I am a little behind the curve on this one, but I jut saw the preview for a fascinating documentary on Ralph Lauren’s vintage automobile collection: “The Ralph Lauren Car Collection: Speed, Style & Beauty.” Considered to be one of the finest of it’s kind in the world, this collection encompasses many marque’ names – Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedes, Bugatti – but the quality and stylistic breadth of the cars is staggering. Restored to a level that in some cases exceeds their original showroom quality, his cars track the development of the automobile not only as transportation, but as art and social elegance.
The documentary, aired by the Discovery Channel this past Saturday, is an hour-long exploration of the collection, how it came to be, the development of the stunning companion book, and how his cars have affected Ralph Lauren the designer. In full disclosure, my wife works for the Discovery Channel.
With his company celebrating its 40th anniversary, Lauren the visionary and collector is also highlighted in the current issues of Men’s Vogue, Fortune, and Town and Country. Personally, I find his passion for style and the elegance of functional tools to be major factors in my appreciation for what Ralph Lauren has created. It’s remarkable really that it has only been 40 years since Ralph forced his way into the fashion scene.
Ralph Lauren’s impact on almost every aspect of the business of fashion, from the store-within-a-store concept to aspirational lifestyle marketing, has transformed how people across the world want to live. His British-landed-gentry cum New-England-Old-money vision of life has always focused on quality and detail. Whether it’s handmade crocodile loafers or a Purple Label cashmere suit, there are no shortcuts. Even when turning an actual New York City mansion into his own gentrified universe, Lauren’s vision is tactile. You want to live there.
Another legendary collection of Lauren’s pulls at my soul: his assemblage of watches which range from vintage Rolexes to a one-of-a-kind collection within a collection of Panerai Italian military watches which are quite popular among high-end collectors at the moment. Watches in particular are intensely personal items that convey to others your true sense of individual style. A collection like Lauren’s is in many ways a mirror of his personality and, as far I know, accurately reflects his obsession with quality, style, detail, and history.
Worth noting here is that this past March Ralph Lauren and the Richemont Group, owners of such luxury brands as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Mont Blanc, IWC, and Alfred Dunhill, inked a deal to create The Polo Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Company. The 50/50 joint venture will design, manufacture, and distribute products through Polo boutiques and exclusive high-end jewelry stores. It seems that Mr. Lauren is ready to add his own creations to his personal museum.
By creating these fascinating collections, Lauren is becoming a curator of historic touchstones that define luxury and elegance. While some may see this an homage to conspicuous consumption or a celebration of indulgent decadence, I look at it very differently. Watches and cars, clothes and shoes, bags and furniture; these are the things that people use to define and identify themselves. Ralph Lauren is consciously preserving the history of practical elegance. All of these objects evoke a visceral response and people use them to create their own persona and personal history. He uses his own collections for personal and professional inspiration; think of them as a database of style.
Look around your own life; your home, your closet, your dresser, and your briefcase. What can you say is unique and important to you? For example, if you have a mug full of pens on you desk but only one of two vintage roller balls mean something to you, get rid of the others. Don’t hold on to stuff just because you have it; be discriminating and really use what you keep.
While we all do not have his financial resources, take a page from Ralph’s playbook and don’t just accept what you can get, don’t keep what happens to be around just because it’s there. Rather, select the things in your life; constantly edit. Create your own personal collections; you will find more value, financial and personal, in fewer but cherished possessions.