PAGE 6

Ralph (continued): My kids and I had a very normal life. My work is my work and, yes, they were exposed to things other kids weren't, but they know what my wife and I value—we've always had the right value system about what's important in terms of family and people. That has nothing to do with being rich or poor. I could have less and essentially be the same person. Having success at an early age gave me more of a sense of what's important in life rather than always driving to make it. I loved what I did, and my satisfaction came from my own sense of stretching. I was fulfilled inside as opposed to needing outside fulfillment. Now, did I want good things that I'd never had? Yes. Did I have dreams about living this kind of life? Sure. Most everyone has those dreams—a nice house, a pool. That's part of the American thrust. Did I give up my family in order to have it? No. Did I jump to another group because they were going to make me bigger? Never. I have always been who I am.

Oprah: As you've continued to expand your vision, how do you stay so connected to the woman who walks into your store to buy a pair of chinos?

Ralph: It's fear—I love where I'm at, and I don't want to lose what I have. I like the excitement of the challenge. And I'm in tune with the moods. Why do I say ruffles one season and then all white the next? I can feel when there's been enough of something. I ask myself, "What feels fresh?" After a season of all black, I might go to Europe and see a flower-print fabric and think, I want to do flowers and color for spring. I have a real life—I've lived with a woman, my wife, for a long time, and I watch her. When we go out, she'll say, "Should I wear this?" I don't sit there as a fashion guru. I sit there as a man, someone with an instinct for what I love myself.

I don't like it when a woman looks like a fashion victim. Some women think that if the look this season is minis, they have to wear minis. If you don't have great legs, there are plenty of alternatives. I feel like I'm always talking to the consumer, just like I'm sitting here talking with you. My fear is having you go into the store and say, "Ralph doesn't have it anymore—I don't like his stuff this year." So I'm always checking myself out by asking, "Did I hit it? Make sure you're not wrong, Ralph." I'm not right all the time.

Oprah: Well, I never give away anything I buy of yours—I can't do it. I've even kept my original pair of those white-buck shoes.

Ralph: I don't throw away anything either. Nothing that's good is ever out. The older items look better years later. That's when someone will say, "Where did you get that?" Because it's not made anymore, it becomes more valuable. The only things you should ever give away are those that aren't flattering.

NEXT STORY

Comment

LONG FORM
ONE WORD