Sneak Peak at Designer Ralph Lauren’s Secret Passion for Cars
Like a Porsche 911, Ralph Lauren’s public relations machine is well-oiled and air-cooled. Though his tan, smiling visage is as iconic as James Bond’s Aston Martin DB9, the public knows little to nothing about Lauren’s activities, politics, philanthropy, philosophy, or whether he likes it shaken rather than stirred. To put it lightly, Ralph Lauren’s life of luxury is as secluded and private as the backseat of a Maybach.
And that’s the way it is with Lauren’s renowned car collection—commonly perceived to be one of the finest in the world yet secretly stored and maintained, and truly unknown and unseen by all but a few.
So I was fairly excited when I wrangled access in September to the nondescript industrial building, not far from his Bedford manse, where Lauren keeps some portion of his gems and, like seeing the Crown Jewels, I was stunned by what was displayed but left still unsure how much more lay hidden back at the castle. (He will not reveal how many cars he owns, their total estimated value, or the highest amount he’s ever paid for any one, how many people he employs to curate, maintain, and transport the collection, or even which car is his favorite.)
Lauren was lifting the skirt on a couple dozen of his finest girls as the featured attraction of a limited-invitation-only fashion show to celebrate his 50th-anniversary line, but unlike getting into Hef’s mansion there was absolutely no touching nor photos allowed. Lauren’s “garage” is nothing short of a museum. No greasy mechanical area or trays of Snap-On tools, just two stories of sparkling clean black floors and shiny metal railings, immaculate white leather furniture, a sound system that mimics race cars circling a track, and each one-off, specimen or otherwise uniquely equipped vehicle up on its own pedestal to be adored like the David.
Only once before, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts show in 2005 and in the book about that exhibition titled Speed Style and Beauty, had Lauren exposed any of his collection for public view, and the multi-million-dollar Ferraris, Bugattis, McLarens, and Porsches on view for at least the fashion world to glimpse did not disappoint.
Ralph Lauren’s passion for cars is about style—life and fashion. He talks about a direct connection between car design and fashion design and pays tribute to certain automobiles as the inspiration for elements of his furniture, glasses, and clothing. As the New York Times observed about his 50th-anniversary spectacle: “There were racing stripes down the sides of tuxedo trousers … and F1 jackets over full chiffon skirts. … All designers take their inspiration where they can find it … but rarely is the relationship quite so obvious.”
For Lauren, cars are a part of his belief in timeless style: “I love things that are worn and weathered, that get better with age, and things made by hand that are truly one-of-a-kind. That’s what real luxury is all about.”
More revealing, however, is how the cars Lauren collects and drives reflect his vision of himself and how he encounters the world around him. I’ve spotted the long-time Bedford resident in a rare Porsche 959, an orange Lamborghini, an old MG, and in at least a couple amazing vintage Ferraris, when he’s been driving through Pound Ridge on Westchester Avenue or parked on Elm Street to stop in for a visit at his New Canaan store. So, I asked him how he decides which car to take out on any given day.
He explains: “What we wear is very much who we are, just like the cars we choose to drive. Cars, like clothes, are an embodiment of your personal style. Deciding what car to drive is like deciding what clothes to wear. Similar to how you dress for your mood, the car you drive is a reflection of how you are feeling.
It’s how I am feeling that day, what mood I am in. Each has a different sound, a different feel on the road—they offer different experiences. My cars are housed in Westchester, but I have some in all of my homes so I can enjoy them in every environment.
When I am in Bedford, I might choose a Ferrari to drive around the curved wood lanes of Westchester. When I’m at the beach, I might take a spin in one of my vintage Jeeps.” Then he added, humorously, “In Jamaica, I walk.”
“I drive my cars in different places, but one of my favorite routes is along the winding roads of Bedford,” says Lauren, (shown right) arriving at the intimate seated dinner that he hosted among his collection in Bedford Hills.
He’s nostalgic about his father’s 1949 Pontiac with the torpedo fins that he had to share with hisbrothers growing up in the Bronx, and the white with red leather ’61 Morgan that was the first car he owned, and when I asked why he hadn’t tracked down those specific vehicles for re-purchase (like I’m looking to find my old navy blue 1970 MG Midget), he responded, “Good idea. I’ll start working on that!” Similarly, when I asked about his favorite item of clothing for the holidays, he responded, “I love my old, hand-knit reindeer sweaters. I had a similar one when I was growing up.”
Although his rugged outdoorsy image is carefully crafted, maybe this guy really is more a well-worn Land Rover Defender than a new Bugatti Veyron. And while he certainly does have one of the priciest and most enviable collections of top-end cars ever assembled, you get the sense that his favorite time might be more about the wind rushing through his hair going down some country road and in a car worthy because of the way it makes him feel, than whether he’s driving something worth tens of millions.