There are few things that compel New Yorkers to rise to
their feet for a standing ovation. Ralph Lauren is one of them. Oprah Winfrey
When the notoriously private fashion designer walked onstage at
Lincoln Center on Monday night for an intimate interview with the talk-show
queen, the crowd of 600 power brokers jumped out of their seats to applaud the
American legend. The audience stayed standing when Oprah joined him. And every
boldfaced name in the city was in the theater—when Lauren and Winfrey invite you for
cocktails, conversation and dinner to raise money for Lincoln Center and the
Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention, you simply cancel any other
plans you may have had for the evening.
“You’re an icon. You’re a visionary. Your products have
come to stand for America itself,” said Winfrey, clad in a red Ralph Lauren
Collection custom gown, when Lauren took his seat for the interview hour. “Was
there a moment when you said, ‘I have made it,’ and you embraced the success?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever said that,” Lauren replied. “I
don’t think I ever will.”
“Not even tonight?” Winfrey asked. Keep in mind that
Lauren had just received the highest possible gesture of praise from Barbara
Walters, Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper, Matt Lauer,
Michael J. Fox, Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Diane Von Furstenberg, Donna Karan,
Barry Diller, Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart and Iman—just to name a few.
“Not even tonight,” he said.
It was one of the many humbling and inspiring moments
during the candid conversation, in which Lauren echoed five main themes.
Yourself and Your Vision: “If you believe in something, don’t give
up,” Lauren said. “I never started out thinking how much money I was going to
make or how big I was going to be or what my company was going to be or what
magazines were going to cover me. That’s a message we should all remember: to
believe in what you’re doing. Stick to your guns.”
Work Hard: “I’m living proof that if you work hard enough, you can accomplish something in
this country. I had to earn my way. I know what it’s like to not have the money
to buy, to have to earn everything. My father was an artist. I grew up in the
Bronx. I just worked very hard. It came from inside.”
Forward: “Things get better with age. I don’t believe in old. I
believe in new. It’s always about going forward and believing in that first.
The philosophy I had as a kid—believing in myself when I had nothing—is the
same [now]. Believe that you can do things, and you can go forward.
Give Back: “This is going to sound corny, but when you really give, and you feel like you
are giving something back, it is a beautiful feeling. There is a world out
there that is needy. It’s a very important part of my life: wanting to do good
things. Not for anyone to hear about it and to get my name out there, but
because I really believe in it.” (Check out Lauren’s philanthropic work with
the Ralph Lauren Center For Cancer Care and Prevention, in Harlem.)
Comes First: Winfrey asked, “Even if you aren’t able to embrace your
success, when you stand inside yourself and look at your life and your
accomplishments, what makes you the most proud?” Lauren didn’t skip a beat:
“I’m proud of my family.”
When the interview was over, Lauren and Winfrey walked
off and the stage turned into a runway for a redux of the Ralph Lauren Spring
2012 show. As per the fashion flock’s favorite fashion week tradition, Lauren
walked out following the last look. Winfrey joined him. The crowd rose to its
feet again. “We are all given one life,” Lauren said earlier in the evening.
“And that life is for you to do with what you will.” For the fashion icon, the
life he chose was outfitting America and beyond. Now, as Winfrey said, “It’s
hard to imagine the world without Ralph Lauren.”