If I have read more than a dozen biographies (not
to be confused with memoirs) in the past 12 years, I would be surprised.
Surprise! Scrupulous record keeping contradicts this recollection.
So okay, I’ve read nineteen:
Autobiography of a Face - Lucy Grealey
Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J.Edgar Hoover
- Anthony Summers
Crazy Horse – Larry McMurtry
City Poet - Brad Gooch [poet Frank O’Hara]
Autobiography of a Face - Lucy Grealy
Winchell - Neil Gabler [Walter Winchell]
Francis Drake - John Cummins
Speaking to Myself – Studs Terkel
Ludwig Wittgenstein - Ray Monk
Ambrose Bierce - Roy Morris
Lush Life - David Hadju [Billy Strayhorn]
Che Guevara - Jon Lee Anderson
Fidel; A Critical Portrait – Tad Szulc
Another Man’s Poison – Charles Fountain [writer
The Operator - Tom King [David Geffen]
The Devil and Sonny Liston – Nick Tosches
American Pharaoh – Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor
[Mayor Richard J Daley]
Richard Wright: The Life and Times – Hazel Rowley
The Flyswatter: How My Grandfather made his Way in the World
– Nicholas Dawidoff [Professor Alexander Gershenkron]
Reading Jeffrey Tobin’s piece in The New
Yorker about his lunch with Martha Stewart, this caught my
In this kind of differentiation, Stewart's role
model is Ralph Lauren, who created Polo, Purple Label, and other
brands less directly tied to his name. "He was able to expand
his empire greatly by different brand labels," she said.
Having just read a biography of the Ralph I got
to thinking about how merchants and hucksters, not content with
accumulating wealth, require adulation and recognition for something
in addition to successfully competing in the Greed game.
The infrequency of my attention to personal history
is either the cause or the effect of the diverse aggregation of
lives (who would make a great fantasy dinner party) I have read
about, a tautology I will resolve at another time. Perhaps in my
memoir–in–progress, Loose Lips. Also, I have
a warm, oozy feeling that info miners like Amazon can’t easily
work their collateral metric paradigmatic profile mumbo jumbo on
me. I dare ‘em to go, "People who have read _______ also
have read _______." In any case, reaching for a biography of
the sort that scrutinizes well-known brand Ralph Lauren may be an
act of cultural dumpster diving, especially when the strong possibility
exists of a time-wasting encounter with hagiography. Of course,
the author needs to grapple with this concern early on (and he does).
He must tread the divide between a writing a big wet kiss of a (worthless)
book or an expose that will make it difficult to work in this virtual
town again. And thus, even such journalistic adroitness can be instructive.
Before I forget, Gross seems like nice enough guy—he acknowledges
his Westie, Calpurnia and he did a commendable job with the tough
hand he was dealt.
Michael Gross’ Genuine Authentic: The
Real Life of Ralph Lauren is not the first biographic attempt
to focus on Bronx-born Ralph Lifschitz. There was the 1988 Ralph
Lauren: the Man behind the Mystique by Jeffrey Trachtenberg.
I was not compelled to read that one as I never accepted the premise
that there was (is) a mystique. More to the point, in 1988 Ralph
was not such a big macher.
I was tempted to go no further than the preface
where Gross details, in eleven pages, his back-and-forth with Ralph
about the extent of the cooperation this book would receive from
him. The Ralph was very concerned about references to his very public
dalliance with one of his models and the effect of that recapitulation
on Ricky, his wife of thirty-five years. In a way, the negotiations
encapsulated everything I wanted to know about RL. But like a good
soldier, I trudged on. And, of course, I wouldn’t know what
I did or didn’t need to know until I had read all the stuff
I didn’t really want to know.
The only question I asked myself is: why bother
to give any consideration or attention to a major character in the
ephemeral world of fashion, the mostly crass world of retailing
and the murky world of dream making? I suppose the fact that the
Lauren enterprises have been financially successful on such a large
scale warrants some interest. But as in the case of my reading Tom
King’s book on David Geffen, I found it of interest to try
to unearth some sign of originality, speciality or distinction and
then determine whether Lauren (Geffen) had made any contributions
to culture or civilization.
In both cases, for me, the answer was a resounding,
Shrewd, quirky, dogged in satisfying his own narcissism,
riddled with emotional tics, Ralph Lauren comes off as an incompetent
businessman. He was lucky at essential times to work with competent
people. He required an absolute loyalty from his minions, and his
talents, at best, were to synthesize or adapt what already existed.
Granted, that is a talent, but one hardly worthy of the accolades
attached to him, even in the hyperbolic lexicon of the Fashion World
(though I believe ‘zone’ is the it word of the moment).
How his persona brought him to lording it over a multi-billion dollar
empire and in possession of unspendable wealth seems as much about
luck as anything else. Although one argument could be presented
that he was smart enough to hire Bruce Weber to create his image
campaigns that are the real heart of his success, the sales of billions
of dollars of polo shirts with the Polo logo affixed was an unintended
(and not even a desired) consequence that ultimately was the foundation
of the Ralph’s success.
Ah, poor Ralph. Not an enviable person. Kind of
Quepos Costa Rica @ sunset