A Vroomy Ralph Lauren Collection

by Michael Gross Photographed by © Michael Furman, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Saturday, September 9, 2017

On Tuesday night, Ralph Lauren will whisk 300 members of the press and buyers to the elaborate “garage” on his estate in Bedford, New York, where he keeps his museum-quality collection of rare automobiles, for a fashion show of men’s and women’s clothing using those cars as a backdrop. It will be followed by a private formal dinner. In his 2003 biography of the designer, AVENUE Editor-in-Chief Michael Gross wrote about his visit to see those cars, then housed in a suburban ranch house near another of Lauren’s homes in Montauk on Long Island. In anticipation of the event, here is an excerpt of that passage from Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren.

No matter how successful he was, [Lauren] was never satisfied. “He would go to Bloomingdale’s less to be proud of what he’d achieved than to snoop into every other bit of apparel on the floor,” said Polo sales director Marty Staff, “just to be sure that no one was doing something better than him. If they were, he had to do it for himself, immediately.” Staff remembers meeting after meeting about casual pants, a business other designers did better than Polo. “He brought in every casual pant and dissected it,” Staff said. “It stemmed from his feeling that there was something he was missing. That’s how he made all of his decisions. He would buy a Porsche 969 versus a Porsche 911 not because it was a better car but because he wanted a car no one else had.”

Ralph’s obsession with cars had only grown over the years. By the 1990s, he would own dozens. He kept them in a second house he bought across the street from his place in Montauk. For day-to-day use, he alternated between a 1956 black Porsche, a vintage Woody station wagon, a Mercedes 220, and a Land Rover Defender 110, which he refloored in sisal and repainted three times to get the right shade of tan (“like the old desert guys”). But mostly he drove an old Ford Country Squire station wagon. “I can go anywhere in that and I don’t have to lock the doors,” he said.

Lauren also owns and has painstakingly restored a yellow 1937 Alfa Romeo (“the Ferrari of its time”); an even earlier Alfa designed by Enzo Ferrari before he founded his own firm; a 1929 “Blower” Bentley race car (“major—it was owned by one of the Bentley Boys, glamorous, flamboyant men who loved action and excitement”); a pack of wartime Jeeps; a passel of Porsches, Jaguars, and Ferraris, including several early Testarosas (“moving art—the sound is thrilling”); a convertible used in The Thomas Crown Affair; a stripped-down 1962 GTO that won at LeMans; a green Morgan (“wind in the hair, a rugged, hippy English guy”); a silver Gullwing Mercedes; and a red Maserati once raced by Juan Fangio.

He spared no expense in pursuing his obsession. “Ralph always paid top dollar,” said a Polo executive. “Most designers negotiate. He pays asking price. Sellers thought he was crazy.” Once, on an advertising shoot, Ralph spent an entire weekend agonizing over whether to buy a group of rare cars that included one of only four 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantics, with a magnesium alloy body held together by a prominent riveted spine [shown above], along with another Bugatti and an Alfa Romeo. Lauren called the black Bugatti “my personal rocket ship—there are two [left] in the world and one was hit by a train in Paris and restored, so it’s not original,” he said. “Bugatti was a very elegant guy. He walked around in jodhpurs and sold to kings. If he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t sell to you.” Lauren patted the car like the thoroughbred it is, cooing, “Look at the details. The dashboard, the pedals, the tooling.”

Buying it was terrifying. “Ralph asked Bruce Weber’s assistants, who made $100 a day, if he should buy the car for $13 millions,” said the executive. “He had his personal masseur drive out to the shoot in East Hampton with all his car books to help him decide.”

But no matter how many houses and cars he bought, none of it assuaged Ralph’s insecurity. Gary Goldberg, a classmate from Salanter Yeshiva [where Ralph had gone to school as a boy], got back in touch with Lauren in the early eighties; he’d found his Salanter autograph book and sent Lauren a copy of the page on which he’d written Ralph Lifshitz under the rubric “Best Chum.” Lauren called and invited Goldberg to lunch at the swank La Caravelle, across the street from his office. Goldberg had become a financial adviser and was constructing tax shelters at the time, so Ralph put him in touch with Arnold Cohen. “But a good part of our conversation was about our lack of security, how easily you can lose what you’ve accomplished,” Goldberg said, “how insecure you can be as an adult, coming from the background we came from. We were poor. Some of us achieved security and success, but we were never sure it would stick to our bones. You wonder, why me?”

From the book Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren by Michael Gross. © 2003, Idee Fixe, Ltd. Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


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