South O’ the Highway

Ralph Lauren Stepping Down as Company CEO

Montauker and American fashion icon Ralph Lauren is stepping down from his role as chief executive officer of his namesake company.

The 75-year-old designer, who built his brand into a multi-billion-dollar fashion empire, will be replaced by Swede Stefan Larsson, a former H&M executive and president of Gap’s very successful Old Navy brand. Lauren told The New York Times he will remain active in the company, assuming the roles of executive chairman and chief creative officer, though Larsson will ultimately report to him. In spite of this, Lauren says his and Larsson’s relationship would be a “partnership.”

Lauren, whose presence is strong in the Hamptons—with three stores in East Hampton (32, 33 and 45 Main Street) and one in Southampton (41 Jobs Lane)—got his start selling neckties under the “Polo” brand name. He expanded his scope to include a complete menswear line, eventually opening a Polo boutique on Beverly Hills’ famous Rodeo Drive in 1971, and by 1984 the designer was successful enough to open a flagship Polo Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. In 1997, the Ralph Lauren Corporation became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Over the next 20 years Lauren created a complete lifestyle image and grew his company to include various brands for men and women, accessories and 35 boutiques around the country, with global revenue climbing steadily from $2.36 billion in 2002 up to $7.62 billion this year, according to statista.com. He is credited, along with fellow Hamptonite designers Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, with giving American style a seat at the international fashion table.

Both Klein and Karan have also handed over the reigns of their successful fashion empires—in 2012 and 2015, respectively.

The Times suggests that 41-year-old Larsson’s CEO appointment comes not coincidentally at a time when Ralph Lauren’s earnings are faltering and the company’s stock has dropped by nearly 50 percent. The Swedish exec became one of the retail world’s most coveted players after he took the helm of Old Navy in 2012 and turned the brand into one of Gap’s most valuable assets.

Larsson, who officially becomes Ralph Lauren’s CEO and joins the company’s board in November, says the opportunity to work “side by side with someone like Ralph” is one of the main reasons he took the job.

And while it appears Lauren has no intentions of going gently into that proverbial good night, perhaps this change will allow him more leisure time in the Hamptons. Come November, we’ll be keeping an eye out for some of his fancy classic sports cars—they’re pretty hard to miss. Equally hard to miss, Lauren’s absence will surely be felt by his company and the millions of people who love he created.

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