Oprah: That's a profound spiritual statement.
Ralph: I think I'm spiritual. In order to create, you have to be sensitive. Sinatra's song "My Way" has become a cliché, but that's always been my thing. What I'm most proud of in my life is that I went into this business on my own terms. I never threw myself away. I kept going in a straight line even when people said, "Give it up." And there was a period when the business suddenly got very bad. The clothes literally weren't fitting and I ran out of money. In the early years of my business, I'd brought in a friend as my financial guy, and he hadn't watched the money. The bills weren't being paid. People were calling and saying, "Mr. Lauren, the check that was supposed to be in the mail never arrived." I remember being scared I'd lose everything. What was most upsetting was the thought of having to call my father and say, "Dad, I lost my business." That's what I was worried about—disappointing my father. He was so proud that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. So I took my last penny and put it into the business, and somehow I made it through.
Oprah: Do you surround yourself with people who share your vision?
Ralph: I try to find people who love and believe in what I do—and people I can respect because they do what I don't do. I've had to bring in financial people and put them in positions where they could tell me, "Ralph, let's not do that."
Oprah: In spite of all you've attained, you seem so normal.
Ralph: I've worked all my life, and my parents gave me a solid foundation.
Oprah: Why do some designers seem so snooty?
Ralph: They're not snooty, they're very insecure. If you sit down and talk to any of these designers one-on-one, you'll find very nice and sensitive people. Most of them weren't born rich. They worked their way up like I did. I wasn't in love with the whole fashion world—my heroes were people like John F. Kennedy and James Stewart. I wanted to be a movie star, a cool guy. I wanted to go on dates. I wanted to be honest and to do the right thing. And I didn't want to get pushed around, so I stood my ground with integrity.
Oprah: How have you instilled that integrity in your children, who were raised with every material thing anyone could want?
Ralph: My wife and I didn't have a formula. Maybe we just got lucky. We're both pretty grounded. My wife, who is very conservative, came from Vienna. Fashion was never on her mind. She went to Columbia University a few years ago and became a therapist. We just passed on our values by how we lived. My kids also knew our parents, and both sets were very humble.