Oprah: I was shopping in Capri, Italy, about five years ago when I had an epiphany: I noticed that every guy who passed me was wearing a Polo shirt. I thought, "Ralph is huge!"
Ralph: And when I was in Capri five years ago, I said to myself, "I can't believe all the Polo player shirts here." I was nervous about it! I know it's not enjoying my success to do this, but when I see too many Polo shirts, I say to myself, "That's the end of that." I'd go someplace and little kids would be wearing Polo players. They'd say, "Look, I have six of them—one in every color." I think it's interesting how that hit every walk of life, and I wonder what the magic of it is.
Oprah: Do you understand that magic?
Ralph: On one level, there's an aspirational quality to having a Polo player. On another level, it's just a great shirt with lots of colors.
Oprah: What's interesting is how I can walk into a room, notice someone with a certain look, and say, "She is so Ralph Lauren." You've taken a single shirt and turned it into a lifestyle—my five golden retrievers are so Ralph Lauren! How'd you do that?
Ralph: I don't know—I started by making ties, and the shirt came later. I'd deliver my ties to stores wearing a bomber jacket and jeans. One by one, the ties started selling and people started talking about them. That's when I began making other products. My symbol was always a polo player because I liked sports, and polo has a stylishness to it.
Oprah: But you never played polo.
Ralph: No, but I sort of wished I had. My clothes are all about a mood and style I like—such as tweed jackets. It's all about creating a dream I'd want for myself.
Oprah: Was it always your dream to create this empire?
Ralph: I didn't have a vision as in, This is where I'm going. I had a vision as in, "This is what I love to do." The ties, as simple as they were, looked very different from other ties. They were wide and unusual. I never said to myself, "I'm going to be the greatest." I just wanted to do my own thing. I'd worked for a tie company, and I said, "Can we do this kind of tie? I think we could sell them in New York." This older guy who ran the company said, "No—the world is not ready for Ralph Lauren." That was a big statement to say to a 26-year-old kid. The guy laughed at the idea of doing your own thing. I left there and started out of a drawer in the Empire State Building. I used to go out and find rags and make them into ties, then I'd carry them to stores and sell them. People started saying, "More—we want more." That was so exciting for me. A guy from Neiman Marcus came to my office one day and said, "Let me look at your ties. I've been seeing them around." Then he said, "Would you send these to the main buyer?" At the time, I wasn't big on flying—I had little kids, and I wasn't that experienced in jetting all over the place. But I got my little rags together, got on a plane, and flew there, because I knew the buyer wouldn't understand my ties unless I explained them to him in person. I came home with an order for 100 dozen! That was my first big success. I thought, "I can do this—I'm in business."