I actually didn’t know a whole lot about Ralph Lauren before a few weeks ago. I mean, I knew about Tyson Beckford, the face (ahem, and body) of RL during the 90′s. What 11 year-old girl in her right mind didn’t?
I think I caught the vapors (said like Scarlett O’hara).
I initially chose to peruse Ralph Lauren’s collections because his brand was the first that came to mind as I was thinking of designers that seemed authentically American. His logo is practically an American flag.
Here is his story: Born Ralph Lifshitz to Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, Lauren had humble beginnings. Tired of being ridiculed for “shit” being a part of their last name, the Lifshitz became the Laurens. Ralph attended business schoool, and dropped out of business school, and then went into business for himself, selling neckties that were unusually wide. He was successful.
I like Ralph Lauren’s story and it reminds me of issues brought up by civil rights author and attorney Kenji Yoshino in his book Covering.
From the back cover:
Although Americans have come to some consensus against penalizing people for the differences based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion and disability, we still routinely deny equal treatment to people who refuse to cover, who refuse to downplay these differences. Acclaimed legal scholar Kenji Yoshino argues that the often tacit demand to cover poses a very real threat to our civil rights. With passion and rigor, he shows that the work of defending American civil rights will not be complete until it attends to the harms of coerced conformity. Yoshino’s argument draws deeply on his personal experiences as a gay Asian American, yet acknowledges the American exasperation with identity politics. He expands the debate over this conflict, noting that since we all experience the demand to cover we can all make common cause around a new civl rights standard based on our desire for authenticity – a desire that brings us together rather than driving us apart.
Weather or not Lauren knew it, the decision to change his last name was a form of covering. Would he have experienced the same amount of success with Polo Ralph Lifshitz as a brand name?
If I remember the text correctly, Yoshino doesn’t think of covering as all bad, in fact, he recognizes that a certain amount of it has to be done in order to protect our true selves from harm. The ultimate goal, however, is to get to a place where we can be both open and proud about who we are, and that is made more difficult by the conformity demands we place on ourselves and each other.
In a chapter titled The New Civil Rights, Yoshino discusses the work of D. W. Winnicott, an influential object relations theorist (a branch of psychoanalysis). Winnicott makes the distinction between True Self, the self that makes the individual feel real, is spontaneous, authentic, and creative, and the False Self, the self that, “gives an individual a sense of being unreal, a sense of futility.” Importantly, the False Self also “mediates the relationship between the True Self and the rest of the world.” According to the theory, both True and False selves are valuable and present in healthy individuals, as long as they’re used in the correct proportions.
At the negative exteme, the False Self completely obscures the True Self, perhaps even from the individual herself. In a less extreme case, the False Self permits the True Self “a secret life.” The individual approaches health only when the False Self has “as it’s main concern a search for conditions which will make it possible for the True Self to come into its own.” Finally, in the healthy individual, the False Self is reduced to a “polite and mannered social attitude” a tool available to the fully realized True Self.
In conclusion, READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. There will be something that you can take from it, even if you’re a regular ol’ white guy. Cause guess what? Society places covering demands on you too!
Almost forgot – the swipes (in no particular order):