Ralph Lauren Dreams in California
By BILL ROWLEY
The latest version of Ralph Lauren’s “Dress Code” has not yet begun to filter out to retail stores, but I expect that it will soon be in the same league as other corporate social-responsibility efforts.
The new policy, which follows one announced in April, was developed by the creative force behind the corporate logo, which is a perfect mélange of two American flags. “The concept was to bring our products closer to the customer without being forced to look and feel anything different,” said a company spokeswoman.
We’ve seen an ongoing trend of companies making their products “nicer,” in the sense that they’ve introduced fewer logos, and the designs have become sleeker, more simple, and, for some, more minimalist. But in my experience, they’ve invariably lost on the principle that, when you make design choices, be they corporate logos, product designs, or fashion, you must make them in the context of who you are as a company. That means not just what they stand for but who they are when you encounter them in their most natural state: as something you’ve designed specifically for the customer.
I’ve mentioned before that, in my business, we have a rule of thumb that the best companies don’t wear logos. It’s not just a question of aesthetics. When you’re at your best—when you’re at your most authentic, when you’ve created a sense of your identity—nobody cares about how you look, because they know when you’re at your best and they know how you were when you weren’t.
Ralph Lauren is now on the same page in his quest for authenticity in merchandising, but he can still get away with wearing logos so long as he’s not making any explicit comment about it. It’s just the kind of thing he might do if he wants to make a corporate social statement with his brand—for example, as he did with the decision to introduce the “Dress Code,” which is the “Dress to impress your friends” message to consumers that his customers, the ones with the big bucks, get when they decide to buy his clothes.