Designer-Ralph-LaurenRalph Lauren is stepping down as chief executive of the quintessentially American fashion empire he has built up with its signature preppy look over nearly 50 years, the company announced Tuesday. Lauren, 75, who has become an iconic figure in fashion from modest beginnings as a self-taught tie designer, will stay on as chief creative officer but hands over the top executive post in November, it said. Taking over will be 41- year-old Stefan Larsson, global president of the Old Navy brand for Gap, who also previously worked for Swedish fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz (H&M).

Lauren, who figures among US fashion royalty, described his successor as “exceptionally talented.” “He will bring our company a fresh and exciting global perspective,” he said. “We have been a leader in our industry for nearly 50 years, and this is just the beginning.” Born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents, Lauren is a fashion autodidact who never went to design school. He began designing men’s neckties under the Polo brand in 1967.

In 1972, he developed the signature shortsleeved shirts with the small logo of a polo player that have become the beloved staple of classically dressed youths around the world. He later went on to build up a worldwide retail network with moves into fragrances, accessories and women’s fashion. Last year Ralph Lauren Corporation rung up $7.6 billion in sales. Lauren himself ranks 74th on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, with $6.2 billion. The company’s latest financial results disappointed investors, however, and its share price is down 43 percent over the past 12 months.

Boyhood dreaming of clothes
“When they start designing things I can’t understand, I’ll quit,” Lauren told the New York Times. “But I don’t feel like I’m stepping back now.” He had been a salesman for a tie company when he went out on his own to make his own wide ties under the Polo label. The more elegant European look caught on and he soon was selling his wares to big New York department stores and in his own tie shop. His ambition was to cut a stylish figure himself after a boyhood dreaming of clothes he couldn’t afford.

Over the years he did that by developing an American “preppy” look that evoked a fantasy of aristocratic, classically dressed youths. His successor as CEO came up through the world of global retailing. Prior to joining Gap in 2012, Larsson worked for 15 years at Hennes & Mauritz, helping to make it a global giant. He is credited with boosting H&M sales from $3 billion to $17 billion and increasing its reach from 12 to 44 countries, according to a Ralph Lauren company statement. Larsson’s division at Gap, Old Navy, specializes in more affordable clothing geared at teens and other young customers.

In the most recent quarter, Old Navy was the only one of Gap’s three divisions to score positive same-store sales. Gap said that Jill Stanton, executive vice president of global product at Old Navy, will be interim global president. It said it had begun the search for a permanent replacement for Larsson. The announcements came after US markets closed. In after-hours trade, shares of Ralph Lauren rose 3.9 percent to $108.10 and Gap fell 3.4 percent to $29.20. — AFP