If there was a fashion Hall of Fame, Ralph Lauren would be an unquestioned immediate inductee. His signature polo would be enshrined in a glass enclosed fixture that you could only view from behind a velvet rope.
This is nearly as close: the 74-year-old designer was recognized by the Smithsonian Institute for his iconic career, receiving the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal "for his embodiment of the American experience" and for "supporting artistry, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship for more than five decades."
The Associated Press caught up with the famed designer at the event to talk about receiving the award, being inspired by African-Americans and Native Americans, and five illustrious decades of outfitting America. Check out a few excerpts from the interview below.
On what it was about the world of fashion that attracted him:
"Luck. No, you know I never went to fashion school. I somehow was a young guy, grew up in the Bronx and ... I don't know how I can put it together, whether it's movies or it's being in a world where you can read books and go to movies and dream.
"Also being the youngest child in the family and getting all hand-me-downs and sort of saying, 'Wait a minute, I want my own clothes.' So when your parents are not able to afford the kind of clothes as a kid growing up, I had to work myself and earn my way and buy my own things. I just wanted to look like one of the guys and have the girls look at me."
On what his inspirations are:
"I grew up inspired by America, inspired by the West, inspired by the Adirondacks, inspired by African-Americans, soldiers—life that I saw—the native Americans. I saw a world that was different, and I was inspired."
On what the high points in his career are:
"I started with neckties, which are a very small thing and people aren't even wearing them today. Neckties helped start my career. When a man wore a tie, it had to make a statement.
"I think every time I created a new brand, from men's to women's to children to home, they were interesting elements. My clothes are not about fashion. They're about living. They're about how you live and how you want to live. And they're not about in and out fashion that's trendy or the hot news of the day.
"I think most people want stability. They want to feel that if they go out and buy something, they want good quality, good value for their money. They don't want to spend it frivolously and find that it's out of style."
On what his notions of fashion are:
"I can say that I'm about style, not fashion. I'm about timeless style, about quality, and that doesn't mean it has to be boring. That means it's something that continues on because I don't throw out my clothes. The suit that I'm wearing is an old suit. I didn't just make this suit. I like the familiarity in a way because it's mine.
"People say, 'I've worn your clothes for years and my child loves your clothes, my little girl loves your clothes.' I've been very connected to the people out there that buy my things and who appreciate it. And sometimes they stop and say it, so that's very nice."
Read the entire interview here.