Marketing Week (MW): Do you want to run the business, taking over from your father?
David Lauren (DL): Right now I’m just in the learning phase. I’m trying to learn every part of the business and to learn my area, so that I can be a valuable part of it.
MW: You founded the magazine Swing in your 20s, for ambitious people to read about people they might aspire to be. Who do you look up to?
DL: My father is a great role model as he is the leader of our industry. He has built a company where people are enthusiastic about the concepts. He’s created a family experience. People who can build cultures like that are very inspiring. Walt Disney has done that, Barack Obama has created a culture that’s a movement and it’s very rare to see that kind of energy.
MW: Your father has said that he worried about disappointing his father when he started his business in 1967. What is it like working with your father?
DL: I worry about what I do and every day I try to do something that is smart and interesting. There is always pressure knowing that your boss is your father, so it is double the stress. But I think I have been successful in inspiring a team of people and bringing in a new sensibility for the company, and helping maintain a brand identity that is so well established.
MW: Your father has also said there is a sense that in America the fashion houses are marketers, and in Europe they are artists. What do you think?
DL: He was making a point that there is a misperception. Our goal is to make sure people look at America as a design centre. In the past even Americans have looked to Europe. But that is changing because we are so much larger than many of our European counterparts.
MW: How do you work out what your customers want?
DL: We know our customers so well, there is such brand loyalty and interest in this brand. The products are interesting, and tell stories. Our job as marketers is to tell stories. While other people are looking at spreadsheets and worrying about focus groups, we have built a company.
This is an industry where you have to make your own trends and not follow them. The innovation that comes [from us] comes from a keen understanding of what a brand is and what our customers respond to.
MW: Polo Ralph Lauren has a five-year contract until 2015 to provide the uniforms for the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Why do that?
DL: We started by outfitting the US Open and were able to reinvent the way fashion was integrated into sports. Wimbledon wanted to express its sensibility in a way that was very much old world 1940s English. It never had uniforms that were suits before that. We made Wimbledon the way you thought it used to exist. Paul McCartney walked by our shop there and said he was looking at the clothes and thought they looked so English that they must be Ralph Lauren, and it was very flattering.
MW: The American TV series Friends featured central character Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) working for Ralph Lauren. What’s your view on product placement?
DL: We really don’t do it. They wrote that into the script and asked us if we were OK with it and we were. Most of the products that are put into films are chosen by the directors. It’s wonderful to get a call from Tom Cruise’s office saying that he wants to wear RRL jeans or from Penelope Cruz to say she wants to wear a dress she saw in the window in a movie. Those are wonderful moments but they happen organically.