As the Fourth of July holiday is being celebrated in America, I thought it appropriate to dedicate a post to an American icon. And when I think about a designer that best represents American heritage and values, none other is more emblematic than Ralph Lauren.
At nineteen, I moved to New York from Europe and had set my sights on the Big Apple. They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, and I was hoping to achieve the same success in New York as I had in Europe and Asia. Also working with storied American brands like Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren would be a professional milestone, particularly for a European. The New York shows were becoming as important as Paris and Milan, especially as ready-to-wear and sportswear which Americans did best was proliferating. American Vogue under Anna Wintour’s stewardship had hit a stride and thereby very influential to a designer or models career. It was a thrilling time for fashion and creativity and New York was central to that. I had my model book and was ready to achieve the American dream (or at least get booked for the big New York shows).
I first met Ralph at a casting and recall him being one of the most charming men I had ever met. At this point in time, he was a household name and had built a global fashion empire. Needless to say, it was a big process to get to meet him. The Ralph Lauren casting directors and PR team were casting for his Spring/Summer runway show and there were a number of models packed into a large room with their model books waiting to be seen. As we arrived, our names would be placed on a list and then directed to take a seat and wait. Most of the models would sit around and chat, some smoked (yes, back then people could smoke in offices), read books, and a few even knit while waiting for the time to pass. Ralph’s right hand was a woman named Bonnie Young, who not only had his ear, but was powerful in her own right. Each model was separately called into Bonnie's office to submit their book and then do a “walk” in the room. If Bonnie thought you were the right look, she had you dressed in a Ralph Lauren outfit and taken to meet the man himself. I walked for Ralph and Bonnie and was booked immediately for the runway show. I was so excited not only to be picked but to have been booked for one of New York fashion week’s most important shows.
At the time, for a model to get booked for the Ralph Lauren show was big. Designers typically booked their favorite models numbering no more than twenty-five in a show, quite a contrast from today’s sixty to one-hundred models. But in the wonderful Nineties, each model would have between five to eight changes depending on how the designers liked you and felt you represented their creative vision. It was also nice to do the shows with women who had become my good friends -- Cindy, Linda, Christy, Carla, Yasmeen, Veronica and of course Yassy. Most of us had just flown in from showing in Milan and Paris and had many shows and fittings going into the early hours of the morning. Despite the lack of sleep, I still loved doing Ralph’s shows.
Once our hair and makeup was set, it was time to hit the runway. Ralph’s shows were simply breathtaking. The clothes were sophisticated and sexy and he celebrated a beautiful, sultry woman who was a dynamic and natural beauty. Ralph would always stand behind the curtain at the entrance to the runway and just before my turn, he would take my hand and hold it for a second, then give it gentle squeeze as a way of saying "you look beautiful, now go do your best." He did this with every model for every passage but he would make you feel that you were special. And I guess I developed a tiny crush on him at the time!
I continued to do Ralph’s shows for many years and will always have wonderful memories of working with him. He recently stepped down as CEO of his company and if given the chance to see him now, I would squeeze his hand back and say “Look, we lived the American Dream”. Happy Fourth of July! XX GE