Quite why he has been so reticent until now about adding underpants and bras to his portfolio is a mystery. But, with rival Calvin Klein's brilliant success with his brand-name underwear, and, more recently, Tommy Hilfiger swamping the market in America (and the UK to follow this autumn), he has had little choice but to compete.
Polo Jeans Company, Lauren's less snappy answer to cK, a line for the highly lucrative teenage-to-20-something market, launches in the UK this week. Ralph has a ready-made market here: men who read FHM and Loaded, who want to blind you with their designer logos. Subtlety is not a word in their fashion vocabulary. His second new venture comes in October - underwear for men and teenage boys, for whose lifestyle the right underpants can be crucial. Women will have to wait until next spring to add Lauren's name to their knicker drawer.
Ralph is the ultimate tie salesman from the Bronx. The son of Russian Jewish emigres, who made good. Very, very good. His job title is fashion designer, but what is there to design on a sweatshirt with your name emblazoned across it? His real importance, shared with fellow Americans Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, is as marketing genius, and marketing is what fashion in the Nineties has been reduced to. This is big business, no longer about changing the way we dress, but about selling the American Dream to as many people who will buy it, stars, stripes and all.
Say Ralph Lauren to the man in the street, as we did when we took a suitcase full of clothes and a photographer to Crystal Palace, and he will undoubtedly associate the name with jeans, shirts, T-shirts and puffa jackets. The signature collections shown each season in New York, where a suit can costs upwards of pounds 1,000 and an evening gown will be made with the Oscars in mind - are far from the thoughts of the typical Polo Ralph Lauren wearer. What really counts is their latest logo T-shirt and the smell of their Ralph Lauren Sport aftershave. If you can't afford the real thing, it's not a problem. There's always a market seller ready and waiting with a truckload of the stuff at "off the back of a lorry" prices.
But Ralph Lauren didn't get where he is today by letting some small-time counterfeiter in Bangkok make money out of his name. He promises to flood the market with goods so affordable that the counterfeiters will be out of a job. His Polo Jeans T-shirts start at pounds 23; jeans are pounds 65; socks are pounds 9. Man, woman or child, no one is excluded. Even the Blair kids, already fans of Polo and Polo Sport (as well as our own Ted Baker), will be able to buy a piece or two without having to ask Tony or Cherie for extra pocket money.
The new line is young, sporty and made for the rough-and-tumble lives of teenagers all too easily seduced by a bold logo. There are hi-tech fabrics, industrial nylon jackets, crisp cotton shirts, and luxury quality jeans. And Y-fronts and boxer shorts. All those bored with their Calvins can now wear "Ralph" around their waistband. But don't expect anything radical. These are clothes for "ordinary" people, as Ralph Lifshitz was himself, 30 years ago. Even today, Lauren insists that he's a normal kinda guy. He works hard at the office all week. He has a wife and kids. He still likes to wear cowboy boots and jeans. He's just got a few million dollars more than you or I
Fashion friendly (left to right from below): Darren Mimms, 14, from Peterborough, wearing grey, long-sleeve T-shirt, pounds 35, black shorts Darren's own. `I'd probably wear the top if it didn't have massive logos down the sleeve, but I do like it'. Bobby Kinzer, 40, from Washington DC, basketball coach, wearing yellow, hooded sweatshirt, pounds 78, grey shorts, Bobby's own. `Feels like one of my jumpers to me. I feel comfortable in it'; Thelisa, 14, from Rio, Brazil, wearing black denim mini skirt, pounds 50, black and blue check shirt, pounds 65, blue, sleeveless puffa body warmer, pounds 150. `I would definitely wear the skirt and shirt, I haven't really worn anything like the jacket before but it's OK';
Gareth Vincent, 14, from Shropshire, wearing white long-sleeve T-shirt with blue neckline, pounds 35, black shorts, Gareth's own. `I'd wear them if they were bought for me, I like them but I wouldn't buy them myself'; James Acres, 14, from Herne Bay, Kent, wearing red T-shirt with black logo, pounds 30, black shorts, James's own. `I think it's OK, but my mum buys all my stuff from sports shops'; Noel Surin, 13, from Kelsey Park, Annerly, wearing yellow hat, pounds 18. `I'm pleased I'm wearing the yellow hat. I prefer the style to the orange. It's similar to the sort of thing I wear'. Michael McGregor, 13, from Kelsey Park, Bromley, wearing orange hat, pounds 18. `I would have preferred to wear the yellow hat, but the orange one would be great for skiing'
Sign of the times (clockwise from above): Micheal Crouchman, 11, wearing yellow puffa jacket, pounds 195. `I love it and the fluorescent colour, I'd definitely get noticed in this'; Stephen Rafferty, 20, landscape gardener from South London, wearing cream, ribbed polo neck, pounds 65. `I'm not really used to tight jumpers like this. I like it though. I could get used to it'; Sharon Woodworth, 39, wearing navy, wool reefer jacket, pounds 295, cream sweater, pounds 80. `Coat looks very nice. I'd have to look in the mirror'
Photographer's assistant Coco
Stylist's assistant Claire Lazaro
Stockists Polo Jeans Company available from USC stores Nationwide, selected House of Fraser nationwide and Selfridges (enquiries: 0171-647 6500)Reuse content