Ralph Lauren & the Search for Glory, Pt.2

“I don’t design clothes, I design dreams.” – Ralph Lauren

Last week, I looked into the life of Ralph Lauren, one of the most successful apparel entrepreneurs in American history (click here for Part 1). Lauren, like the rest of us, is on a search for glory. It’s a search that leads a billionaire fashion icon, a name that is literally stitched onto millions of garments all over the world, to still ask the question, “Do they know who I am?”

This week, I want to continue to examine Lauren’s search for glory, and the ways in which we might be susceptible to the same temptations. Perhaps what has made the Ralph Lauren brand so successful is that his success has never really been about the clothes themselves. Clothes have no intrinsic value, apart from modesty and keeping us warm. For the most part, we discard our clothes when they are out of style. Lauren and other designers are selling a feeling. In 1986, Lauren’s flagship store opened up in NYC in the Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue. Lauren observed:

“This store is the essence of everything I have said since my first necktie. I want this to be more than a store. I’m not just selling clothes. I’m selling a world, a notion of style. I’m offering a philosophy of life.”

Lauren’s worldview is on full display here: his clothes are a gateway into a a world where you feel attractive, successful and put together all the time. It’s a world without problems. It’s also an incredibly artificial world. In the Ralph Lauren’s universe, there are no blemishes. The harsh realities of life like job loss, broken family relationships, abuse, wayward children, depression, cancer are nowhere in sight.

In all clothing advertisements, people exude attractiveness, confidence and success. And you can be like that too, the advertisements remind us, if you just have the right wardrobe. Is this not how all advertising works? It all comes down to the same message: “You need this. And if you have this, then your life will be better.”

Most of us know how advertisers play on hearts, but that knowledge often makes little impact on our consumption. Why? Because we are looking for a different world, a world without brokenness, a world where everybody looks great, feels great, and is enjoying the good life.

Admittedly, that is an incredibly powerful vision of life. And it’s an incredibly seductive vision, because while we can never achieve it, it always appears to be just outside our grasp. Satisfaction appears to be just around the corner, if we just keep chasing it. It’s a vision of glory, really.

Lauren once explained to a reporter how this vision plays out when a woman enters one of his stores:

“So,” he says, leaning into the conversation, “a woman walks into one of my stores. She sees a world. She sees what I have to say. And she says, ‘Oh, I love this world. This is what I want. This is me’ ” — he starts bobbing around in his chair — ” ‘And oh, God, I love that jacket. I don’t have that jacket. And — ‘ ” He stops bobbing and sits back. “She is buying Ralph Lauren. There is nothing else you can say.”

Is that the best life has to offer? The woman Lauren describes may love what she sees in his store now. But what about when it gets old, or stained, or out of fashion? In John 4, a woman comes to a well looking for water. She has lived a tough life. She has had five husbands, and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. Jesus says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14).

Of course, the woman wants to know, “where can I get this water?” In the climactic moment of the account Jesus essentially says, “I’m the water. I’m the only source of nourishment, purpose and fulfillment that can truly fill you up.”

We all long for glory. We go about searching in countless ways. But our search only leads us back to the well, looking for water that will satisfy the thirst of our souls. Ralph Lauren likes to say that he doesn’t design clothes, he designs dreams. God gives us something better than dreams. He gives us eternal life in Christ. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Josh Desch came on staff as Pastor in 2011 and is now its Associate Pastor.  He oversees our Youth and CrossRoads (Young Adults) Ministries.