In His Own Fashion celebrates Ralph Lauren’s most amazing life, eye, and vision. It contains photos of stylish people doing stylish things while swathed in stylish clothes. There are high-brow living quarters, time-stopping fashions, and world-class racing cars to accelerate the visual heart rate. And if the written word is to realize its mission, there’s a trove of captions and copy to engage the intellect.
I believe Ralph’s message of style over fashion to be the shortest route to long-term personal stylishness. It is the same way I have approached my four decades in design and custom tailoring. In trying to capture one outrageously stylish man’s life-journey to that of the promised land, my hope is that his story will inspire others to reach for their dreams while looking better for having done so.
Below, I answer a few common questions about why I decided to write this book, my relationship with Ralph, and how our perspectives on long-term personal style accord. -Alan Flusser
“Above anything I've read about RL...insightful, quotable, and full of information I didn't know”
Conversations with our friends
Kirby Allison visited the shop for a filmed conversation with Alan about the writing process and highlights from the book.
Jeremy Kirkland hosted Alan on Blamo! to chat about Alan’s background, personal style, and longtime friendship with Ralph.
Michael Hainey interviewed Alan for RL Mag to talk about Ralph’s enduring impact on fashion and culture.
What made you want to write this book?
I decided to write this book for two main reasons: I think Ralph’s philosophy of style over fashion is perhaps the single most important sartorial message for the modern consumer to know about and understand. To begin with, it’s an approach that Ralph shares with two of fashion history’s most influential couturiers, Coco Chanel and Yves St. Laurent, amongst others. One of its curiosities is the seeming paradox of Ralph’s success as the man who forged one of the largest high-quality fashion empires in the history of the world while proclaiming to be anti-fashion. Not only is such a mind-set one that we are in lock-step about, I have based much of my own design career around it, especially that of my thirty-five year old custom shop business. I thought it particularly important to help advance such a sartorial stepping off point for those interested in building a long-term dressing style and wardrobe that reflects that.
The second reason for wanting to tackle the subject was that I didn’t think anyone was going to write a book on Ralph that was worthy of his place in history. After going to his women’s shows over the years and finding his clothes becoming more world class and collectible, I found it increasingly difficult to square my opinions with those of fashion’s fourth estate. Whereas fashion journalism thrives on the immediacy of breakout runway clothes that provoke and therefore generate news and readership, Ralph’s runway clothes are inherently different in that his objective is more about wearability and transcending fashion. Like myself, Ralph is interested in creating future classics, which may sound dull but is anything but.
Why do you think you’re the best person to write it?
I don’t know whether I’m the single most qualified to pen such a manifesto, however Ralph and I do happen to share a lot of common ground and interests. To begin with, we pretty much agree on a whole host of talking points relative to style, taste, and fashion. Whereas I don’t know what it’s like to have led a company or been out front of the immediate fashion world for the past fifty-odd years, I have been at the helm of my own designer brand for almost forty years. Such a perch affords me a certain perspective as a fashion industry insider as it relates to wholesale, retail, and licensing practices and traditions – all topics I touch on throughout the book.
My experiences working for others and then trying to start up my own company pretty much mirror those of Ralph. I can appreciate his early struggles, his cash flow problems, his flirtation with bankruptcy, finding the right business partner and management, expansion etc. Like Ralph, I’m still involved with creating collections, selling to retailers, and carving out a niche for myself in the marketplace, albeit on a much smaller scale. I’ve also been a long-term customer of his. While I mostly wear my own clothes, Ralph’s sportswear occupies more of my closets than any other brand or label. Keeping track of his clothes as a consumer adds to my insights about his talents and growth as a designer.
And then there’s my personal relationship with Ralph which dates back years, having first met him in 1976. We kept in touch meeting once or twice a year; sometimes I would interview him about an article I was writing or we would just trade war stories and advice. He’s given my four menswear books blurbs for their covers, even offering my last one for sale in his stores. As for our personal backgrounds and life experiences, we are both married, have grandchildren, love to dress, and then there’s the car thing. While both of us love them desperately, admittedly, Ralph’s got a bit more simoleons to throw at his addiction than I. But then I can write and he can’t. So there you have it.
Why did it take 12 years to write?
First of all, this is the first book I’ve written about another person and his life, career, family, history, etc. so that took some getting used to. My previous books relied pretty much on my own knowledge and experience, and very few outside interviews.
We are also talking about someone who started his business fifty years ago, a mind-boggling reality that has no precedent. The sheer volume of what Ralph has created over such a timeframe is overwhelming. Then there was the decision-making about what to include or exclude. There were over one hundred interviews to do while his design library and photo archives are immense, again spanning fifty years.
Let’s also not forget that the focus of this book is much more diverse and thus expansive than my earlier books. Whereas my previous books focused exclusively on menswear, here I cover Ralph’s menswear, his womenswear, his home business, his five personal homes, his offices, restaurants, stores, as well as his world-class car collection. For me to write intelligently about each category as well as place Ralph’s accomplishments in the correct historical context, time-consuming research was required.
And since Ralph started out in the revolutionary 60’s and 70’s, I thought it important to provide some fashion and social background on those times so that the reader could better appreciate just how different Ralph’s approach to fashion was as well as how novel the many firsts he pioneered back then such as western wear, lifestyle marketing, two-tiered wholesaling, designer retailing – just to name a few.
How would you say your aesthetic and Ralph’s are similar?
in what ways are they different?
To begin with, Ralph and I have different priorities when it comes to building our respective businesses. Ralph has a multi-billion dollar world-wide business while mine is, shall we say, somewhat smaller. Ralph is interested in sharing his vision, selling his various collections while teaching his customers how to put his clothes together stylishly as well as what and how to add to their existing wardrobes.
My focus is more individual-driven. I have a mass market business, and thus my objectives there do mirror more closely those of Ralph. However, I spend the majority of my working week here at the custom shop, which is now approaching its thirty-fifth year in business. This is the place where all the principles of dress and style that I have written about for the last forty years are practiced and applied on a one to one basis. As a custom clothier we have nothing obligatory to sell anyone as most everything is tailored on an individual basis, either made-to-measure or custom made. That means we have no prejudices as to what a client should buy. I often explain that it costs no more to design (let’s say a dress shirt collar) correctly for a man’s face than incorrectly. Appropriate and timeless design is not a function of quality or cost, it’s a matter of taste, knowledge, and experience.
So while Ralph is interested in dressing people in his own designs worn in his own style, I’m more committed to dressing people in their own individual clothes for their own unique style. However, where our approaches overlap is that first we want to create clothes that are timeless, which means they are made of a certain quality to last and yet be stylish enough to remain relevant for the long term. And second, we share a similar dressing ideal – that it is important to learn how to build outfits based on mixing different genres of clothes to express your own personality and style.
For a deeper dive, have a listen to conversations with my friends Jeremy Kirkland and Kirby Allison in the interviews below.
You can find the book here.
Listen: Podcast with Jeremy Kirkland oN Blamo!
Watch: Video Interview with Kirby Allison
Kirby Allison visited Alan Flusser Custom this Fall for a early peek and conversation about Alan’s biography of Ralph Lauren.