of the entire apparel, footwear, and accessories market. Vetements, the French design collective led by Demna Gvasalia that no one can stop talking about, is making a killing off of what can best be described as incredibly ordinary clothing. Its spring 2017 show, held during haute couture week in Paris, featured collaborations with 18 different brands including Juicy Couture and Carhartt.

« Sometimes, I hear designers from older generations saying, ‘Oh, fashion needs to make women dream,' » Gvasalia told W in an interview earlier this year. « I feel that this is really difficult today. I think it’s dated. Fashion shouldn’t make you dream in 2016. It should just be there, for us to wear. » It’s not hard to imagine Lauren burying his head in his hands over that one.

« It could become a social liability to look really old money and traditional, to wear this kind of stuff. »

« Ten years from now, when fashion is coming back around in its cycle and these young people are now well into their careers — assuming they have careers with the economy and their crippling student loan debt — when they become 35 years old, are they going to be wearing navy blazers and Alden tasseled loafers and striped ties because that epitomizes success and so forth? I don’t know, » says Chensvold.

« Theoretically, it could be a version of what we had in the late 1960s with the counterculture revolution, » he continues. « This is an election year; the country is more polarized than ever. It could become a social liability to look really old money and traditional, to wear this kind of stuff. »

Rebecca Tuite, the author of Seven Sisters Style, a book chronicling the history of the women’s equivalent to Ivy League style before many of the actual Ivies were co-ed, sees what’s happening now as a less vitriolic version of the backlash to ‘80s prep.

The counterculture revolution of the late ‘60s and ‘70s ushered in an era of long hair and bell bottoms as a response to the conservative style of the ‘50s. Then, in the ‘80s, Lauren led a massive preppy revival that other traditional menswear retailers like Brooks Brothers and J.Press also felt the effects of. This aligned with the Reagan era, a time when conservative politics replaced the freewheeling ideals of the previous two decades. When Lisa Birnbaum published The Preppy Handbook in 1980, it was meant to satirize the prep scene that was reemerging, but ended up being regarded as a literal handbook. The Financial Times described Ralph Lauren as the greatest fashion beneficiary of the book, saying he « cashed in as the preppy wannabe’s clothier. »

Then the pendulum swung back away from prepsters in the ‘90s, when grunge became the go-to cool kid look. But in the early aughts, prep was popular yet again. Birnbaum published a sequel to the Handbook called True Prep. Lauren’s business was on an upswing. Abercrombie & Fitch had infiltrated every high school in America.

« For some, the Lauren prep has become cliché, but actually I think that there is so much genius involved in his reinvention of preppy traditions and that is why whenever the preppy trend circles back to the top, it’s Ralph Lauren who is right there, front and center, leading the pack, » Tuite explains in an email. « He offers a closet full of preppy staples that perennially sell well, but can still bring a fresh take on a well-trod fashion path. »

And now, here we are again, back at a place where anti-establishment sentiment runs deep. How does a company like Ralph Lauren react to these cultural ebbs and flows? By giving its take on whatever the look of the moment is. In a roundup of old Ralph Lauren advertisements, Vanity Fair captioned a ‘90s ad featuring a cropped long sleeve top and a denim maxi skirt as: « Ralph Lauren did grunge?! »

Patricia Mears, the deputy director of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, remembers observing how Lauren’s merchandise morphed to speak to different generations when she was conducting research for a book and exhibition on Ivy style at FIT in 2012.

« When we were looking at images for the book, one of the things that we saw was a more recent photo shoot with young men, handsome, Ralph Lauren-esque. They were wearing certain things like beautiful crested navy blue blazers, but then they also had knitted caps like what you’d see on surfers or skaters, » says Mears. « Ralph was very smart about incorporating things like skate culture into a look that is still going to include the cornerstones of the Ralph Lauren vocabulary. It will still have chino pants or a navy blazer, but the T-shirt and the hat and some of the other accessories are going to be much more cutting-edge and something that a twentysomething today can relate to. »

Recently, some of Ralph Lauren’s lines have a boho feel in accordance with current trends. Carly Heitlinger, the blogger behind The College Prepster, says she doesn’t consider Ralph Lauren a traditional prep brand based on the current women’s merchandise, because it is so fashion-forward.

« A lot of their designs are a little bit trendier, a lot of crochet and knit, » says Heitlinger. « I’m sure you could find a piece or two within each collection that fit into more classic, traditional outfits like the button-downs, but there’s a lot of trendier stuff in there too. I think they really embraced this bohemian look. » She isn’t buying much from the brand these days, but says she would shop it more if it moved back towards its traditional prep roots.

No matter how the brand may change under its new CEO, Lauren’s own effect on fashion will always be far-reaching. So many designers have come up under his tutelage, from Vera Wang to Thom Browne to Tory Burch. His reputation in the industry precedes him.

« I asked Marc Jacobs one day, ‘Who’s your favorite designer?,' » says Mears. « At first when he said Ralph Lauren, I thought that was an interesting choice, but then he elaborated that there’s no person in the world who has done a better job of galvanizing that classical American look and turning it into an empire. When you see a Ralph Lauren piece you really know you’re looking at Ralph Lauren. He said that he’s probably the best designer in the world at that. »

And as the company looks forward, Lauren is adamant that Ralph Lauren will continue to be « a part of life, » as he told analysts at that Investor Day meeting. « This is about creativity, about life, » he said. « It’s not did we make a new shirt, look at us, we made a shirt with three buttons. It’s about living. It’s about dreams. And everyone has a dream. »

Erika Adams is a Racked contributor.

Editor: Julia Rubin


Voir par ailleurs:

Lauren Bacall, légende d’Hollywood, est morte

VIDÉOS – L’héroïne mythique du film noir, qui a formé avec Humphrey Bogart un couple légendaire, est décédée à 89 ans.

Une légende d’Hollywood s’en est allée. Lauren Bacall est décédée mardi à New York à 89 ans. «C’est avec un profond chagrin mais avec beaucoup de gratitude pour sa vie incroyable que nous confirmons le décès de Lauren Bacall», a indiqué mardi soir sa famille. Le site TMZ, spécialisé dans la vie des célébrités, a précisé que l’actrice était décédée chez elle à New York «d’un accident cardio-vasculaire massif». Elle habitait le Dakota, un célèbre immeuble en bordure de Central Park.

Lauren Bacall a envoûté le cinéma hollywoodien par sa voix grave et son regard bleu glacé pendant plus de 60 ans de carrière. Née le 16 septembre 1924 à New York, Betty Joan Perske de son vrai nom est la fille unique d’immigrants juifs roumano-polonais, de la famille de l’ancien président israélien Shimon Peres. Une couverture du Harper’s Bazaar et quelques photos de mode à l’intérieur du magazine ont décidé de son destin, en mars 1943. Elle a dix-neuf ans, se partage entre mannequinat, petit boulot d’ouvreuse et cours d’art dramatique, dans son New York natal. La femme de Howard Hawks remarque ce physique altier, visage aux traits aigus, regard vert perçant sous les arcades sourcilières prononcées. Elle presse son mari d’auditionner la jeune beauté pour son prochain film,Le Port de l’angoisse(To Have and Have Not). Betty dit parfaitement son texte ; mais elle est si intimidée qu’elle baisse le menton tout en levant les yeux vers la caméra. Ainsi naissent les légendes: elle sera «the look», ce fameux regard en dessous, étrangement direct et mystérieux. Il y passe de la sensualité et de l’insolence, du défi et de la distance.

Coup de foudre

La future star dispose encore d’un atout que ne laissaient pas soupçonner les photos: sa voix grave, aux intonations presque rauques, que Hawks lui fait aussitôt travailler. Elle s’appelle encore Betty, mais elle a déjà pris le nom de jeune fille de sa mère: Bacal. De son père, qui les a abandonnées quand elle était enfant, elle ne veut plus entendre parler. Howard Hawks, cinéaste Pygmalion qui la prend sous contrat pour sept films, lui fait ajouter un «l» à Bacal, choisit le prénom de Lauren. Dès sa première apparition à l’écran, la voilà prête à devenir la nouvelle femme fatale des films noirs qui connaissent alors leur âge d’or. Comme Vénus sortant de l’onde, Bacall sort de l’ombre.

Un autre Pygmalion l’attend sur le tournage: son partenaire, Humphrey Bogart, alors au sommet de sa gloire. Il a 44 ans, il est marié à l’actrice Mayo Methot, il boit trop. Le coup de foudre est réciproque, et la passion qui dévore les personnages déborde vite hors champ. Les luttes entre gaullistes et pétainistes dans les eaux de Fort-de-France, qui servent d’intrigue au Port de l’angoisse, ont laissé un souvenir plus obscur que la rencontre éclatante de sensualité et d’insolence du patron de bateau et de l’aventurière. Et la réplique fameuse: «Si vous avez besoin de moi, vous n’avez qu’à siffler. Vous savez siffler, Steve?» Cet aplomb garçonnier, cette distinction un brin voyou, ça on ne l’avait pas encore vu. La manière Bacall de traiter la séduction en bonne camarade est restée inégalée.

Bogart divorce pour épouser Bacall en 1945. L’année suivante, Howard Hawks les réunit de nouveau à l’écran dans Le Grand Sommeil. Une histoire de chantage très embrouillée où l’inspecteur Marlowe s’éprend de la superbe Vivian. Ils tourneront encore deux beaux films noirs ensemble, Les Passagers de la nuit de Delmer Daves (1947) et Key Largo de John Huston (1948). Ils auront deux enfants, Stephen, né en 1949, et Leslie, en 1952. Leur amour conjugal fera rêver l’Amérique, jusqu’à la mort d’Humphrey Bogart, emporté par un cancer en 1957. «Avant de le rencontrer, je pensais tomber sur un type plutôt grossier», a raconté Lauren Bacall, qui aurait préféré tourner avec Cary Grant. «J’ignorais qu’il avait une excellente éducation, lisait beaucoup, parlait bien. C’est une chance extraordinaire d’avoir été formée par un homme de son âge, et les amis de sa génération, comme Gregory Peck, David Niven ou Noel Coward, qui avait un esprit fou».

Dans les années 1950, Lauren Bacall se tourne vers la comédie, où son élégance sûre d’elle-même, sa drôlerie, son côté abrupt, un peu masculin, font merveille. Negulesco lui offre Comment épouser un millionnaire etLes femmes mènent le monde, Minnelli La Femme modèle. Elle y interprète une dessinatrice de mode mondaine, genre d’emploi qu’elle retrouvera plus tard dans Misery de Rob Reiner (1990) etPrêt-à-porter de Robert Altman (1994).

Une personnalité

Après la mort d’Humphrey Bogart, elle revient vivre à New York, et on la retrouve sur scène à Broadway dans Goodbye Charlie, Fleur de cactus, La Femme de l’annéeou Applause, comédie musicale d’après Eve de Mankiewicz, qui lui vaudra un Tony Award en 1970. L’œuvre est diffusée à la télévision où Lauren Bacall fait aussi carrière, jusqu’à la série des Soprano: elle y tient son propre rôle. Elle ne cessera jamais de travailler au cinéma. Mais duCrime de l’Orient-Express, àDogville etManderlay de Lars von Trier, le cinéma ne lui offrira plus de très grands rôles. Elle restera la star auréolée de son passé légendaire, qui donne de l’éclat à un générique. Et qui continue à faire son métier, sans vaine nostalgie. Sa bravoure et sa franchise la font couper court: «Les jours anciens étaient merveilleux, mais ils sont passés. Occupons-nous d’aujourd’hui.»

Pour que les choses soient claires, elle a écrit deux autobiographies, Par moi-même(éditions Stock) etSeule (éditions Michel Lafon), qui en est le complément. Des titres éloquents. Elle y raconte ses origines de fille d’émigrés juifs, roumains, allemands et polonais (elle était la cousine de Shimon Pérès), le brusque départ de son père, qu’elle refusera de revoir quand il ressurgira des années plus tard, les hommes de sa vie: après Bogart, il y a eu Sinatra, qui l’a plaquée goujatement, Jason Robards, épousé en 1961, dont elle divorcera huit ans plus tard à cause de son alcoolisme. «J’ai passé seule la plus grande partie de ma vie», a-t-elle observé. Elle trouvait que les hommes intelligents et spirituels se faisaient rares. Howard Hawks avait sans doute raison de penser que, plus qu’une actrice, Bacall était une personnalité. Un fier tempérament. Elle portait l’indépendance et les volutes de fumée comme personne.


Ses principaux films:

-»To Have and Have not» (Le port de l’angoisse, 1944), Howard Hawks

-»Confidential Agent» (1945), Herman Shumlin

-»The Big Sleep» (Le grand sommeil, 1946), Howard Hawks

-»Dark Passage (Les passagers de la nuit, 1947), Delmer Daves

-»Key Largo» (1948), John Huston

-»Young Man with a Horn» (La femme aux chimères, 1950), Michael Curtiz

-»Bright Leaf» (le roi du tabac, 1950), Michael Curtiz

-»How to marry a millionaire» (1953), Jean Negulesco

-»Woman’s world» (Les femmes mènent le monde, 1954), Jean Negulesco

-»The cobweb» (La toile d’araignée, 1955), Vincente Minnelli

-»Blood Alley» (L’allée sanglante, 1955), William Wellman

-»Written on the wind» (Ecrit sur du vent, 1956), Douglas Sirk

-»Designing woman» (La femme modèle, 1957), Vincente Minnelli

-»The gift of love» (La femme que j’aimais, 1958), Jean Negulesco

-»Shock Treatment» (1964), Denis Sanders

-»Sex and the single girl» (Une vierge sur canapé, 1964), Anthony Quinn

-»Harper» (Détective privé, 1966), Jack Smight

-»Murder on the Orient Express» (Le crime de l’Orient Express, 1974), Sydney Lumet

-»The shootist» (Le dernier des géants, 1976), Don Siegel

-»The fan» (Fanatique, 1981), Edward Bianchi

-»Misery» (1990), Rob Reiner

-»Prêt-à-porter» (1994), Robert Altman

-»Le jour et la nuit» (1997), Bernard-Henri Lévy

-»Dogville» (2003), Lars von Trier

-»Manderlay» (2005), Lars von Trier

-»The Forger» (2012), Lawrence Roeck, son dernier film en tant qu’actrice

Voir de plus:

« The Look »Lauren Bacall: un certain regard Danièle Georget
Paris Match

Avec Bogart, elle formait le couple le plus mythique de Hollywood. Pendant plus de cinquante ans, elle a continué sa route sans lui, avant de s’éteindre à 89 ans.

Elle a tout d’une princesse, mais elle est née d’un représentant de commerce et d’une émigrée juive roumaine du Bronx. Il a l’air d’un dur mais il est fils de bourgeois, cousin d’aristocrates anglais. Dès leur premier film, elle est la lumière et lui, l’ombre. Entre Lauren Bacall et Humphrey Bogart, tout commence par une réplique culte, « Vous n’aurez qu’à me siffler », lancée en 1943 sur le plateau du « Port de l’angoisse », d’une voix rauque, travaillée à la cigarette pendant trois semaines. Ce n’était que le signe extérieur d’un aplomb qui annonçait une ère nouvelle. Mais face au héros tragique, bagarreur de 44 ans qui savait si bien encaisser les vacheries du destin, elle avait, en la prononçant, le menton qui tremblait. Tant pis, elle le regarderait par en dessous pour assurer son équilibre. Une panthère qui surveille sa proie. Ainsi naquit son surnom, « The Look ».

Du fond de son désespoir tranquille, Bogie a deviné la bluffeuse hors pair, qui joue comme si elle avait un brelan d’as… En réalité, elle en est encore à courir après l’ombre de papa, disparu dans la jungle où se perdent les hommes infidèles. Lauren adule sa mère. Elle survit de petits boulots : ouvreuse, mannequin dans les grands magasins, c’est-à-dire portemanteau. Il lui a fallu renoncer à l’école de théâtre, car on n’y donnait pas de bourse aux filles. Un garçon lui a déjà fait du gringue : Kirk Douglas. Mais elle a gardé ses distances. Peut-être a-t-elle deviné que, au fond, elle n’était pas son genre : pas de seins, pas de fesses, trop grands pieds. C’est l’époque où Marilyn se fait refaire le nez, la poitrine, et teindre en blonde. Une gueule de fantasme. Lauren Bacall mise sur la différence. Une jeune vierge au visage de femme fatale qui s’impose dans le style de la copine insolente et affranchie, elle qui connaît si mal les hommes.

Timide, Bogart l’a embrassée sans prévenir

Comme il est timide, Bogart l’a embrassée sans prévenir, après trois semaines de tournage et d’innombrables plaisanteries. Dans sa loge, il lui a pris le menton puis lui a tendu une pochette d’allumettes pour qu’elle y inscrive son numéro de téléphone. Il n’y avait pas de caméra pour filmer la scène. C’est Lauren qui l’a racontée dans ses Mémoires, « Par moi-même » (éd. Stock, 1979).Ce n’était pourtant pas dans les habitudes de Bogie, ces amours de tournage. Lui, quand il aime, il épouse. Souvent. La troisième Mme Bogart est, comme les autres, une actrice. Qu’est-ce qui lui a plu en Mayo Methot ? Ses joues d’écureuil ou sa détermination à ne jamais le laisser boire tout seul ? C’est un vrai pilier de bar, mauvaise comme les habitués des saloons dans les westerns. Mme Bogart a l’habitude de balancer cendrier et bouteille à la tête du gentleman de « Casablanca ». Elle hurle comme un ivrogne. A Lauren, elle lancera : « Petite garce juive, c’est toi qui vas lui laver ses chaussettes ? » Bref, elle donne à Bogie toutes les raisons de boire. Ce dont il lui est reconnaissant. L’alcool est alors un attribut essentiel de la virilité. Ça ne dérange pas Lauren. Et même, elle suit… A Paris Match, en 2005, elle déclare : « J’ai d’abord tenté l’orange blossom, gin-jus d’orange. Pas terrible. Ensuite, l’aquavit on the rocks, qui me rendait malade. Je ne détestais pas le brandy, qui faisait anglais. Je me suis mise au Martini sur glace, très dilué. Puis le Jack Daniel’s… Aujourd’hui, je suis plutôt vodka. Mais, franchement, l’alcool ne me convient pas. » Elle ira jusqu’à l’accompagner sur son bateau où elle a le mal de mer…

Il l’appelle « Slim » (Mince) ou « Baby ». Elle lui dit « Steve », comme dans le film, et reste à son côté quand il joue aux échecs, ou fait des grimaces pour le faire rire. A la sortie des studios, il la rejoint dans sa voiture, comme un lycéen. Et, parfois, quand il est soûl, il l’appelle au milieu de la nuit pour lui donner rendez-vous sur la Route 101 où elle le découvre à 4 heures du matin, un énorme tournesol à la boutonnière. Il la traite en amante autant qu’en copain, et elle, en homme de sa vie. Ce qui n’échappe pas à Howard Hawks, le réalisateur qui lui a donné sa chance après avoir vu sa photo à la une de « Harper’s Bazaar ». Jaloux, il lui fait la morale, critique son jeu, lui affirme qu’elle est en train de tout gâcher pour un type qui, le film terminé, ne se souviendra même plus d’elle… et elle répond d’une voix de petite fille que personne ne lui connaît : « Mais Howard, qu’est-ce qu’on fait quand on a un type dans la peau ? » Howard Hawks n’avait que la mauvaise foi du mauvais perdant. En réalité, il faudra à peine un an pour que Bogart quitte sa femme. Il épouse Lauren en mai 1945. Cela aurait pu être la plus belle noce de Hollywood. Mais il choisit pour la cérémonie une ferme, dans une petite ville de l’Ohio. Devant le juge, ils se tiennent par la main, avec les genoux qui flageolent. Un bonheur de midinette pour des héros de film noir.

Leurs deux enfants passeront toujours après Bogie qui ne supporte pas d’être sans elle

Leur première vraie dispute résonne quand elle lui apprend qu’elle est enceinte : « Il vociféra qu’il ne m’avait pas épousée pour me perdre au profit d’un enfant. Qu’aucun enfant n’allait se mettre entre lui et moi. » Ils en auront deux, Stephen, en 1949, et Leslie, en 1952. Et Lauren respectera sa promesse. Ils passeront toujours après Bogie qui ne supporte pas d’être seul, sans elle : à l’époque de « The African Queen », l’aîné se retrouve près de sa nurse morte, victime d’une crise cardiaque, sur le tarmac de l’aéroport où ils viennent de s’envoler pour New York. Et alors… on lui enverra sa grand-mère. « Il avait longtemps dit : “Je n’ai pas d’enfants parce qu’ils ne boivent pas”, confie Stephen dans un documentaire de Bertrand Tessier (pour OCS). Nous avions juste commencé à être plus proches quand il est tombé malade. »

Bogart a toujours su que le bonheur ne durait pas. Sa grandeur, c’était de montrer que ça ne l’empêchait pas de vivre, qu’il avait les tripes pour affronter le destin. Son destin à lui, ce sera juste avant le tournage de « Plus dure sera la chute », en 1956, un cancer de l’œsophage. L’alcool, le tabac. Entre sa première opération et sa mort, à 57 ans, onze mois vont s’écouler, à souffrir, à ne plus manger, à ne plus pouvoir marcher. Ensemble, ils ne voudront rien savoir de la tumeur, de la bombe au cobalt, de la moutarde à l’azote, ce dérivé du gaz moutarde avec lequel on tente encore l’impossible… Jusqu’à la fin, Bogart ferraille avec les chroniqueurs qui balancent qu’il est incurable : « Comme on dit, je ne me suis jamais si bien porté… Il ne me manque qu’une douzaine de kilos que certains d’entre vous, à coup sûr, pourraient avantageusement me céder. » Quand elle l’emmène à l’hôpital, maintenant c’est elle qui porte la valise, avec, à l’intérieur, la bouteille de scotch et le jeu d’échecs, et elle qui lui dit : « J’aime beaucoup que tu t’appuies sur moi, c’est la première fois en douze ans. » Il est passé aux cigarettes à bout filtre. Et du whisky au Martini, mais, à Noël, elle lui offre un pyjama et une veste d’intérieur. Bogie ne sera plus jamais un homme debout.

Elle a tenté de refaire sa vie mais personne n’avait la carrure

Leur dernière nuit, ils vont la passer ensemble le 12 janvier 1957. Elle a pris l’habitude de dormir dans une alcôve pour ne pas le déranger mais, ce soir-là, il lui demande de rester, il a peur. C’est une nuit sans répit, à lui tenir la main pendant qu’il suffoque. Bogie tombe dans le coma le lendemain pendant qu’elle emmène les enfants « à l’école du dimanche », le catéchisme des protestants. Il lui avait pourtant dit de ne pas s’éloigner… On s’étonnera que, le jour de l’enterrement, elle n’ait pas versé une larme. Elle était pourtant méconnaissable avec ses paupières gonflées sous son petit béret noir. Sans voilette, sans lunettes, toute droite. Qui connaissait Lauren Bacall ? Pour Hollywood, elle est devenue la veuve, celle qui rappelle l’absent et, pire encore, qui montre combien la vie est cruelle, bien plus que l’imaginent les scénaristes. Elle restera néanmoins une star à qui l’on demanda toute sa vie pourquoi elle tenait tant à travailler, ce qu’elle fit jusqu’à 87 ans. « Pour payer mon loyer », répondait-elle en souriant.

Elle avait 33 ans quand Bogie est mort. Pendant plus d’un demi-siècle, elle a porté vaillamment le fantôme écrasant, ça ne l’a pas empêchée d’épouser un autre acteur, Jason Robards, qui disparaissait pendant des nuits entières de beuverie. Elle a eu un troisième enfant, des amants, elle a tenté de refaire sa vie mais personne n’avait la carrure. Elle avait pourtant tourné la page, retrouvé New York, le très chic immeuble Dakota devant lequel John Lennon fut assassiné. Le temps des studios était mort depuis longtemps, il fallait s’habituer à voir Lauren Bacall dans des seconds rôles ou des séries télé. Heureusement, restait le théâtre. Et son plus grand succès, « Applause », à New York et Londres. C’était l’adaptation du film de Mankiewicz « Eve » (1950), avec Bette Davis, la star qu’elle avait tant admirée, enfant, et qui lui confiait, à 15 ans : « Il faut que vous soyez bien sûre de votre vocation… car, voyez-vous, j’ai deux Oscars sur ma cheminée, mais ils ne me tiennent pas chaud par les froides soirées d’hiver. » La solitude, Lauren Bacall l’a apprivoisée, elle qui disait : « J’ai passé bien plus d’années sans Bogart qu’avec lui. Mais après sa mort, je me suis mise à penser et agir comme lui. Je suis un peu devenue lui. »

Voir encore:

Book Reviews
The Very Jewish Love Story Behind Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’
How the famed writer’s unrequited passion for Janet Sussman led to the era-defining best-seller, and how Segal, who died six years ago this week, never got over her
Paula Young Lee
Tablet

January 14, 2016

“What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?” reads the opening line of Erich Segal’s 1970 best-seller Love Story. Well, for starters, Jenny—or the real-life model for Segal’s fictional tragic heroine—didn’t die. Her name is Janet, she’s Jewish, and she’s alive and well and living in New York City.

In 1998, a series of misreported conversations made it sound as if Al Gore had claimed that he and then-wife Tipper had inspired the young couple at the center of Love Story: the preppy Oliver Barrett IV, and working-class ingénue, Jennifer Cavilleri. A woman named Janet Sussman stepped forward as the “real” Jenny, which was a revelation of such proportions that Maureen Dowd wrote about it in her column for the New York Times, People Magazine ran a feature story, Inside Edition interviewed her, and Oprah later followed up with a taped special segment. But these quick takes only scratched the surface of what turns out to be a more revealing—and very Jewish—story, involving a youthful love triangle in Midwood and an author who would transform unrequited love into a book that made him rich and famous.

Janet Sussman grew up in Flatbush, the younger daughter of intellectual Russian-Polish immigrants who came to the United States with the help of Zionist organizations. The family was part of what her older sister Deborah called “the Tribe,” a close-knit social circle dedicated to raising money to help establish a Jewish homeland. That circle included the Gartners, the parents of a boy named Gideon, with whom Janet shared the same piano teacher, Roberta Berlin. From the time they were “eight, nine, ten years old, we were performing together in recitals playing four-hand piano duets,” Janet recalled, when I spoke with her recently.

Around the same time, she started attending Camp Kinderwelt (Yiddish for “children’s world”), a sleep-away summer camp for boys and girls aged six to fifteen located in Highland Mills, New York. It operated in tandem with Unser Camp (“our camp”), a resort that attracted Yiddish intellectuals and artists—theater actors, directors, poets, and teachers. Established in the late 1920s, Kinderwelt accommodated about 500 campers and counselors at its height. All that remains of Kinderwelt today is a website run by Suzanne Pulier, who was a camper in the late 1940 and ’50s at the same time as Janet. Suzanne recalls that Janet’s nickname was “Machine-Gun.” Suzanne explains: “Apparently she had a laugh that sounded like that and was very contagious. I know many a boy had a big crush on her!”

Suzanne’s memories concur with those of Marty “Smitty” Smith, who remembers Janet as being “very pretty, part of the ‘with-it’ group,” who sang for Saturday services and Friday night Shabbat. Suzanne clarifies: “We sometimes performed in Yiddish for the Unser Camp adults, we walked through their camp on Shabbat showing off our white clothes for the evening’s religious services and we sang for the adults when they had events in the Literashe Vinkel (the little amphitheater).” Janet also played the piano to accompany the singing.

In 1952, while at camp, 15-year-old Janet received an unexpected love letter from a 17-year-old schoolmate in Brooklyn. It was a seven-page confession that he loved her with all the force a love-struck teenager could muster. He felt compelled to write because he was about to leave for college, and feared he’d lost his chance to go on a date with her. He dreamed they would get married in ten years. He dreamed that she would just write back. He worried that he was foolish to confess, because so many other guys were also in love with her.

***

In the early 1950s, Janet Sussman attended Midwood High School along with Gideon Gartner and Erich Segal. (Allan Konigsberg, class of ’53, was at Midwood with them too. He would later become known as Woody Allen.) Erich was the same age as Janet but a grade ahead of her, and Gideon, who wrote her the seven-page love letter, was two years older but three grades ahead. Inside the social ecology of Midwood High, there was very little overlap between Erich and Gideon, and no points of intersection between Janet and Erich.

Now an undergraduate at M.I.T., Gideon was always calling her, trying to get her to go out with him. When that failed, he began writing her letters. But Janet was not interested in him. “I had work to do!” Janet exclaims in tones of mild indignation. She was too busy with friends, singing, and her studies to bother with a boyfriend. With lifelong best friend Helen Mones, Janet would play guitars once a week; they also sang together in the All-City Chorus, which brought together students from all five boroughs.

So, when Janet began receiving more anonymous valentines, she didn’t think anything of it. “In those days,” she explains, “life was what happened. You didn’t question things. I got letters. I figured that everybody got letters.” The letters started in 1954, when she was 17 years old, and a junior in high school. “And then he started to sign his letters to me,” Janet says. The new letter-writer, Erich Segal, would keep writing her letters for the next 16 years.

Janet knew who Erich was, of course. Everybody knew him as the Mayor of Midwood, the equivalent of the student body president. But she had no idea how she came to his attention. He didn’t hang out by her locker or participate in chorus. She didn’t see him at all during her normal daily routines.

Unbeknownst to Janet at the time, Erich had asked Dick Kolbert to find out about her. Dick was class of ’55, a junior, and into basketball. Erich was class of ’54, a senior, a star of track and field. Dick sat next to Janet in English class and had played Algernon to her Cecily in the student production of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest. Dick’s secret assignment was to “ask her questions, find out if she had a boyfriend, what she said about him, that sort of thing,” and to report back to Erich what he’d learned. “It became clear that Erich was stuck on Janet,” Dick says crisply, “and Janet did not reciprocate.”

The following year, “Old Kolbert” succeeded Erich as Mayor of Midwood. A dignified man who speaks carefully, Dick doesn’t doubt that Erich based “Jenny” on Janet. There were too many similarities between them. And he believes that Erich’s feelings were sincere. “Teenagers really do experience genuine love,” he muses. “Even if it’s love at a distance. He may have been a little self-dramatizing, but he was genuinely smitten.” Though he wouldn’t reveal any details, Dick confirmed that Erich subsequently wrote “a long letter to him, pouring out his heart” regarding the depths of his feelings for Janet and asked him to burn it after reading. And so he did.

***

Dick Kolbert remembers that Janet was very pretty, but that it was Marge Cama who was voted “Prettiest Girl” in their graduating class at Midwood. The difference was that Janet had, “well … something,” he offered vaguely. “If there was a Geiger counter, she would be towards the top.”

Teenage boys may have been drawn to Janet’s artless good looks, but it was that ineffable quality of being your own person that made them fall in love with her. When Janet’s sister Deborah was 14, she wrote a strangely revealing essay about her then 8-year-old sibling. “Her tiny pug nose and tinkling laugh are two of the factors which gave her the titles, ‘Mis-Chief’ and ‘Machine-Gun,’ ” Deborah wrote of her sister in third grade. “I often wonder how she acts with male friends of her own age, and why they are so attached to her.”

Deborah titled the English-class essay “A Female Casanova” on account of the fact that Janet had a “boyfriend”–another third-grader named Ronald, who briefly became sick and stayed at home, leaving room for “Richard” to move in. Yet Deborah was perplexed. What qualities did Janet possess that made boys become infatuated with her? Nobody I spoke to about Janet’s years at Camp Kinderwelt or Midwood High School described her as a flirt, “boy crazy,” or any variation thereof. Rather, her response to male attention seems consistently to have been amused bafflement, followed by indifference.

In high school, Janet shared Erich’s letters with her other life-long best friend, Diana Stone. Diana lived across the street from the Sussmans’ home in Brooklyn, and she and Janet were as close as sisters. With a note of incredulity in her voice, Janet exclaims: “I think Diana even tried to persuade me to relent, just a little!” To no avail. She wasn’t rude to Erich, Janet stresses. But she never went out with him. Yet Erich’s letters kept coming.

At Barnard, Janet double-majored in music and French. An accomplished pianist, she composed the entrance music to Barnard’s “Greek Games” as well as a second piece for the dance portion, choreographed by Tobi Bernstein (today the distinguished dance critic Tobi Tobias). “This piece became the soundtrack to our childhood,” Janet’s youngest child, Aleba, states, “as it was the one piece she would turn to again and again when playing the piano for pleasure and not for work. We loved it so much—it totally captures her passion. It has very intricate syncopation amid gorgeous melodies.” A serious student, Janet took a composition class with Otto Luening across the street at Columbia University. This very small class included two future winners of the Pulitzer Prize for music composition: John Corigliano, who was also in Janet’s class at Midwood High School; and Charles Wuorinen, who “sat in the back row alone all the time,” Janet elaborates. “We all knew he was the genius of geniuses.”

By fall of 1959, she had graduated from college and finished up a summer at the Cummington School of the Arts in Massachusetts. She then found a job working as an administrative assistant for Columbia Records in New York City. Meanwhile, her older sister Deborah, a protégée of Ray and Charles Eames, had been on a Fulbright year in Ulm, Germany, and had moved on to Paris, where she settled into her new job as a graphic designer for chic department store Galeries Lafayette. Deborah wanted her baby sister to come visit.

It was time for Janet to make a choice. She had a good entry-level job at a business where she might have a future if she stayed—but Paris beckoned. After hemming and hawing, she finally gave notice to her bosses at Columbia Records and joined her sibling for a stint of seven months in Europe. On June 8, 1960, Deborah wrote to their parents:

after five weeks, i cannot imagine being without her. i was amazed and impressed, and so are others, at her insights and awarenesses of people. she has developed very highly intellectually, equaled (need one say?) by her beauty. yet i think that being far from home and her usual routines is the best thing she could do right now, in order to learn a certain independence.
Deborah’s letter made no mention of the man from Midwood High who was planning on delivering himself to their doorstep in the 18th arondissement the very next day, flowers in hand, with plans to take her baby sister out for her birthday, which happened to be close enough to his birthday, too. Erich Segal and Janet were Geminis, the sign of the Twins, born one week apart: June 9 for her, and June 16 for him. Erich had written Janet to let her know of his plans, but he’d not heard from her in two weeks since his last letter, he complained, and had no idea if she would be there when he arrived.

He had reason to fret. If Janet wasn’t exactly avoiding him, she wasn’t waiting breathlessly either. The sisters had driven to South of France, to the French Riviera, taking the routes favored by truck drivers because the food along the way was cheap and good. As for Erich, she says, he was “on his own.” It didn’t help his case that her sister “didn’t think he was important,” Janet relates with a rueful laugh. Ever decisive, Deborah summed Erich up and cut him down in three words: “He’s so short!” Janet concurs that he was short of stature, but with a “magnificent face.” When the three of them eventually ended up having dinner in Paris at the home of Erich’s aunt and uncle, “I was on good behavior,” Janet says lightly. “Deborah—ahem—wasn’t.” The formal meal turned into a scene from Hannah and Her Sisters à la française, with Janet being her charming and effervescent self, and Deborah blurting out caustic remarks in impeccable French.

Deborah, Erich, and Janet on the French Riviera, 1960.
That Janet agreed to dine with Erich’s relatives did not turn her into his girlfriend. “I wasn’t rude,” she exclaimed indignantly. “But he made every effort to see me, and I made none to see him.” Erich flew back to the United States, his love unrequited. And he kept sending her letters. From Cambridge, Massachusetts: a postcard mailed to her in Paris. From New York City: a telegram to her in Paris. From Barrow, Alaska: a letter addressed to her in Brooklyn. From somewhere over the friendly skies: a letter on American Airlines’ stationary, scrawled on a return flight from a Passover visit with his mother and family. From his office at Harvard University, where he’d obtained his undergraduate, Master’s, and doctoral degrees and then joined the faculty: a letter to her in Brooklyn, written in a ruled blue book used for exams. And so on.

Janet still has dozens of letters in her possession. They are full of chatty details of the non-events of the quotidian, using charming terms of endearment, little doodles, and clever puns in Latin, Greek, French, and Hebrew. During Janet’s sojourn in Paris, he visited her parents in Brooklyn. “Erich spoke Russian with my father, Polish to my mother, and Yiddish to my grandmother,” Janet recalls about that visit. Her parents approved of him, and they were thrilled when he told them he would be visiting her. From Paris, Erich sent a letter to Irving and Ruth Sussman to update them on the status of his visit with their daughters, including a description of that interesting supper with his relatives.

Following Erich’s departure from Paris, Janet had remained in France. She was nearing the end of her funds, so she began to look for a job. She found one close by in the 19th arondissement, working with a record company called Etablissements Atlas. Her job was to translate the French information on record labels into English. After two months, her bosses offered her a permanent position in London, where the company was opening a new office. But Janet didn’t take the London job, and she didn’t stay in Paris. Instead, both she and her sister decided to return permanently to the United States, sailing home on a ship called La Liberté. The voyage lasted a week. Upon their arrival, both sisters came back to the family home in Brooklyn, but Deborah immediately began readying to depart for California, where she would resume working for Ray and Charles Eames.

As it turned out, Erich Segal wasn’t the only suitor writing Janet earnest letters. Gideon was sending them too, and he had the home field advantage. “He was one of our own, part of the Rambam club,” Janet explained: “This was one of the arms of the Labor Zionist Federation, with the goal of establishing a nascent Israel. I inherited that fervor from my father.” And if, in high school, Gideon was a typical skinny teenager, Janet recalled, “he came back from college to Brooklyn, transformed.”

***

By October 1960, Janet had started a new job working as the assistant to Geraldine Souvaine, producer of the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday Afternoon radio broadcasts. When Gideon called and asked her out again, her heart didn’t leap with giddy anticipation. Still, she accepted his invitation—in her mind, a kind of pro forma social ritual, the sort of meetup owed to someone whose parents knew your parents and participated in the same groups. “We’d never before been on a date. When he showed up, he was like a stranger,” Janet says in lingering tones of wonderment. “He was my piano partner but he’d been a boy, then. I came back from Europe and he was a man. I was suddenly romantically attracted to him. I admired his broad shoulders,” Janet laughed, a 78-year-old grandmother suddenly girlish again, “and that was it!” A few months after their first date, he and Janet married.

They’d planned a traditional big wedding in a synagogue, but Janet’s father Irving was hospitalized at Maimonides Hospital with a hip injury and suffering from what would later be diagnosed as the early stages of Parkinson’s. Janet related: “In the Jewish tradition, you don’t postpone the wedding, so we brought the wedding to him. The rabbi came, and the ceremony was held in the hospital. It was very small, just family and close friends. We left the next day for our honeymoon in Puerto Rico.”

It was a marriage between families, joined together inside a community that had supported them since they were small. They’d known each other nearly their entire lives yet had fallen in love as adults. By the time they wed, Janet’s childhood piano partner had pursued her for eight years, and it was the third time she’d resigned her job and walked away from a potential career. She was almost 24 years old.

Erich saw the wedding announcement in the paper and wrote Janet a letter to congratulate her. Still, his letters kept coming.

***

The newlyweds moved to Tel Aviv and lived there for four years. Janet remembered this as a wonderful, emotionally fulfilling period in their lives. Gideon’s extended family in Tel Aviv had embraced her. She learned to speak Hebrew fluently and was thrilled to be having healthy babies—first Perry, then Sabrina—born 16 months apart. For a period of eight months, Gideon was transferred to Paris; then the family returned to Tel Aviv. Perry was too young then to remember specifics, but he recalled that his father was “incredibly ambitious,” displaying the drive that would lead him to found the Gartner Group (now Gartner, Inc.), the first of several successful companies that would establish him as one of the pioneers in the new industry of information technology. Returning to the United States, they eventually settled in Mamaroneck, New York, where their third child, Aleba, was born.

And Janet and Gideon wrote each other love letters. Throughout their marriage, they communicated through music, and regularly exchanged letters—sometimes mailed, often left on each other’s pillows—that paint a complex, profound, private portrait of a marriage. But if one wonders what set Gideon apart from Janet’s other suitors, this simple line may explain it: “To you,” she wrote to Gideon in a letter of 1961, “I’m real.”

Now a married woman with three children, Janet started receiving notes and letters again. She knew who was sending them. Erich had become a professor of Greek and Latin literature at Yale and had also met with success as a Hollywood screenwriter. She figured Erich for a prolific writer who’d simply gotten in the habit of writing down and mailing his thoughts to her. Every once in a while, she responded with a brief note and didn’t ponder the matter any further. Meanwhile, in 1968, her sister Deborah co-founded the pioneering environmental design/graphic arts firm Sussman/Prejza, which became one of the most influential design companies in the country.

In 1969, Janet’s entire young family was sound asleep when the phone rang at 3 a.m. It was Erich Segal. “He was soused,” Janet recalled. “He told me that he’d just written his final love letter to me and that it was over a hundred pages long.” That last, very long letter was Love Story. A shortish novel, it became the best-selling book of 1970 and made Erich an instant millionaire. When the film exploded the following year, Erich invited Janet to accompany him to the Plaza Hotel in New York City, where she dined with him and the film’s stars, Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, as well as the producer, Robert Evans. Janet recalled: “Gideon said I could go—however, he stipulated that I couldn’t be identified to the press as ‘Jenny’.” She attended the fête as the “mystery woman.”

In the silence, the mystery surrounding Janet’s identity merely thickened, until that fateful conversation in 1998 which transformed Tipper from Tennessee into Jenny from Rhode Island. As result of that story, Erich stated publicly that Oliver Barrett IV had been partly inspired by fellow Harvard student Al Gore, the son of a senator and a WASP product of prep schooling, but he’d given Oliver the personality of Gore’s roommate, Tommy Lee Jones, the poet-cowboy actor from Texas. But what about Jenny?

Though Erich never came out and declared in so many words, “Janet Sussman is Jenny Cavilleri,” he admitted as much in an extensive interview for the May 1971 edition of the Italian magazine Oggi. In addition to describing his changed romantic prospects in the wake of sudden wealth and fame, he confessed his feelings for “Jenny” at length. “When you lose the woman you love,” he said, “it is over for you, whether she leaves you for another man, or she dies. You are still alone. It was at this point that I started thinking about Love Story. That’s why in the book, Jennifer dies, because for me she had died.”

The interview included a photograph of Erich and Janet on the Promenade des Anglais on that trip to France in 1960. The caption, in Italian, identifies Janet as “Jennifer, the muse,” and states plainly that the woman in the photo, Janet, is the inspiration for Love Story. Like “Jenny” as described in Love Story, Janet was: “beautiful. And brilliant … loved Mozart, and Bach. And the Beatles.” Was affectionately called “Four-Eyes,” hated her glasses and removed them at every opportunity. Was a music major, though Janet went to Barnard and also majored in French, whereas “Jenny” attended Radcliffe. Jenny/Janet was an accomplished pianist, an intellectual in the habit of biting her nails, quick with sarcastic retorts, especially with men, and she often used the word “stupid” to express her impatience.

It’s fun to re-read Love Story in light of the history shared by Janet and Erich, as it turns his prose into something far more confessional and intimate. “Either way I don’t come first,” Oliver complains on the very first page, “which for some stupid reason bothers the hell out of me.” “I would like to say a word about our physical relationship,” Oliver begins chapter 5. “For a strangely long while there wasn’t any.” But Jenny is working-class Italian American, and Oliver is a wealthy WASP. Or, as Jenny says, “Ollie, you’re a preppie millionaire, and I’m a social zero.” There is nothing of Jewishness in the novel, which instead celebrates Anglo-American culture and values to the point of pandering. Jewish identity comes up only twice in the book, first when Oliver remarks that the editor of the Harvard Law Review, Joel Fleishman, wasn’t very articulate; and second, when Oliver graduates from law school and is job hunting in New York City. He declares:

I enjoyed one inestimable advantage in competing for the best legal spots. I was the only guy in the top ten who wasn’t Jewish. (And anyone who says it doesn’t matter is full of it). Christ, there are dozens of firms who will kiss the ass of a WASP who can merely pass the bar.

Given that Erich’s father and grandfather were rabbis, this is a curious statement that suggests he envied structural whiteness even as he prided himself on succeeding on his own intellectual merits. In his mind, nonetheless, WASP status seems to have been tied up with better success with women. In the Oggi interview, Erich described one of his final in-person conversations with the “real” Jenny, i.e., Janet, which took place at a restaurant following the book’s release. In it, he not only confirmed to her that she’d inspired the character, but believed that if he’d only been an Oliver in real life, “we would have gotten married”—an assumption that has no basis in Janet Sussman’s subsequent life.

Janet still seems amazed that she had such an impact on Segal and even more confounded that this story would have resonated so strongly with the public. “It was only many years later,” Aleba remarked, “that I realized how difficult it must have been for my mom to be the invisible muse, the real-life healthy living inspiration for this dead heroine in this impossibly huge best-seller and film. She never ever expressed this, but how could she not feel the frustration? They must have had a silent agreement not to make a big deal out of it, in part out of respect to my dad and us three kids.” (After 17 years of marriage, Janet and Gideon divorced, the way couples do once the children are out of the house. Though there have been suitors over the decades since that split, she has not gotten remarried.) Her middle child, Sabrina, clarified: “She had—has, really—no idea how surprising it was that she resisted Erich without thinking much of it. She has a way of doing that, living her life on her own terms, even as others seek to be part of it.”

Voir également:

Maybe Jenny Cavilleri didn’t die of a mysterious disease.

Maybe she got divorced and moved to Greenwich, where she is alive and well and playing the piano in a chamber music trio.

Janet Sussman Gartner loves Beethoven, Bach and the Beatles. She bites her nails. And, at 60, this mother of three still enjoys putting Harvard preppies in their place.

In this case, the preppie is the Vice President. Mrs. Gartner has come forward to say that she, not Tipper Gore, is the model for the saucy but doomed heroine in  »Love Story. »

 »They used to call me the girl with sparkle, » said Mrs. Gartner, who offered as proof pictures of herself with Erich Segal, a copy of the Italian magazine, Oggi, in which Mr. Segal is quoted saying Janet is Jenny, and a bunch of old  »Sweet Suss » love letters signed  »Erich, »  »Segal » and  »the Kosher Liberace. »

 »The whole world kept saying to me, ‘You didn’t die,’  » she says.  »Well, I didn’t marry him, either. »

It may seem odd that people are so eager to associate themselves with the most treacly book and movie in modern times. It may seem odd that I keep writing about the most treacly book and movie in modern times. But then, I live in a city that has gone gaga over a puppy.

First the Vice President, to warm up his image, planted the notion that he and Tipper were the models for Oliver Barrett IV and Jenny Cavilleri. But Mr. Segal reined him in, making it clear that Tommy Lee Jones was the model for the sensitive, studly part of the character, while Al got the neurotic father-fixated part, and Tipper got zip.

That raised the question: Why not Tommy Lee Jones for President? Doesn’t America deserve the cool roommate? (And Will Smith for Vice President!)

Now Mrs. Gartner is laying claim to Jenny. What’s next? Are we getting into Anastasia territory? Will a line of Italian men step forward to say they inspired Phil Cavilleri, Jenny’s saintly dad?

In a 1970 interview with The Times, Mr. Segal said he had used the story of a Yale student whose wife had died, but had based Jenny’s personality on a flame from his Harvard days who did not go to Radcliffe.

Mrs. Gartner says she was good friends with Mr. Segal when they were both at Midwood High School in Brooklyn (along with Woody Allen) and later, when she was at Barnard and he was at Harvard. She said they once traveled through the south of France with her sister, but she did not reciprocate the infatuation of her  »brilliant suitor. »  »I was an idiotic young woman, a pretty girl, I had a million boyfriends and I threw them out like the garbage at the end of every day. »

One night, several years into her marriage to a computer executive, she said, an excited Erich called her at 3 A.M.  »My husband was disturbed. Erich said, ‘I just wrote you a 250-page love letter.’ When the movie opened, it was a heady time. He re-entered my life, and invited me to go out to dinner at Trader Vic’s in New York. We were at a large circular table with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal sipping out of a common huge drink with long straws. I thought, ‘Life can’t get any better than this. Janet Gartner from Mamaroneck is Jenny.’ Now everyone has forgotten. »

Mr. Segal would not confirm or deny Mrs. Gartner’s claim. He sent a fax from London saying:  »I would be very happy if you did not write this piece. And extremely grateful. » When my assistant reached him by phone and asked if Janet was Jenny, he again avoided a yes or no:  »Can’t you just say that I’d already left the office? »

Mrs. Gartner said Mr. Segal had made her a lower-class Italian to spice up the story with class and religious conflict.  »We both had Jewish immigrant families. He was brought up as an Orthodox Jew, I a Conservative Jew. »

She still cherishes the  »dazzling » love letters with the English-French puns, and a poem about a Passover and a satyr.

She says Mr. Segal never told her who inspired Oliver. But she’s ready to get on my  »Tommy Lee Jones for President » bandwagon.  »He’s the most irresistible man on the earth, » she says.

Voir encore:

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT—well, it was dark anyway—when Janet Sussman Gartner learned she was the inspiration for high school classmate Erich Segal’s first novel. Gartner, her husband and three children were sound asleep in their Ma-maroneck, N.Y., home in 1969, when the telephone practically exploded at 3 a.m. “Hey, Sussy” crooned a seductive voice. “I just wrote you a 258-page love letter.” It was Segal, then a Yale professor, freshly stoked on completing the manuscript the world would soon know as Love Story. He had taken the essence of Gartner, her razor-sharp wit, playful sexiness and love of music, and created Radcliffe student Jenny Cavilleri, the leukemia-stricken heroine of his bittersweet weeper about an Ivy League romance that ends in Jenny’s death. The novel became the best-selling book of 1970 and a 1970 box office smash starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. “I remember feeling like a jolt of electricity went through me,” recalls Gartner. “I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. I was too overcome with what I realized I meant to him.”

Gartner, 60, kept mum about being Segal’s inspiration, but, she says, Al Gore’s clumsy assertion last month that he and wife Tipper were the models for the book’s couple proved too much to bear in silence. (Gore has since declared it all a misunderstanding.) The idea that Tipper Gore was Jenny, Gartner says, “is the most preposterous thing I ever heard.”

Segal, 60, now married and living in England, isn’t talking. But in a 1971 article on the author, the Italian magazine Oggi identified Gartner in a photo (with Segal in France in 1960) as the woman who had inspired Jenny—without naming her. And, Gartner says, Segal took her to dinner with actress MacGraw in New York City just after the film’s release. Segal recently said that he never met Tipper but that the character of Oliver Barrett was based both on Gore and actor Tommy Lee Jones, Gore’s Harvard roommate.

All these years, Gartner shared her secret only with family and friends. “I grew up knowing that my mother was Jenny,” says daughter Aleba, 31, a publicist. “It was kind of legend in our house.” But Gartner says that she and her husband, Gideon, 62 and CEO of Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass., kept quiet because “it seemed a little bit awkward to have my identity known” while she was married and Segal was single.

Though they never dated, Gartner and Segal were close friends from their days at Brooklyn’s Midwood High School in the 1950s. Raised by intellectual immigrants from Poland and Russia, Janet Sussman was quick-witted and outspoken. Like the fictional Jenny, she played piano and, like her own mother, spoke three languages. “I’m not a shrinking violet,” she says. “Someone once coined me ‘the girl with the sparkle’.”

In 1954 the smitten Segal enrolled at Harvard, from whence he filled Gartner’s Brooklyn mailbox with dozens of letters, which she still treasures. “Darling Suss, sweeter than halvah,” he wrote. But Gartner did not return his affection. “He was a very great friend, and my admiration for him was boundless, but I did not share his emotions,” Gartner recalls.

She entered Barnard College in 1955, and in 1960, a year after graduating, she joined her older sister Deborah in Paris for a seven-month sojourn. Segal followed, Gartner says, with intentions of winning her over. The romance never blossomed, and in 1961 she married Gideon Gartner, another high school pal. Though Segal continued corresponding—and he never had to say he was sorry—his tone changed from lovelorn to friendly. Eventually the two fell out of touch. End of story?

Not quite. Gartner, now divorced and living in a Greenwich, Conn., apartment, supports herself as a pianist and music coach. She believes Jenny’s death was a metaphor for Segal’s failing to win her in real life. Indeed, Segal told Oggi that losing the woman you love is the same “whether she’s left you for another or whether she’s died.” Gartner admits she sometimes wonders what might have been had she married Segal. For one thing, he might not have created the greatest hankie wringer in modern literature. “If I had dated him and everything had been fine, I’m not going to say he never would have written Love Story,” muses the muse. “But the need to write it may have been less.”

SOPHFRONIA SCOTT GREGORY

JENNIFER LONGLEY in Connecticut

Voir enfin:

The Rise And Fall Of The Ivy League Look

On October 1st something began bubbling in my subconscious. Ivy Style had reached its four-year anniversary, the MFIT exhibit had recently opened, and the accompanying book had been published.

I found that after four years of trying to look at this topic as objectively as possible, and talking to the men who were actually there during the heyday — Richard Press, Bruce Boyer, Charlie Davidson and Paul Winston — something unanswered remained.

I started thinking about Brooks Brothers and the college campus, which was chosen as the focal point of the MFIT exhibit, wondering about the connection between these two things. I soon found myself asking the most fundamental question: How do we explain how the Ivy League Look came about?

It’s easy to make generalizations, but hard to precisely articulate.

I next began thinking about the interplay between clothiers and their customers, focusing on the why as much as the what. Buttondown oxfords, plain-front trousers with cuffs, rep and knit ties — these are the whats, but what are the whys behind them? The answer couldn’t be simply “because that’s what Brooks Brothers sold,” when Brooks Brothers sold so much more that never became part of the Ivy League Look.

I telephoned Charlie Davidson and told him I was working on a piece though wasn’t sure where it was going. I started by asking him, “What portion of the Ivy League Look comes from Brooks Brothers, and what comes from the culture of young men on campus?” When Charlie, who’s been selling these clothes since 1948, responded, “That’s a good question,” I knew I was on to something.

The following essay is the result of my investigation. What began as an attempt to articulate Ivy’s origins grew into an overview about the whole broad arc of Ivy, how it codified and how it shattered into the complex “post-Ivy” era we’re in today.

In it I will argue:

• The Ivy League Look was as much about styling as the ingredients. And while the ingredients were relatively fixed and admitted new items slowly, the styling came from the campus and was always in a state of flux.

• It was the casual nature of the college environment and the importance of dressing down that led men in the 1930s to prefer rougher, casual fabrics — oxford cloth shirts, brushed Shetland sweaters, Harris Tweed jackets, flannel trousers — that has been the standard of good, understated taste for men on the East Coast ever since.

• The Ivy League Look included clothes for every occasion, from resort to formalwear, from city to country. However, the country element influenced the city far more than the other way around, and remains the most lasting influence of the genre.

• The Ivy League Look can be said to go through the stages of birth, maturity and decline, corresponding to specific points on a timeline.

• Once the look in its original, purist form ceased to be fashionable on campus, it ceased to be fashionable in society as a whole.

This lengthy piece will be presented throughout the week in five parts. New installments will be added at the bottom to preserve one cohesive post and comment thread.  — CC

• • •

The Rise And Fall Of The Ivy League Look
Christian Chensvold

Part One: The Rise

In the late 1930s a new shoe became an instant hit on the Yale campus. First seen in Palm Beach in 1936, the “Weejun” penny loafer by GH Bass & Co. was immediately embraced by the students of New Haven. By 1940, the shoe store Barrie Limited was advertising its Horween penny loafers in the Yale Daily News, saying the shoe had “taken the university by storm.”

From the moment it appeared the penny loafer was an “instant classic” for wearers of the Ivy League Look, according to Charlie Davidson, 86-year-old proprietor of The Andover Shop in Harvard Square. Yet how do we explain the shoe’s overnight success, when so many shoes had come before and so many more would come later? For a genre of clothing that was slow to develop, that is characterized by its conservatism and supposed resistance to fads, this love-at-first-sight seems odd. Stranger still, the penny loafer was no temporary trend like the raccoon coat of the ’20s or the buckle-back chino of the mid-‘50s. Its place in the genre of clothing called the Ivy League Look remains to this day. It literally was an instant classic, embraced wholeheartedly and never relinquished.

Those Yalies who first donned the penny loafer in the late ’30s must have seen something special in the shoe, an inherent attractiveness and a harmony with the clothes they got next door at J. Press. “Casual slip-on shoes of the moccasin type are by far the most popular with students,” syndicated fashion columnist Bert Bacharach would later write in his 1955 book “Right Dress,” suggesting it was the penny loafer’s casualness of design — moccasin-style with no brogueing, laces, tassels, wings, nor anything else associated with a business shoe — that accounted for its instant appeal.

One thing’s for certain, however: No manufacturer could have anticipated or dictated the Weejun’s instant success. Something more mysterious and elusive was at work, the process of taste-driven natural selection by the closed culture of Eastern Establishment students of the 1930s. Young men and their peers, not clothing brands or magazine editors, decided what was fashionable.

Though it later achieved and lost mainstream popularity, the penny loafer remains available today at a wide range of prices, supported by both lifelong wearers and a steady supply of new converts. Typically paired with argyle socks in the 1930s, penny loafers were worn with white athletic socks in the ’50s and then sockless in the ’60s, the same item worn differently with each new decade.

The Ivy League Look is not simply a tailoring style accompanied by a specific group of furnishings and accessories. It consists of much more than just sack jackets, buttondown oxfords and penny loafers. It also consists of the taste-driven ethos that led some items to be accepted into the genre while others were rejected, and of a certain way of wearing the items that developed in the various upper-middle-class communities of the East Coast in the first half of the 20th century, chief among them the college campus.

“People made things a classic, not manufacturers,” says Davidson. “It’s people who made some things accepted and not others, otherwise how do we account for all the things that failed?”

Brooks Brothers And Ivy’s Big Bang

The Ivy League Look did not appear suddenly, but developed over time. “It was 30 or 40 years in the making without anyone knowing it would one day be called the Ivy League Look,” says Davidson. Although the clothing genre codified gradually, and while the lines that form the genre’s perimeters are debatable, there was something akin to an Ivy Big Bang, an instigating act that gave birth to this style of dress. And that is the introduction in 1895 of Brooks Brothers’ No. 1 Sack Suit.

Just as the jacket is the foundation of tailored clothing, this single item — natural shoulders, three button (after 1918, according to the Brooks Brothers book “Generations of Style,” by John William Cooke), dartless, with no waist suppression and paired with straight unpleated trousers — formed the blueprint for what would eventually become the Ivy League Look. And throughout the first half of the 20th century Brooks Brothers would continue to introduce a host of English items  — the buttondown oxford, Shetland sweater, polo coat, rep ties, argyle socks — that became staples of the Ivy genre.

But Brooks Brothers also offered countless other items — yachting and hunting regalia, double-breasted tapered suits, and other overtly English items less easily Americanized — that were never embraced into the Ivy League Look. Why? For the simple reason that they would have been out of place in a campus environment, the fertile ground where the style would codify and flourish, and where, as we’ll see, an air of casualness and nonchalance was paramount.

So while Brooks Brothers offered everything within the genre, it also offered much more. The Ivy League Look is narrower than the Brooks Brothers catalog (catalog here referring to what the company offered from roughly 1920-1970), and for this reason one could argue that Brooks Brothers’ smaller rival J. Press was a purer Ivy retailer, in that it offered a broader selection (such as in campus-oriented tweeds) within narrower perimeters. Brooks Brothers was Ivy and much more; J. Press was strictly Ivy.

England provided Brooks Brothers with many overcoats to sell to the gentlemen of America. But starting around 1910, one came to dominate the Ivy League Look above all others: the polo coat, another example of taste-driven natural selection at work.

According to Esquire’s Encyclopedia of Men’s Fashion, which draws heavily on historic articles from Apparel Arts and Men’s Wear, camel hair coats were noted for their dominance at the Yale-Princeton football game of 1929, having usurped the powerful but short-lived raccoon coat trend. Cooke writes, “This sporty camel hair garment… becomes the rage on college campuses during the Roaring Twenties.” Decades later, Bacharach would note, “Camel’s-hair polo coats are still the favorite type of outer wear among college men.”

The collegiate popularity of the raccoon coat in the 1920s, which fashion historian Deirdre Clemente has traced to Princeton, is a perfect example of a huge trend that was nevertheless selected for extinction, while the polo coat survived, indeed still available from retailers such as Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Ralph Lauren and O’Connell’s. The coat’s longevity is surely due to its sporting associations and easy ability to style informally — all things that would resonate with young men. It certainly looks more at home on the sidelines of a football field, as coach Vince Lombardi demonstrated throughout his career, and as dramatized in the movie “School Ties,” where polo coats are worn at a tailgate party for a prep school football game. Somehow a Chesterfield just wouldn’t look the same.

With the pink oxford, which rose to prominence in 1955 (the “year for pink” according to LIFE Magazine), Brooks Brothers once again introduced a new item into the Ivy genre. But it could never have anticipated the pairing a pink oxford with evening dress, as Chipp’s Paul Winston has recounted wearing, and which is, for lack of a better expression, a very Ivy thing to do (Charlie Davidson also recalls wearing a buttondown oxford with black tie, albeit a white one, which illustrates Chipp’s penchant for the “go-to-hell” look). Winston’s gesture serves as a perfect example of the styling side of things: Brooks provided the item, and the people found innovative ways of wearing it.

In summary, we can say that Brooks Brothers was the primary provider of the Ivy League Look’s raw ingredients, while the culture — meaning the world of young men competing and conforming sartorially in their WASPy East Coast environment — provided the styling. With each new decade Brooks Brothers showed what to wear, while young men, who drive fashion, showed how the items could be worn. As a wholly arbitrary fractional breakdown, we could say that 2/3 of the Ivy League Look was raw materials, which were relatively fixed and admitted new items slowly, while 1/3 was styling, which was in a constant state of flux.

Town And Country, Or Wall Street And Campus

As the Ivy League Look developed, references to Brooks Brothers increasingly focused on two specific realms: the college campus and the world of finance. In his essay on Brooks Brothers collected in the book “Elegance,” G. Bruce Boyer succinctly notes, “The Brooks Brothers suit seemed to peg a man somewhere between Wall Street and his country house, by way of the Ivy League.”

In a 1932 article, the New Yorker mentions the same two worlds: “Of course, Brooks still have their tables piled with the good old soft-roll, high-lapel sack coats that have been the accepted college and bond-salesman uniform for so long.” Presumably those bond salesmen, like Yalie Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby,” picked up the taste for Ivy while at school. “The novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example,” writes Cooke, “are peopled with earnest heroes who hailed from the Midwest but who came to play in the racy world of New York via Princeton or Yale.”

This 1929 ad for Wallach Brothers also mentions the connection between the world of finance and the style-setting universities of Princeton and Yale:

As young men graduated from school to take their place in the world, including the financial industry, their clothing would change from country to town. Writing on Ivy League students in her 1939 book “Men Can Take It,” Elizabeth Hawes notes:

The conventional costume for all the right people is a pair of flannel or tweed trousers and a coat that does not match. When I asked them whether they were going to dress in their quite comfortable tweed for work when they left college, they responded firmly “no.” They were absolutely clear on that issue. They said they were training themselves — or being trained — to take their places in the world, and the required costume would be a neat business suit.

Although it was based in New York, Brooks Brothers specifically merchandised for the college man and sold to him via an army of traveling salesmen who frequented the prep schools and colleges of the Northeast. An 1898 Princeton football program includes an advertisement from Brooks Brothers, with copy reading, “Our stock for the present season continues, we believe, to show improvement, and will be found complete in all the little particulars that go to make the well-dressed man.”

This Brooks Brothers ad appeared in the University of Pennsylvania’s 1926 yearbook:

Brooks Brothers continuously revamped its youth-targeted line throughout the 20th century, adding its University Shop in 1957 and replacing that with Brooksgate in 1974. It’s current Flatiron shop is merely the latest incarnation of a century-long catering to young men as well as their fathers.

The Ivy League Look was for both town and country, Wall Street and campus, but, as we’ll learn, the campus element proved to be the more lasting influence of the two.

The New Guard

Although Charlie Davidson is the oldest-living, still-working purveyor of the genre, he doesn’t consider himself old guard. The Ivy League Look was in full bloom in the 1930s, he notes, well before his founding of The Andover Shop in 1948. At the time Davidson considered himself to be offering clothing within an already established genre, yet targeted at the local geography. This sentiment is echoed by Richard Press, who says that J. Press’ locations outside of New York were meant to provide Brooks Brothers items in areas with an Ivy League campus (Cambridge, Princeton), but no Brooks; only Columbia had that.

As George Frazier put it in 1960, “Around the turn of the century, Arthur Rosenberg, then the foremost tailor in New Haven, began to exploit this [Brooks Brothers] style among Yale undergraduates, and, not long afterwards, J. Press, also of New Haven, fell into line.”

These smaller retailers outside New York took the Brooks Brothers template and focused more on the country side of the genre rather than town. And yet all these other players who used the ingredients that Brooks Brothers had provided felt that taste and small differences distinguished them. “We all thought our taste was better than our competitors,” says Davidson. “Norman Hilton, for example, had exquisite taste, and when you get to the commercialization of the Ivy League Look, he’s at the forefront.”

The most important and lasting clothier providing Brooks-based style for college towns was J. Press. Press’ difference from Brooks is summed up by Episcopal Archbishop of New York Paul Moore, Jr., who writes that Jacobi Press’ “tweeds were a little softer and flashier than Brooks Brothers tweed, his ties a little brighter.”

Richard Press, former J. Press president and grandson of the founder, has also stressed Press’ emphasis on country rather than town. “I think that one of the major differences between Brooks Brothers and J. Press,” he states in his 2011 Q&A with Ivy-Style.com, “beyond the obvious size, was that we were known as a campus store, whereas Brooks Brothers was much more urban.” Indeed, the merchandise for J. Press’ New York store was less purist than its campus shops. “If you look at our brochures,” says Press, “you’ll see that the two-button darted suit was sold only in the New York store, and it probably represented 40 percent of our suit sales there.”

While Brooks Brothers, originator of the Ivy League Look’s ingredients, was based in New York, New Haven is the top candidate for Ivy’s spiritual home. In a 2004 article entitled “The Yale Man,” the New York Times writes, “‘Natural shoulder’ was what men’s magazines called the Yale look, and for decades the clothing stores near campus at Elm and York Streets in New Haven were the natural-shoulder capital of the universe.”

Style setting also thrived in New Haven. “Students and their professors enunciated a new style,” says Press, “with their dirty white bucks, horn rimmed glasses, Owl Shop pipes, raccoon coats, J. Press snap brim hats, stuff that was too informal and sporty for Brooks. Big difference between city and campus wear and Brooks pushed the former, the rest the latter.”

Finally there was the issue of price: “Perhaps most important issue for the proliferation of Ivy,” says Press, “Brooks was too expensive. J. Press and competitors adapted to the more restricted allowances of the campus population and worked below Brooks price points.”

Although these new-guard clothiers used the template created by Brooks Brothers, they did so in the cultural environment where the Ivy League Look’s styling was at its most fertile: the campus. And because these clothiers and the student body were part of the same community, they had a close, symbiotic relationship. Students needed the clothiers to get what they wanted (and to want things they’d never seen before), and clothiers needed to find out what was popular. As a result, Ivy clothiers never left their eye off college men. In 1962, Sports Illustrated notes, “Representatives of the New Haven tailoring establishments—J. Press, Fenn-Feinstein, Chipp, Arthur Rosenberg, et al.—entrain for Cambridge to render biennial obeisance and to see what the young gentlemen are wearing.”

Earlier, in a 1938 article entitled “Princeton Boys Dress In Uniform,” LIFE Magazine writes, “The fact of the matter is that tailors and haberdashers watch Princeton students closely [and] admit they are style leaders.”

Clothiers also made sure college men knew they cared deeply about student tastes. This ad by Irv Lewis, a clothier serving Cornell, explicitly elucidates the relationship:

“The key element of successful campus shops,” Richard Press summarizes, “was their ability to establish personal relationships with students, faculty, coaches and administration. Brooks Brothers in New York and Boston was too diffused, and while each top customer had his clothing man, it changed from floor to floor, from furnishings to shoe department.”

College Students, “The Best-Dressed Men To Be Found Anywhere”

Bert Bachrach states that before World War II many clothing experts considered college students “the best-dressed men to be found anywhere.” The following passage, from a 1933 Apparel Arts article entitled “Clothes For College,” is a prewar reference to this very thing:

Today the college man is looked upon as a leader of fashion, a man who dresses inconspicuously and correctly for all occasions, thanks to the leadership of smart Eastern Universities, which have a metropolitan feeling, or at least are near enough to metropolitan areas for the students to feel all the influences of sophisticated living. We can thank the present-day “collegiate” element for the return to popularity of the tail coat, for the white buckskin shoes, for the gray flannel slacks with odd jackets, and for various other smart fashions which are typical of university men today.

For on-campus wear there is a general acceptance of country clothes in the typical British manner, such as odd slacks and tweed jackets, country brogues and felt hats. This is the way the undergraduates at smart Universities and prep schools dress today during classes.

Another Apparel Arts article from the same year shows that the Eastern Establishment virtues of being dressed down from a formal perspective and dressed up from a casual one most likely have their origin in the collegiate approach to dress that reached fruition in the ’30s. The article includes the quote “a perfect example of the studied negligence that is taken as the standard of good taste among college men,” and goes on to say:

The American University man is justly famed for representing, as a class, a high standard of excellence in personal appearance. Much of the secret of this distinction lies in the fact that the first thing the freshman learns is the importance of never looking “dressed up,” while always looking well dressed. Recently the tendency toward an effect of “careful carelessness” has been emphasized through the trend toward rough, almost shaggy, fabrics for town and campus wear.

The Ivy League Look’s emphasis on rough, hearty fabrics comes from students’ penchant for rustic, country clothes over more starched and pressed town clothes:

There’s a trend toward rougher suitings on all the eastern campuses. Early last fall fashion observers reported the growing popularity, particularly at Princeton and Yale, of rough tweedy type fabrics for all general knock-about campus wear — in fact for all except strictly town purposes. Worn smartly with either flannel, gabardine or other type of slacks, these rough fabrics of the Shetland or Harris variety showed a considerably increased acceptance on the part of the fashion leaders during the Palm Beach season.

Writing in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1930s, Arthur van Vlissingen states that trends aren’t dictated by manufacturers, who couldn’t afford to gamble on a fad that may fail, and that men only embraced a new item once they saw other men wearing it. These style setters were often found “at the places where the country’s leisured and socially prominent loaf, such places as Palm Beach and Newport” (coincidentally Brooks Brothers’ first two locations outside New York), and the college campus. “The fashions in clothing worn by our male population, between the ages of 14 and perhaps 25,” he writes, “usually get their start at Princeton.”

Vlissingen proceeds with the following sartorial breakdown of the Ivy League’s Big Three:

Harvard is a very large university, in a great city which influences the students’ styles heavily. [But] it holds to a tradition of careless dress—well-made clothes seldom dry-cleaned and never pressed. Yale is more compact and more finicky, but New Haven is also a large city. Princeton is in a smaller town, off by itself where it can incubate a style effectively. Practically every Princeton student is well dressed, whereas only one-third or so of the Yale men can qualify by our standards.

As these passages illustrate, if college men of the 1930s — the fortunate few able to afford school in the midst of the Great Depression — were among the nation’s best dressed, they achieved this status despite an insistence on never looking too dressed up by the standards of their time. Elements of the Ivy League Look, such as the penny loafer and polo coat, were embraced into the genre because compared to other footwear and outerwear options they were relatively casual. This certainly holds true for the buttondown shirt, which Bachrach calls the shirt of choice for college men because “the construction of the shirt, which allows the collar to roll rather than lie flat, provides the casual touch which young men like.”

In regards to tailored clothing, Bachrach suggests that the prized Ivy color of charcoal was embraced for its ability to take a beating without looking dirty:

The most important style set by the colleges in recent years has been suits and slacks in charcoal, a gray so dark in tone that it approaches black. This color has become almost a uniform at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. It is practical for a suit since it rarely shows dirt or signs of wear.

If men at Ivy’s Big Three were style setters for the whole nation, that can hardly be said of Columbia, the most interesting sartorial case among the Ancient Eight. For despite its location in the city of Brooks Brothers, Columbia is seldom if ever mentioned for style reasons. As a commuter school, Columbia’s student body differed from the other schools, but one can also conclude that a certain amount of distance from the metropolis was necessary for the styling side of the Ivy League Look to flourish.

This passage from Tobias Wolff’s novel “Old School,” set at a prep school in 1960, serves as a dramatization of how Columbia was viewed compared to the other Ivies:

I wanted out. That was partly why I’d chosen Columbia. I liked how the city seethed up against the school, mocking its theoretical seclusion with hustle and noise, the din of people going and getting and making. Things that mattered at Princeton or Yale couldn’t possibly withstand this battering of raw, unironic life. You didn’t go to eating clubs at Columbia, you went to jazz clubs. You had a girlfriend — no, a lover — with psychiatric problems, and friends with foreign accents. You read newspapers on the subway and looked at tourists with a cool, anthropological gaze. You said cross town express. You said the Village. You ate weird food. No other boy in my class would be going there.

In contrast, “Princeton was especially isolated and characterized by a particularly fervent and insular culture,” writes Patricia Mears in “Ivy Style: Radical Conformists.” Princeton also had the most affluent student body, with 80 percent coming from private schools during the inter-war years. “Although it lay part way between New York City and Philadelphia, Princeton was more geographically isolated than its rivals Harvard and Yale. Its campus was situated in a rural environment, surrounded by acres of bucolic farmland. As such, Princeton relied more intensely on its internally crafted society. The blend of wealth, manners, and aristocratic social construct proved to be the breeding ground for the creation of the elegant Ivy style.”

The Way You Wear Your Hat

The popular term employed during its heyday, the Ivy League Look, is interesting for its inclusion of the word “look.” While there are references to “an Ivy League suit” from the period, the popular term was “look,” not “tailoring” or “clothes.” This broader term suggests that there is more than just clothing involved, but also a proper haircut, and if not a particular social context, then at least all-American good looks. In the 1964 film “Ride The Wild Surf,” Barbara Eden’s character refers to her love interest as “Mr. Ivy League” for his handsomeness, poise and “scrubbed” appearance as much as his conservative clothing.

“Look” is also broad enough to encapsulate how the items are worn, since that is as much a part of dressing in a certain style as the components themselves. This illustration from a 1926 Vanity Fair article on collegiate dress includes a caption stating that Harvard men had their own way of pushing their hats “into a shape never conceived by hat manufacturers”:

Hawes includes several passages attesting to Harvard men’s predilection for an affected Old Money look:

At Harvard they have something called “white-shoe boys.” I gather it is okay to be one if you feel that way. It appears to be the Harvard idea carried to its furthest extreme. These are the sloppiest and worst-dressed of all the Harvard men, I was told. They wear dirty black and white shoes which turn up at the toes, black or white socks and gray flannels, very unpressed, tweed coats — and collars and ties, of course… The thing that distinguishes a “white-shoe boy” is his shoes — and the fact he has the guts to wear them and still feel okay socially.

In 1869 Harvard challenged Oxford to the first of its boat races, and it’s possible that the English influence on Harvard goes back to these sporting competitions. Hawes continues:

The coat should have leather pads on the elbows. These are often put right onto new coats. This is because the country gentlemen of old England have a habit of preserving their tweed coats for generations, mending them from time to time with leather pads and what not. The Harvard boys, not to be outdone by old English exponents of the finer things in life, are going them one better.

After noting that Yale students are much better dressed, Hawes adds, “I think the superiority complex of Harvard probably led them originally into the oldest clothes as a form of snobbishness.” Nevertheless, “I might add that the [men’s wear] trade does not consider Harvard as any source of style ideas at all.”

Russell Lynes’ 1953 Esquire article on the “shoe hierarchy” at Yale further emphasizes how much of the Ivy League Look came down to the elusive qualities of attitude:

… the social smoothies — butterflies in button-down collars — short haired, unbespectacled and with unextinguishable but slightly bored smiles. They wear the current college uniform, Ivy League version, but they wear it with an air of studied casualness, as though they would be at home and socially acceptable anywhere in whatever they had on. The uniform, of course, is the familiar khaki pants, white bucks, or possibly dirty white sneakers, a slightly frayed blue or white button-down Oxford shirt, no necktie, and a grey sweater which the wearer expects you to assume was knitted for him by a girl. On occasions that demand a gesture of formality, dark grey flannels without pleats supplant the khaki pants, a necktie (either regimental stripes or club tie) is worn, and so is a tweed jacket with vent, pocket flaps, ticket pocket, and three buttons. For bucks substitute well-shined cordovan in season. For city wear the uniform is a dark grey flannel suit; the haberdashery stays much the same.

Charlie Davidson also stresses what he calls the “attitude” long associated with wearers of the Ivy League Look, which he describes as a nonchalant approach to dress combined with poise and an air of self-assurance. Whether this poise is real or feigned is up for debate. “The Ivy League Look was a way of life more than anyone has been able to put a finger on,” he says. “In the beginning it was a very closed kind of thing, and so much of it was the attitude of not caring too much and being very assured of their station — and of having the right clothes.”

From the codifying period of the ’30s to the heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, the styling component of the Ivy League Look was constantly changing with each new group of classmen. For a young man to be considered well dressed by his peers in the ’30s or cool in the ’50s, it wasn’t enough just to choose the right items. They also had to be worn in the way that was then fashionable. And what was fashionable was always shifting, and emanated from campus culture.

For example, on page 59 of the 1965 book “Take Ivy,” a student strolls the Princeton campus wearing olive-colored shorts, penny loafers with no socks, and a buttondown oxford with the sleeves down, all topped by the neat haircut that epitomizes the era. He has used the ingredients the genre but put them together in a way that expresses both his personal whims as well as the style of his era, and nothing in the image suggests that a retailer, manufacturer or fashion editor told him to put together his outfit this way.

For a cinematic dramatization, the 1956 film “Tea And Sympathy” shows students styled uniformly in a combination of buckle-back khakis, white canvas sneakers, blue oxford shirts and gray crewneck sweatshirts. For that group of students in that particular location at that particular time, the juxtaposition of a dress shirt with a piece of athletic wear was evidently a style imperative.

This leads us to yet one more inexplicable preference in the Ivy clothing genre worth mentioning: The crewneck sweater. While V-necks and cardigans were always offered by Ivy clothiers, somehow the crewneck became the standard cut, even when worn with a necktie, as the Yale student below demonstrates:

It was something the youngsters picked up early; this outfit is also notable for how the components are put together as much as the items themselves:

It should come as no surprise that the preference for the crewneck can also be traced to style setting at Princeton, where a freshman orientation guide, for reasons unexplained, admonished the younglings not to wear V-neck sweaters. Much later, in his 1983 book “Class,” Paul Fussell would wryly explain why the crewneck is upper middle and the V-neck merely middle.

The Ivy League Look should not be thought of as merely a collection of ingredients. Equally important are the cultural forces that led certain ingredients to be embraced into the genre over others, even though this importance is difficult to trace, clouded as it is in the mists of fashion. Then there’s the element of how the items were worn, an equally vital element of the Ivy League Look. All the elements are a reflection of the tastes and cultural values of the Eastern Establishment, and the tastes and values, specifically, of college men during the interwar years.

The Legacy Of The Heyday

The 1959 movie “The Young Philadelphians” provides a helpful dramatic illustration of one character’s transition from country to town, or from campus to law firm, while still dressing within the confines of the Ivy League Look.

In campus scenes the protagonist, played by Paul Newman, wears a boxy corduroy sack jacket, slim flood-length khakis, white socks and penny loafers. Once he becomes a practicing lawyer, he dons a conservative gray suit, rep tie, pinned-collar shirt and lace-up shoes. While both jackets are undarted and natural shoulder, and all his clothes could have come from the same place, stylistically — in the simplest terms — he’s gone from the campus side of the genre to the Brooks Brothers side, or more from the styling-driven side to the product-driven side, or from an emphasis on how to wear the items correctly to how to select them correctly.

The book “Generations Of Style” includes a Brooks Brothers timeline, and while the listing for 1961 is oversimplified, it nevertheless makes the point that the campus-oriented side of the genre is the more lasting and influential: “A new style of casual, conservative dress defines the country: khakis, Shetland crewnecks, and button-down shirts set the tone… Campus style predominates, with the corporate ‘Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ now being replaced by the more casual dress: penny loafers, Argyle socks, and tartan plaid sportcoats and shirts.”

Today, when a man passes you today on Madison Avenue and you notice how “Ivy/preppy/trad/whatever” he looks, he’s probably wearing loafers, flannels, a three-button sportcoat, buttondown oxford, and conservative necktie. You’re far more likely to see a man dressed this way than in the far more anachronistic business ensemble of worsted gray sack suit, white pinned club collar and longwings, and if you did, you’d be more likely to say “how IBM” or “how ‘Mad Men’” than “how Ivy League.”

The association of the Ivy League Look with the campus is so strong that even in the downfall year of 1967 an arch-sybarite like Hugh Hefner would remind his biographer of a dapper undergrad:

Black-haired, intense, slightly under six feet, he looks, in his often-photographed costume of white button-down shirt, orange cardigan sweater, slacks, loafers and pipe, like a college senior on his way to class.

Men who wear this genre of clothing today — by whatever name they call it — owe an equal debt to the illustrious firm of Brooks Brothers for introducing so many of the raw elements, and to the countless anonymous college men from the first half of the 20th century who codified the components of the Ivy League Look for future generations.

Part Two: The Fall

From Young Men’s Clothes To Old Men’s

In “Decline of the West,” Oswald Spengler argues that all cultural expressions go through the organic stages of birth, maturity and decadence. The Ivy League Look is certainly an expression of culture, and for it I’d suggest a birth of 1895, a golden age in the 1930s when the style was limited and aristocratic, a democratic silver age during the ‘50s and ‘60s when it was popular, and an end to the silver age in 1967, followed by a gradual decline into our present postmodern era.

This decline was expressed in a variety of ways, and the legacy of the genre is characterized by a range of conflicting manifestations, from the irrelevance of contemporary J. Press and the sack suit, to the generic “timelessness” of blazers, khakis, buttondowns and striped ties available from retailers as mundane as Lands’ End, and to fashion industry pastiche exemplified by some of the more outré items by Thom Browne, Ralph Lauren Rugby, and various neo-prep brands.

If the Ivy League Look didn’t die, then certainly a kind of descent into decadence occurred, which is attested by the mere fact that Brooks Brothers, instigators of Ivy’s big bang with its No. 1 Sack Suit, no longer offers the very item that gave birth to the entire genre, but instead sells a fashion novelty version called the Cambridge.

Furthermore, Brooks Brothers and J. Press long ago changed owners and merchandising strategies and can no longer be counted on to reliably provide what were once genre-distinguishing traits such as natural shoulder and collar roll.

But the death of Ivy can’t be blamed entirely on manufacturers, who simply cater to the needs of the culture as expressed in the marketplace. The Ivy League Look was once a vibrant, dynamic style that was an expression of the values of the Eastern Establishment. Later it was good, smart, current taste for a larger portion of the population. If Ivy is no longer available today in its original form, it is because fashion, which reflects society, has changed. The inversion of values that took place during the cultural revolution of the late ’60s, a topic that has been explored exhaustively by cultural historians and which is too big to discuss here, created a new cultural engine that drove fashion from the bottom up rather than top down.

While in the ’50s and early ’60s many actors and pop singers wore the Ivy League Look as a smart and current style, this was no longer the case after the upheaval of the late ’60s. When pop singers did take up a version of the look, as Dexys Midnight Runners did in 1985, it was the preppier version of the look then current. It was also the temporary costume of entertainers who had radically different looks before and after. In the 1950s and ’60s, pop icons could wear white bucks, buttondowns, neckties and soft-shouldered jackets and come across as sharp and with it. But with contemporary music groups such as Vampire Weekend, or in the films of Wes Anderson, Ivy staples come across as irony.

A glance through “Take 8 Ivy,” the sequel to “Take Ivy,” shows Ivy League students of the 1970s wearing the same plebeian sneakers, jeans and t-shirts worn by every other young person in America.

In assigning an arbitrary date for the end of Ivy, I suggest the year 1967. The change that occurred that year — the year of the infamous “Summer of Love” — is summed up tersely and dramatically in the following passage from “The Final Club” by Geoffrey Wolff (Princeton, ’59). The year 1967 witnessed a sartorial dismantling that was complete by 1968, when a new era was in full flower-child bloom:

Lining the second-floor hall were group portraits of Ivy members, and Nathaniel paused to examine them. Till 1967 the club sections were photographed indoors, in the billiard room; dress was uniform — dark suits, white shirts, Ivy ties. In 1967 a white suit was added here, an open collar there. In 1968 the insolent, smirking group moved outside, and was tricked out in zippered paramilitary kit, paratroop boots, tie-dye shirts, shoulder-length locks, and not a necktie in view.

Although the broader culture was changing rapidly and the hippie movement was spreading, the new open admissions standards at elite universities were changing the student body. Style-setting schools such as Princeton and Yale were no longer populated predominantly by kids who had gone to prep school, where they were forced to wear a jacket and tie every day and maintain a neat haircut. Schools were also dropping their jacket-and-tie dining hall dress codes. It’s impossible to underestimate the pace of social change in the late ’60s; the Ivy League Look, in its original guise, was slated for extinction, and the name attached to it during its popular silver age would fall into almost immediate archaism.

But what’s most important here is that once the Ivy League Look ceased to be fashionable on campus, it ceased to be fashionable period. More specifically, one could argue that once guys at Princeton stopped wearing it, it was over. The campus had always been the stronghold of the look, the place where it flourished for six decades, and was necessary for the look’s broader cultural relevance. Smart young men from the middle class and above had wanted to dress this way for 50 years. Originally it was a small number; later it was larger. Now suddenly no young people wanted to dress this way.

Other symbolically interesting things also occurred in 1967. Brooks Brothers’ president left the company after serving 21 years, all throughout the Ivy heyday, and Ralph Lauren goes into business. These two events are like two sides of the same coin. The man who helmed Brooks Brothers throughout its glorious postwar heyday retires, while Ralph Lauren launches his career. It’s an eerie foreshadowing of the role reversal that would happen over the ensuing decades, during which so much of Lauren’s merchandise would be closer in spirit, style and quality to classic Brooks Brothers than Brooks Brothers’ contemporary merchandise.

Within a few years of 1967 the UPI was calling the look dead, as in this story from 1971:

The Ivy League look as it used to be called died in the recent fashion revolution and the slope-shouldered, three-button jacket is almost a thing of the past. The suits and sports jackets being worn are strictly for special occasions.

Once it was no longer fashionable, the Ivy League Look, to return to the big bang metaphor, experienced a kind of supernova that shattered it into parts, which varied depending on wearer and context.

J. Press and Brooks Brothers continued, yet their clientele would gradually grow older as the look ossified from being young and current to being old and stodgy. J. Press stayed truer to the look, but as society changed rapidly around it, J. Press experienced a complete inversion in its relation to the broader culture, becoming what most would consider a provider of old men’s clothes, when from its founding in 1902 until 1967 it catered largely to young men.

The Twilight Of Ivy And Dawn Of Preppy

Some young people did continue to shop at the same clothiers and wear much of the genre’s items, but fashion was changing rapidly and the new version of youthful, Eastern Establishment style came to be known as preppy. The new generation had a much more casual approach to dress, reflecting changes in society as a whole. This passage from Alison Lurie’s “The Language Of Clothes” from 1979 shows how many of the Ivy League Look’s sportier items were being worn with a new attitude:

What distinguished the Preppie Look from the country-club styles of the 1950s was the range of its wearers. These casual garments were now being worn not only by adolescents in boarding schools and Ivy League colleges, but by people in their thirties and forties, many of whom would have considered such styles dreary rather than chic a few years earlier. Moreover, the Preppie Look was now visible in places and on occasions that in the 1950s would have demanded more formal clothing. Preppies of both sexes in madras check shirts and chino pants and Shetland sweaters could be seen eating lunch in elegant restaurants, in the offices of large corporations and at evening parties-as well as in class and on the tennis courts.

During the preppy ’70s, just as it had been previously, styling and the items themselves were equally important. Lurie notes that the preppy look was distinguished as much by its items as by their combinations, which included novel layering tricks such as jersey turtlenecks or polo shirts worn under oxford buttondowns, accented by a sweater draped around the neck.

As WASPs were gradually losing their stranglehold on power and influence, becoming shameful reminders of the old boys’ club elitism, their taste and lifestyle was beginning to be fetishized and marketed. In 1980 Lisa Birnbach released her detailed look into the culture of the preppy Northeastern upper-middle class, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” and the book so fascinated the nation it became a best-seller. At the same time the rise continued for Ralph Lauren, the doppelganger figure who can be seen as both saving the Ivy League Look from extinction by keeping alive the taste for it, albeit repackaged as fashion, and as commodifying totems of what were once expressions of culture. In “Taste: The Secret Meaning Of Things,” Stephen Bayley suggests that some kind of cultural line had been crossed following the fall of the Ivy League Look and the advent of postmodern, post-Ivy consumerism:

Ralph Lauren was after what Brooks Brothers once had, but packaged it more effectively so as to anticipate, appeal to and satisfy hitherto unrecognized longings among consumers. Interestingly, his critics (easily outnumbered by his happy customers) invoke arguments against him which echo the sumptuary laws of Renaissance Florence and England: “How does a working-class Jew from Mosholu Parkway dare pass off the tribal costumes of the Ivy League as if he owned them?”

Each fall season Ralph Lauren continues to pay tribute to the Ivy heyday with a few retro replicas. These typically tweed sportcoats come with such distinguishing Ivy details as natural shoulders, 3/2 rolls, patch pockets, swelled edges and lapped seams. However, they differ considerably from the kind of quotidian mufti once available at the Yale Co-op in that they have darted chests and carry a $1,300 price tag.

The other fragments that resulted from Ivy’s supernova are the category of vintage clothing anachronism, in which guys with hip sensibilities seek out heyday specimens prized for their authenticity, and the postmodern parody category, in which fashion designers (not haberdashers or merchandisers, the previous creators of the products) take the classic grey sack suit and turn it into a cartoonish gimmick, as in the case of Thom Browne.

Ivy-Style.com’s readership reflects this broad range of motivations for wearing the style, from the J. Press-clad fuddy duddy to the updated traditionalist in Ralph Lauren tweeds and flannels, and from the prep-with-a-twist fashion guy in Gant to the midcentury retro-eccentric dressed head to toe in vintage. It’s a perfectly postmodern incohesive mishmash of taste, temperament and social background all able to find in this genre of clothing something that resonates.

A Rose By Any Other Name

As the Ivy League Look fell into its death throes of cultural relevance, its name became immediately old fashioned. Originally it doesn’t seem to have had a name. “Natural shoulder” seems to have been the closest actually used by clothiers and their customers. The assiduous reporting by the media in the 1930s of what guys at Princeton were wearing is noteworthy for the detailed descriptions of the clothing combined with the complete lack of any attempt to give the style a name. “University fashions” was a typical headline for Apparel Arts, or “campus wear.”

The term “Ivy League Look” came into popularity in the ’50s, perhaps entering the popular lexicon as the result of LIFE Magazine’s 1954 story “The Ivy Look Heads Across US.” After 1967, once the clothes ceased to be fashionable, the term certainly became archaic. Fortunately a new word — for the broader culture — arrived at at just the right time to describe the latest version of the youthful Northeastern upper-middle-class look. “Preppy,” which entered the popular vocabulary in 1970 via the hit film “Love Story,” had a fresh ring to it.

Since its fashion moment in the ’80s, the term “preppy” has become gradually watered down to the point of meaninglessness, with almost no connection to the style and values of the people it described in 1970. Yet despite the efforts of the MFIT’s “Ivy Style” book and exhibit, not to mention Ivy-Style.com, preppy remains closer to the tongue, however bitter it tastes, than “Ivy League” when describing this genre of clothing. If you see someone walking down the street dressed head to toe in J. Press, says Charlie Davidson, “you wouldn’t even say he looks very Ivy, you’d say he looks very preppy, or something like that.”

The struggle for just what to call the post-Ivy remnants of the genre in a way that doesn’t sound girly, as preppy does today, or archaic and elitist, as does the Ivy League Look, accounts for the adoption in certain quarters of the term “trad.” On the surface trad sounds like a snappy and contemporary replacement, but with no historical tradition behind the term, trad quickly became a futile exercise on Internet message boards with endless debates about what qualified as trad and what didn’t, and with each opinion more subjective than the last.

It’s worth noting that in Japan and England, where the clothes were not an expression of their own dynamic and changing cultures, the clothes continued to be called “Ivy,” and much of the styling remained frozen in its heyday form.

With the Ivy League Look reaching full fruition in the 1930s and ending as a current and relevant fashion in 1967, its full flowering spans just three decades. Indeed, there are more years that have passed since the end of the heyday than the years from codification to heyday’s end.

The golden age was the 1930s, when the look was only available from a small number of clothiers and worn by a relatively small number of men. By 1957, in the middle of the silver age of widespread popularity, the look was already considered to be in decline by the old guard. In the April 7, 1957 edition of Town Topics, Princeton’s community newspaper, Princeton-based clothiers lamented a slide in formality among the student body. “You’ve got more of a cross section now,” concluded Joseph Cox of Douglas MacDaid, “not so many rich kids.”

The mass popularity of Ivy during heyday, with all of the department store knock-offs that Richard Press likes to dismiss as “Main Street Ivy,” actually holds within it the seeds of the look’s demise. For fashion is fickle, and Ivy fell from mainstream popularity into irrelevance practically overnight. While it’s true that the establishment was abandoning the look, at least among the younger members, it’s also the case that the middle class no longer had the desire to ape the establishment, at least not overtly. Brooks Brothers and J. Press stuck to their guns as much as possible and for as long as possible, watching their clientele slowly ossify, and Main Street clothiers quickly changed with the winds of fashion.

However, the silver age also cemented Ivy’s legacy in the “classic” and “timeless” sense. It continues — by whatever name and in iterations that conform with contemporary style — to be worn by anyone with the taste for it. And good taste should be available to anyone with the sensibility to appreciate it.
 Natural-shouldered tweed jackets, grey flannel trousers, oxford-cloth buttondowns, rep and knit ties, argyle socks, tassel and penny loafers, polo coats, Shetland sweaters, side-parted haircuts and horn-rimmed glasses still carry all the baggage, good and bad, that this Northeastern, upper-middle-class, “Ivy/preppy/trad/whatever” look will always have.

The farther you go into postmodern parody, of course, the less baggage the look carries, because in this case it’s just fashion, which is another way of saying it doesn’t mean much. But the straight-up wearer of the Ivy League Look, who projects his natural shoulder and rolled collar with utmost

Voir enfin:

Thirty years ago, The Official Preppy Handbook cracked the Wasp code-and went on to become a huge best-seller. In an excerpt from the update, True Prep, the author, along with designer Chip Kidd, covers the inevitable changes that are piercing blissful bubbles from Deer Isle to Jackson Hole.

We wear sportswear. This makes it easier to go from sporting events to social events.
PREPPY FASHION RULE NO. 1 We wear sportswear. This makes it easier to go from sporting events to social events.

Wake up, Muffy, we’re back.

O.K., now where were we?

Oh yes. It was 1980, and Ronald Reagan was heading to his improbable victory over Jimmy Carter. We wondered whether joining a club before your 30th birthday made you into a young fuddy-duddy, we considered the importance of owning a dress watch—one thing led to another, and before the year was over, our project became … The Official Preppy Handbook. Yes. That was us. We enjoyed every minute that we still remember, but we seemed to have misplaced a number of brain cells in the process.

Though we maintained that this world has changed little since 1635, when the Boston Latin School was founded, you knew we were exaggerating slightly. And as our world spins faster and faster and we use up more natural resources, and scientists keep finding more sugar substitutes, we have to think about how life in the 21st century affects our safe and lovely bubble.

The New Preppy: Let these 22 style icons teach you the new rules.

Muffy van Winkle, you’ve napped long enough. It’s been 30 years! It doesn’t seem possible, does it? Despite changes and crises, the maid quitting, running out of vodka, your NetJets account being yanked, and the Internet, it’s still nice to be prep.

And as we have gotten a bit older and a teensy bit wiser, the world has become much smaller. We are all interconnected, intermarried, inter-everything’d. The great-looking couple in the matching tweed blazers and wide-wale orange corduroy trousers are speaking … Italian. On Melrose Avenue! Whereas once upon a time it was unlikely Europeans would be attracted to our aesthetic, now they’ve adapted it and made it their own. (They’re the women with no hips, in case you were wondering.)

Let’s begin at the beginning of the year. Here are our resolutions. You’ll catch on.

No drinking at lunch.

Call Grandmother once a week.

Get Belgian shoes re-soled (thinnest Cat’s Paw rubber).

Sign up for tennis team at the club.

Actually go to team practices.

Have gravy boat re-engraved.

Find Animal House and return to Netflix.

Send in donation for class gift this year.

And send in write-up for class notes.

Finally use Scully & Scully credit—maybe Pierpont’s next wedding?

Drive mother to cemetery at least once this year.

Order new stationery before supply runs out. (Find die!)

Luggage tags!

Download phone numbers into the thingy.

New Facebook picture?

Work on goals.

Work on topspin.

Get Katharine to do community service somehow.

Clean gutters or get someone to do them.

Repair hinge on broken shutter. Or else!

Finally hire portrait artist for Whimsy. (She’s 84 in dog years; not much time left.)

Who We Are Now

Formerly Wasp. Failing that, white and heterosexual. One day we became curious or bored and wanted to branch out, and before you knew it, we were all mixed up.

Well, that’s the way we like it, even if Grandmother did disapprove and didn’t go to the wedding ceremony. (Did she ever stop talking about the “barefoot and pregnant bride”? Ever?) And now one of our nieces, MacKenzie, is a researcher at the C.D.C. in Atlanta and is engaged to marry the loveliest man … Rajeem, a pediatrician who went to Duke. And Kelly is at Smith, and you know what that means. And our son Cal is married to Rachel, and her father the cantor married them in a lovely ceremony. Katie, our daughter, is a decorative artist living in Philadelphia with Otis, who is a professor of African-American studies at Swarthmore. And then there’s Bailey, our handsome little nephew. Somehow, all he wants to do is ski, meet girls, and drink bee

Well, there’s one out of five.

Fashion Rules

We know that many of you understand the principles of preppy style. But just to be sure, let’s review them again.

We wear sportswear. This makes it easier to go from sporting events to social events (not that there is much difference) without changing.

We generally underdress. We prefer it to overdressing.

Your underwear must not show. Wear a nude-colored strapless bra. Pull up your pants. Wear a belt. Do something. Use a tie!

We do not display our wit through T-shirt slogans.

Every single one of us—no matter the age or gender or sexual preference—owns a blue blazer.

We take care of our clothes, but we’re not obsessive. A tiny hole in a sweater, a teensy stain on the knee of our trousers, doesn’t throw us. (We are the people who brought you duct-taped Blucher moccasins.)

We do, however, wear a lot of white in the summer, and it must be spotless.

Don’t knock seersucker till you’ve tried it. (Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, unless you live in Palm Beach or Southern California, or the southern Mediterranean, please.)

Bags and shoes need not match.

Jewelry should not match, though metals should.

On the other hand, your watch doesn’t have to be the same metal as your jewelry.

And you can wear gold with a platinum wedding band and/or engagement ring.

Men’s jewelry should be restricted to a handsome watch, a wedding band if he is American and married, and nothing else. If he has a family-crest ring, it may be worn as well. For black-tie, of course, shirt studs and matching cuff links are de rigueur.

Nose rings are never preppy.

Neither (shudder) are belly-button piercings.

Nor are (two shudders) tongue studs.

And that goes for ankle bracelets.

Tattoos: Men who have been in a war have them, and that’s one thing. (Gang wars don’t count.) Anyone else looks like she is trying hard to be cool. Since the body ages, if you must tattoo, find a spot that won’t stretch too much. One day you will want to wear a halter-necked backless gown. Will you want everyone at the party to know you once loved John Krasinski?

Sneakers (a.k.a. tennis shoes, running shoes, trainers) are not worn with skirts.

Men may wear sneakers with linen or cotton trousers to casual summer parties.

Women over the age of 15 may wear a simple black dress. Women over the age of 21 must have several in rotation.

High-heel rule: You must be able to run in them—on cobblestones, on a dock, in case of a spontaneous foot race.

Clothes can cost any amount, but they must fit. Many a preppy has an item from a vintage shop or a lost-and-found bin at the club that was tailored and looks incredibly chic.

Do not fret if cashmere is too pricey. Preppies love cotton and merino-wool sweaters.

We do not wear our cell phones or BlackBerrys suspended from our belts. (That includes you, President Obama.)

Real suspenders are attached with buttons. We do not wear the clip versions.

Learn how to tie your bow tie. Do not invest in clip-ons.

Preppies are considerate about dressing our age. It is for you, not for us.

Men, if you made the mistake of buying Tevas or leather sandals, please give them to Goodwill.

You may, however, wear flip-flops to the beach if your toes are presentable. Be vigilant!

Pareos (sarongs) are for the beach, not for the mall. (Even if it’s near the beach.)

Riding boots may be worn by non-riders; cowboy boots may be worn by those who have never been on a horse. However, cowboy hats may not be worn by anyone who isn’t technically a cowboy or a cowgirl.

You may wear a Harvard sweatshirt if: you attended Harvard, your spouse attended Harvard, or your children attend Harvard. Otherwise, you are inviting an uncomfortable question.

If your best friend is a designer (clothes, accessories, jewelry), you should wear a piece from his or her collection. If his or her taste and yours don’t coincide, buy a piece or two to show your loyal support—but don’t wear them.

Every preppy woman has a friend who is a jewelry designer.

No man bags.

Preppies don’t perm their hair.

Preppy men do not believe that comb-overs disguise anything.

You can never go wrong with a trench coat.

Sweat suits are for sweating. You can try to get away with wearing sweats to carpool, to pick up the newspaper, or to drive to the dump, but last time you were at the dump, the drop-dead-attractive widower from Maple Lane was there, too.

And finally:

The best fashion statement is no fashion statement.

Logology

Sometime in the 1980s the cart began leading the horse. Don’t look at us; preppies were certainly not to blame. Fashion followers mistakenly thought the logo was the point. (This is the place at which we would write “LOL,” except we loathe “LOL.”)

But wearing a logo-laden outfit or accessory points to the wearer’s painful insecurity. If you think you are being ironic, think again.

Here’s the rule of thumb: The first logo that preppies loved was the Lacoste crocodile. It belonged to the French tennis star René Lacoste, whose nickname was Le Crocodile. It was an authentic, since he himself wore la chemise in 1927, after having been the top tennis player in the world in 1926 and 1927. (He won seven grand-slam singles titles in France, Britain, and the U.S. In 1961 he also invented the first metal tennis racket, which was sold in this country as the Wilson T2000.)

The shirts, made by La Société Chemise Lacoste, became an international sensation in 1933. Initially they had long tails, crocodiles of 2.8 centimeters in width, and embroidered labels with the size in French: Patron, Grand Patron, etc. There was no need (not then nor now) to change the size of the beast.

Fred Perry, the British tennis champion of the 1930s, put his laurel-wreath logo in blue on white polo shirts in 1952 (a few years after inventing the sweatband). Fred Perry shirts were successful immediately.

Brooks Brothers introduced its golden-fleece logo as the company symbol in 1850, but, for casual sport shirts, they sold the Chemise Lacoste until the 1960s. Then they stopped selling Lacostes and segued into men’s polo-style shirts with the golden fleece embroidered. Until 1969, the sheep suspended by golden ribbons was made only in men’s sizes.

Ralph Lauren was already making men’s wear when, in 1971, he embroidered a little man astride a polo pony on the cuff of some women’s shirts. The ponies, 1 1/4 inches high, moved onto his many colored cotton polo shirts in 1972. The logo, now one of the world’s best known, somehow grows up to five inches high (“BIG PONY”) though sometimes stays small.

Vineyard Vines’ little pink whale appeared in 1998, and so far the whale has shown admirable restraint in staying 1.05 inches wide by 0.43 inches high (as per the universal style guide).

When labels began to understand the strong appeal their logos offered, they went wild. Gone were the subtle stripes, woven ribbons, tiny metal trademarks, and interior decoration that had been prized. Now the logos took growth hormones, and there seemed nothing too big or too crass to sell. Today’s customer is more discerning and somewhat disgusted. Removing logos has become something of a hobby for purists.

When Juicy Couture arrived, emblazoning bottoms with the word “juicy” on its pricey sweatpants, we were dismayed when our daughters thought they wanted them. We steered them back to sanity. We believe that the Juicy Couture tracksuit phenomenon signals the end of civilization as we know it. Nothing less.

The Biggest Change in 30 Years

If, in 1980, you had whispered to friends that within the next few decades America would elect a thin, black, preppy, basketball-playing lawyer to be president, they would have laughed at you and exhaled in your face, inside the restaurant or club where you were sitting. And, if you predicted that one day all our children would have little portable phones stuck in their pockets so that they could not answer us when we called them from our little phones, we would have again exhaled in your face—indoors—and said you were talking science fiction.

Still, to our minds nothing is more sci-fi than the fact that preppies in the 21st century all wear the unnatural fibers we collectively refer to as “fleece.” We always thought our reliance on natural “guaranteed to wrinkle” fibers was our right and our trademark. If it’s hot or humid, we’d just roll up our all-cotton long-sleeved shirts. But now we wear polyester fleece, and its offspring, recycled water bottles.

The revolution began in 1981, at a company then called Malden Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, manufacturers of textiles including the wool for uniforms in World War II. A place like Malden Mills is populated by textile engineers who spitball, “mess around with fabrics,” and then refine, according to spokesman Nate Simmons. They work collaboratively with clothing manufacturers, as they did in this case with Patagonia. What came off the looms in the early 80s was pure synthetic, soft, quick-wicking, quick-drying, and machine-washable. It did not fade, and changed the wardrobes of athletes forever. Its Malden name was Polarfleece; its Patagonia name was Synchilla.

Frugal Dos and Frugal Don’ts

Do keep repairing old appliances to try to extend their lives. Don’t store them on your front porch or driveway. Invest in great-fitting, well-made shoes. (Italian-made shoes are nice.) Your feet will thank you. Keep re-soling them. Subscribe to a concert, opera, or ballet series. Buy season tickets to basketball. Pairs of tickets you can’t use make great no-occasion gifts. Some nonprofit institutions accept them as tax-deductible donations. Buy very cheap plane tickets to Europe on discount Web sites. Stay at your friend’s grand villa for three weeks. Oh, make it four. Buy him a house gift and pay for dinner a couple of times. Let him win one tennis match every now and then. Complain about the heat.

Have your trustee dump an allowance in your checking account every month. Walk seven blocks out of your way (or drive, if necessary) to the A.T.M. of your bank, so you are not charged that extra $1.95–$3.00 withdrawal fee. Leave the office a little early to take the off-peak commuter train. (Even though you live in one of the 10 most affluent Zip Codes in the United States.)

Travel

We travel, and we’re rather good at it. Some of us have traveled from a very early age, even if it’s been just back and forth from Princeton and Newport. We may travel to see relatives, to take a semester away, or to go to rehab. We go to Europe because it’s there, and there is so very much to learn from Europeans.

In Europe, we learn how to kiss people on both cheeks, how to do math when we convert the dollar into the euro, and how to make ourselves understood in adverse conditions. We get to practice the little bits of foreign languages we’ve retained from school, and to see that Italian men can carry off the sweater-around-their-shoulders look easily

  • Thou shalt not fly first-class.
  • Thou shalt use thy frequent-flier miles whenever possible.
  • Thou mayest fly business class if thy destination is more than five hours away.
  • On board, the wine will not be fine; therefore drinkest beer or spirits.
  • Naturellement, thou never wearest shorts, sweatpants, or flip-flops on an airplane, and thou shalt attempt not to sit next to a miscreant in such garments.
  • If thou takest a sleeping pill, thou must try not to snore, Pookie.
  • Thou must not complain about jet lag.
  • Thou must take loads of photographs.
  • Thou art encouraged to rent cars in strange places and get into colorful misunderstandings with local drivers.
  • If there is a Harry’s Bar at thy destination, thou shalt eat there. (Try the carpaccio and the cannelloni.)
  • Exotic locations are to be encouraged.
  • Thou must not try to lose thy passport, but, indeed, it could happen, and will provide dinner-table fodder for many happy years to come.
  • Although thou art traveling in order to “broaden thy horizons” and meet different kinds of people, thou will prefer looking up friends of friends who are also traveling.
  • Thou shalt tryest the tonic water in other lands, as it tastes different from thy domestic tonic water.
  • Thou will always have (had) a wonderful time.

Our private economic code is useful when on the road. As stated before, we do not waste money on first-class travel. Unless McKinsey or Aunt Toot is footing the bill, we fly coach. (On the other hand, it would be rude to turn down a no-expense upgrade.) It is consistent with everything we’ve been talking about. First class lasts several hours but costs a fortune. On the other hand, we have been known to splurge on luxury hotels. Wouldn’t it be better to apply those savings to a wonderful room in a wonderful hotel? (Or, at the very least, a small room facing a wall in a wonderful hotel?)

If you cannot stay at the wonderful hotel with the famous bar, you must at least drink at the famous bar. Lunch is also lovely there. During holiday, we always drink at lunch, and, of course, we “walk it off.” Lunchtime drinking is not an obligation, but, well, yes it is. You’re on vacation, the ultimate in prep experiences!

Prep Careers for the New Millennium

Preppies realize society’s need for enterprise. They go to college with the idea of a career—or, should we say, their parents’ idea of a career—planted firmly in their minds. This is why so many of them attend law school. They also understand their need for income. One gets a bad reputation if one is derelict with one’s club dues. As the 21st century unfurls, herewith a vital list of jobs that help preppies maintain their rightful positions in their world:

Alumni director. For the good of your school.

Development officer. Ditto.

Dog-walker entrepreneur. Accommodates Lake Forest, Rollins, and dropouts.

Party planner/publicist. The perfect job for girls who won’t be working after they get engaged.

Nursery-school assistant teacher. But not over the age of 30.

Contributing editor, Vogue. Consuela’s mother works for Anna.

Senator. For policy wonks.

Entrepreneur (Serial. One day one of your ideas will take off.)

Ne’er-do-well. Uncle Tony.

Caterer. Use Mummy’s recipe for chicken potpies as your signature.

Decorator. Who doesn’t love chintz?

Residential-real-estate broker. Sell Bradford a lovely house; marry Bradford, and decorate your new house.

Golf pro. Self-evident.

Art restorer. Very good for part-time artists.

Divorcée. ‘Nuff said.

Anchorman or -woman. Remember to remove your makeup when you meet friends after work for drinks.

Curator. Requires many trips to EuropeAu pair. How Princess Diana got her start.

President. Good perks, bad hours.

Vineyard owner. Ultimate career move.

Tennis pro. Will keep you fit through your 30s and 40s.

C.I.A. operative. Yalies in particular.

Decorative painter. Learn how to make anything faux bois.

Ski bum. Self-evident.

Former Careers We Won’t Be Seeing Again Soon

Assistant editor. It’s called the recession, Greer.

Media escort. No more book tours; there-fore, no more escorts.

Fund-raising. Should rebound by 2015.

Investment-banker trainee. Might rebound by 2020.

Travel agent. Expedia.

Preps Need Not Apply

Doctor. Presumes caring about strangers. Exception: Orthopedic surgeon.

Research doctor. Atrophies your God-given social skills.

Computer scientist. No.

C.P.A. Really no.

Missionary. See “Doctor.”

Sex worker. See “When pigs fly.”

Any job requiring the question “Fries with that?” Only at the club during the summer before junior year—of high school.

Governor. Possibility of a sex scandal too great.

Engineer. Choo-choo or the other kind.

Fact-checker. Facts, shmacts.

Manny. N.O.K.D.

Meteorologist. Too science-y.

Excerpted fromTrue Prep,by Lisa Birnbach with Chip Kidd, to be published this month by Knopf; © 2010 by Island of Mommy Inc. and Charles Kidd.

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