When someone says what do you think you did or what did you contribute or what did you bring to the industry, I hate it. I can’t define it, I don’t want to define it. I don’t want to talk about myself. I really don’t. It doesn’t work and it’s annoying. I never thought about it, and this is from the beginning of my career to where I am today. I have loved what I’ve done, I have loved what I was doing, I believed that I knew what I was doing, and I believed that as I worked, I was earning it and it was coming, and the business and the exposure and the success of the company was coming out of the way it was built. It was legitimate, it was straightforward, it was original in its sensibility, it’s a model for this industry, and I felt good about that. Did it go straight up like an arrow? No, but I never thought about it.
It was never my dream to go public; money was never my goal, although I certainly needed money and was a guy who appreciated quality things. But it was never my end; that was doing what I was loving and finding that it was succeeding. The more I did, the more it kept going, and that was the greatest pleasure. That, and the ability to keep doing more things, keep trying new ideas; the stretching, the going from one thing to another – that has been my greatest claim for myself.
It was inevitable that Polo would go public because the world is very fast and so global. The company is a conglomerate. It wasn’t a little company. It goes from home furnishings to women’s to men’s to children’s to everything; it’s an industry in itself. And to keep that fresh, current and updated, to attract people constantly, you have to advertise internationally, you have to redo your shops, it’s a constant build and rebuild. And you need to do that as a public company because it gives you the options and the money to grow. When the opportunity came, I spoke to friends, and they said, “Ralph, are you ready to stop?” I had too much energy in me to stop. A lot of people go public to get out; that wasn’t my goal. In fact, it was just the opposite.
The day we went public, I didn’t want to ring the bell at the stock exchange. It’s just not my style. It was just too showy for me to do that, yet I did go in ‘cause I was invited for breakfast, and then the head of the stock exchange called me up to his office, and he said, “Ralph, you gotta ring this bell.” And I did do it, and when I did it, I could feel the frenzy on the floor and the people waving and applauding, and it was a wonderful feeling.
I’ve had so many wonderful moments in my life, whether it was walking down the runway for the first time or when I won the CFDA’s lifetime achievement award – that was a wonderful high, and my mother was in the audience, and Audrey Hepburn, who presented the award, became a very good friend of mine, and the words flew out of my mouth and I had a chance to thank everyone.
We all get report cards in many different ways, but the real excitement of what you’re doing is in the doing of it. It’s not what you’re gonna get in the end – it’s not in the final curtain – it’s really in the doing it, and loving what I’m doing. That’s my high. What’s next? I don’t know. I’m just doing it. I’m not going to plan it and I never did.
Interviewed by Michael Gross