Susan Lacy presents HBO documentary on the life of Ralph Lauren

‘Very Ralph’




Independent/Les Goldberg/Courtesy of HBO

It’s fair to say that Ralph Lauren, the man and the fashion empire, are staples in the East End community. It’s the East End where the fashion icon runs Main Street retail, with shops in East Hampton and Southampton. He’s lived in Montauk for decades and it’s not rare to see him driving around in a convertible on a summer day.

“Very Ralph” is the first documentary portrait of the fashion icon. The film is directed and produced by Emmy award-winning Susan Lacy, a Sag Harbor resident. Lacy, well known for her insightful documentaries, most recently directed HBO’s “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” and “Spielberg.” She is also on the cinema board for the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center.

Lauren recently celebrated 50 years as a designer with an elaborate fashion show he dubbed Ralph’s Club, which created a theatrical art-deco experience to showcase his collection. It’s perfect timing for “Very Ralph,” as he continues to lead one of the world’s most widely recognized clothing brands. His collection is more popular than ever. It’s a time of everything Ralph: coffee shops, restaurants, retail.

With an uncanny ability to turn his dreams into reality, Lauren has built a multi-billion-dollar, global powerhouse out of his aspirations, becoming a living embodiment of the American Dream.

“Very Ralph” debuts on Tuesday, November 12, at 9 PM, exclusively on HBO. The feature-length film reveals the man behind the icon and the creation of one of the most successful brands in fashion history. The world will be watching, and the East End and NYC will be front and center.

The film depicts the designer’s life and work. Lauren speaks candidly in extensive interviews about his childhood, his five-decade-long marriage, the early days of his company, his response to criticism, his inventive multi-page ad campaigns, and his pioneering vision which includes many firsts.

Lauren was the first designer to create and market a complete lifestyle brand and expand into home furnishings. He was one of the first to promote diversity on the runway and in advertising. And he was the first to create immersive retail environments that transformed the shopping experience.

The film also features archives from 50 years of the fashion brand, as well as intimate, revealing interviews with Lauren’s family, long-standing colleagues, and admirers, including Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, André Leon Talley, Hillary Clinton, Robin Givhan, Jason Wu, Naomi Campbell, Martha Stewart, Calvin Klein, Tyson Beckford, Tina Brown, Diane von Furstenberg, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Friedman, and Paul Goldberger.

The Independent caught up with Lacy to discuss the making of “Very Ralph.”

Independent/Les Goldberg/Courtesy of Ralph Lauren

What inspired you to create the documentary ‘Very Ralph’?

Since creating “American Masters” and producing films about America’s leading creative artists in all fields — literature, music, visual arts, dance, photography, media, etc. — I always wanted to produce a film about a fashion designer and the opportunity never came up. But the person I always felt would be the most appropriate was Ralph Lauren. As someone says in the film, if America had a national designer, it would be Ralph.

So, when I made the move to HBO from PBS about six years ago, after producing and directing films about Steven Spielberg and Jane Fonda, Richard Plepler (former head of HBO) asked me if I would like to make a film about Ralph. I jumped at the opportunity.

You and Ralph Lauren are both embedded in the East End community. Will viewers find East End influence in the film?

Ralph has a beautiful place in Montauk (my favorite of all his houses) and the film reveals the grounds and the house, but also how much the beach and the simpler life of the East End affected Ralph. He has been going out there since his kids were small, and it is where he was able to spend family time away from the pressures of work and the city. The images of him driving his kids on the beach in his vintage Jeep are priceless.

What is your relationship with Ralph Lauren? How did you meet?

I didn’t know Ralph prior to making this film, and we both felt a need to meet before making a commitment to each other. My first meeting with him was in his office, and we connected immediately. I can’t really say why or how, except I think we saw in each other empathy, a certain kind of gentleness and kindness, and it was very easy to talk to each other. He is a very private man, but he opened up to me that day in ways that surprised me. As did I to him.

From that moment, we built a relationship of trust and sharing. He is somewhat uneasy having his life and work documented. Like most of us, he prefers the images of his younger self, but he was game and went with it. Seeing this 80-year-old man go to the office every day and still be as passionate and devoted to excellence as he was when he was initially building his business, was pretty inspiring.

Why is this the ideal time to release a documentary on Ralph Lauren?

Ralph is far from finished, but it made sense to make a thorough film about this very complex man and his brand around the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his company.

Any behind the scenes stories while filming?

The only one which comes to mind is when I interviewed Kanye West in Los Angeles. Despite being a huge admirer of Ralph’s, I think he was somewhat hesitant about doing the interview. But, when he realized I was not going for the easy soundbite, but wanted to genuinely understand what drew him to Ralph’s clothes and Ralph himself, he did a wonderful interview, and it went way beyond the time he had allotted.

He was building a house at the time, so when the interview was over, instead of disappearing, he insisted on taking me and Jessica Levin, one of the film’s producers and a close friend, to see the house under construction. I was absolutely gob-smacked at how big all the rooms were, including a closet that was as big as most people’s living rooms. In any case, he showed us around like a proud homeowner and then took us back to the studio where our car was.

What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?

It sounds corny, but I think the film shows that no matter where you come from, a strong vision, hard work, and perseverance can take you from nowhere to the top of the mountain. Ralph had dreams of a life he wanted, which he saw in the movies. Ultimately, he embodied those dreams and turned them into his life and a brand which has spoken to the dreams of millions of people — for 50 years!

jessica@indyeastend.com