Monday, May. 08, 2006

Ralph Lauren

If tartan-plaid skirts and cable-knit sweaters had never existed, if the English gentry had never lived, if Virginia horse country and the Rocky Mountains had never been, Ralph Lauren would have invented them. Actually, what he did do was reinvent them. Your mental universe is probably stuffed with pictures of things drawn in his mental universe. For almost four decades, Lauren, 66, has been more than a fashion designer; he has been a canny reformulator of Wasp finery.

Prep-school swank, Savile Row, even ranch-hand regalia—all of that he offered as our birthright, whether we were born to it or not. And at several price points. Maybe it took a working-class boy from the Bronx, one who used to sell ties at Brooks Brothers, to understand how compelling the fantasy of elegance can be and to figure out just how people want it offered to them. So when his design quotes from the past, it's always in the lyrical mode. His tropics are never sweaty. His American West has got the once over with a feather duster. And millions love him for it. Because Lauren has summoned them to a past that was never theirs and then said to them the words we all long to hear: Come and get it.