As we navigate these days together, tethered to our homes and longing for a bit of diversion and escape, there’s no better time to rediscover the transportive power of a great book. Here are eight that have been particularly meaningful to Ralph Lauren over the years, both for their literary merit and the unique worlds they create. And though you may have already read them more than once, this might be a good time to take another look and discover new meaning.
Out of Africa,
By ISAK DINESEN
This 1937 memoir by Danish author Karen Blixen (who published the book under a male pen name), recalling her years in Africa from 1914 to 1931, has inspired the spirit of many of Ralph Lauren’s collections—the most iconic, of course, being his Spring 1984 women’s Collection, captured in an epic ad campaign photographed in Hawaii. This was actually a year before Sydney Pollack directed its romantic film adaptation starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.
THE GREAT GATSBY,
BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
As production was gearing up for the 1974 film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s American classic, costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge selected Ralph Lauren to outfit the entire male cast—a natural choice, given the elegant aesthetic that Ralph was already widely known for. The clothes, which evoked the sensibility of the current Polo line, were created specifically for the film, including the signature pink suit worn by Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby. The “Gatsby look,” as it came to be known, took off as a major influence on contemporary men’s fashion. Ralph picked up the theme again for Spring 2012, endowing his women’s runway Collection with the glamour of Gatsby’s love Daisy Buchanan and Jazz Age New York.
LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE,
By CALVIN TOMKINS
Fitzgerald fictionalized Sara and Gerald Murphys’ lifestyle in 1934’s Tender Is the Night, but Calvin Tomkins’ 1971 book is the definitive nonfiction account of these glamorous American expats’ exploits on the Riviera in the ’20s. A memorable image that Fitzgerald paints of Nicole in her bathing suit with a string of pearls draped down her back was more than likely inspired by Sara’s own romantic beach attire documented in photographs published in Tomkins’ artful profile of the couple. These scenes and the stylish characters of those days in the ’20s are among the creative references inspiring the themes of Ralph Lauren’s Riviera season after season.
THE SUN ALSO RISES,
BY ERNEST HEMINGWAY
Though Ralph Lauren has always been inspired by the character and style of Hemingway the man, the author’s work has also been a source of design inspiration. The bullfights and toreadors—and in particular the scenes of the running of the bulls in Pamplona—from Hemingway’s 1926 masterpiece, were a particular inspiration for Ralph’s Spring 2013 women’s Collection.
Tyrone Power in the 1957 film adaptation of The Sun Also Rises
THE GRAPES OF WRATH,
By JOHN STEINBECK
Though the harshness of the Great Depression through the eyes of Tom Joad (played by Henry Fonda in the 1940 adaptation of the novel) can hardly be thought of as inspiration for women’s fashion, Ralph Lauren celebrated the dignity of Steinbeck’s portrayal of the Joad family in the face of overwhelming adversity with his Spring 2010 women’s Collection. Authentic overalls and dungarees from the Double RL men’s collection walked the runway mixed with feminine touches of charmeuse and high heels.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S,
BY TRUMAN CAPOTE
Capote’s 1958 novella, only 90 pages long, created the unforgettable and timeless heroine of New York City—Holly Golightly, brought to life by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie classic. In the film’s most iconic scene, shot in front of Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue, Holly appears dressed in a black evening gown with her swanlike neck swathed in strings of pearls, munching on a Danish and sipping a paper cup of coffee. The moment embodies the kind of contradiction that would become a Ralph Lauren signature in his own collections and advertising. Growing up, Ralph was always inspired by Hepburn’s unparalleled style, and in 1992 the legendary actress presented him with the CFDA Lifetime Achievement award. Accepting it from her on the stage of Lincoln Center, he called out to one of his childhood friends: “Look, Steve, I got the princess!”
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
By EVELYN WAUGH
The style of Lord Sebastian Flyte and Captain Charles Ryder in Waugh’s riveting epic of the aristocratic Flyte family in the years between the world wars has often inspired the English elegance and studied nonchalance embodied by so many of Ralph Lauren’s men’s collections, and in particular his Purple Label line.
BY WILLA CATHER
Cather’s incredibly bold vision of pioneer life set in the prairies of rural Nebraska at the end of the 19th century elevated a young immigrant girl, Ántonia Shimerda, into an unlikely and influential heroine. Thought of as a masterpiece in American literature, the 1918 novel captures one of the many visions of the American frontier that has inspired that theme in Ralph Lauren’s men’s and women’s collections for more than 50 years.
A longtime executive with the company, MARY RANDOLPH CARTER currently oversees Ralph Lauren publishing and is the author of several books, including her latest, The Joy of Junk.
- BOOK COVER IMAGES COURTESY OF THE PUBLISHER
- PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRUCE WEBER
- FILM IMAGES COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES