A business legend that came from Pinsk

Belarusian roots of the most fashionable designer of the XXth century
His clothes are worn by kings and presidents, but a suit by Ralph Lauren does not stand for an ostentatious glamour and show, first of all it represents style and elegance. Get dressed simply but tastefully. It was Lauren who managed to solve this problem in his time: in 1967 when he launched his first collection of ties (he began in the small, but created a corporation with an annual turnover more than 5 billion dollars) Giorgio Armani was an apprentice at Nino Cherutti, and Dolce and Gabbana were just small kids. It is not surprising that this year the council of designers of the USA has proclaimed Lauren the Legend of fashion. The honorary title was awarded for the first time during the 25 years of existence of masters of the aught couture association. And perhaps for the first time it was given to a descendant of the natives of Belarus.

The ancestors of the couturier, the founder of the company and the brand Polo, came to America in 1920. “I remember that when I was a child, my parents spoke Russian at home”, — the designer admitted in the interview to Nikolay Uskov, the editor of Moscow “glossy shine” “Gentlemen’s Quarterly”. Up to the present time Lauren thought that his family came from somewhere in Russia: “My father was born in Pinsk. I often heard this name but had no idea where it was”. The fashion designer was amazed to hear that now it is in Belarus.

— I see. And is it a big city? — asked the fashion designer.

— I don’t think so. I have never been there, but I suppose it is a small provincial town, — assumed the journalist.

— Interesting. And I have always considered it to be a big city. At least, my father used to say so.

Luaren’s father Shlomo Livshits left Pinsk with his daughter Maria and son Franc, Ralph’s future father. In New York Franc got acquainted with Frida Kotlar, Lauren’s mother. “My mum was born in Grodno. I do not know, where it is, but my parents used to say that Pinsk was a big city and Grodno was just as settlement”, — recollects the couturier. Probably, it would become a real revelation for him to see the cities of his grandparents in the cards by Vladimir Likhodedov — those of the period when after the revolutionary shocks and endless wars everyone who dreamed of a quiet life in prosperity emigrated across the ocean. But nevertheless, at that time and now Grodno was bigger than Pinsk. However, it is difficult to disagree with the remark of Nikolay Uskov: “In comparison to New York both Pinsk and Grodno seem to be just villages”. The editor of the “GQ” was the first Russian journalists to meet Ralph Lauren. The designer visited Moscow in May, at the opening of his brand shop. Nikolay Uskov agreed to tell about Belarusian roots and Lauren’s lifestyle in the interview to “Беларусь. Belarus”.

— Lauren’s grandfather left Pinsk in 1920. The city didn’t belong to the Russian empire but to Poland at the time, though Belarusian and Ukrainian people lived around and in Pinsk, as well as Jews. But, apparently, the fashion designer did not know all that before meeting you. How can it be that Mr. Lauren has always been so busy that he has never in his life taken any interest of where is the native land of his ancestors?

— From the psychological point of view I understand it. Immigrants didn’t like to recollect their desperate past. They wanted to give their lives a new start, to become Americans. You shouldn’t sneer at Ralph’s present ignorance — in fact, firstly he is an American, a person who belongs to American culture, who is fond of Sinatra and the stars of the Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. The past of his family has become something essential for him only recently when his American dream came true.

— It seems that both Russia and Belarus are still the same terra incognita for an American, as the jungle of the Amazon?

— And what is so surprising?! Do we really know the life of Arizona or Texas?

— During the interview you have admitted to the fashion designer that your father was from Mogilev. What was Lauren’s reaction? Did he get a desire to visit his native land?

— I cannot tell for Ralph, whether he wants to visit Belarus or not. I believe that a visit to Moscow is already a tough adventure for a person of his years and who is involved in a huge business.

— Is it possible to say that the name of Lauren is widely known all over the world? Let’s say there is certainly a great difference between the West and Russia...

— Ralph Lauren does not simply represent a world famous brand; he is a business legend, a realized American dream. A person from Bronx is in the Forbes list. Well-to-do Russians have been Lauren’s clients for long.

— What is the secret of success of the Americans who came from Eastern Europe? What is essential to become a millionaire? To write down your dream on a paper and to change the last name for a better sounding one, as Lauren did?

— The ancestors of Frieda Kotlar, Lauren’s mother, were from Judaic elites, and were related to the influential Chassidic dynasties. The mother wanted her son to become a rabbi, but the boy was not good at theology. His yeshiva schoolfellows recollected that Ralph was the only boy at school dressed elegantly, not like from a ghetto. Franc Livshits, the father, painted apartments in New-York buildings. The secret of success of provincial people in the big world is very simple. Their desire to achieve recognition and money is much bigger than that of the safe inhabitants of capitals and luxurious suburbs. The strong motivation develops enterprise in a person, forms the aspiration to the victory.

In 1957 Ralph, having changed theological school for a secular college, put down in the class register: “I want to become a millionaire”. Two years later a nineteen-year-old guy changes his last name. Lauren could forget forever all things his parents had come through: irregular earnings, changing tiny New-York apartments and other.

— Lauren is called the founder of the American style. But he himself says that he has never believed that Americans have a taste for clothes. So, what does Lauren offer to his clients?

— The big style which allows a person to appear “everywhere” as if his ancestors have always owned mines, factories and collections of old masters. These are the reminiscences of the Golden Age of “old money”, immortalized in American literature and cinema.

— Lauren mentions that males often perceive clothes as something depriving them of their courage.

— A lot has changed in Russia in respect to fashion and style. Sooner or later the changes will come to Belarus. It is a natural process of transition to individualism. Fashion is a language of images and symbols, which allows people to look unconventionally, to be attractive and to express themselves. People who are afraid of it are simply not free. It does not mean that everyone should be fashionably dressed; it supposes that a person with a developed individual self-consciousness cannot think superficially about his own clothes. I am against the opposition of form and contents; there are no contents without a form. Slovenliness, wretchedness and bad taste can tell a lot about a person.

— Lauren’s arrival to the worldly-wise Moscow — how important is the event?

— Moscow is really worldly-wise. But for those who are called a high society, the arrival of the famous designer is an event.

— In the Middle Ages the ideas of the western civilization used to get to Moscow through Belarusian lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Today much of the western novelties of technical equipment, fashion and literature get to Minsk through Moscow. Even Belarusian pop-singers such as Podolskaya, Alekhno or Koldun, became firstly popular in Russia and then were recognized on their native land. To your mind, can Minsk become an independent cultural center someday?

— You speak about different civilizations. There was a civilization of boundary territories where different cultures cooperated and that cooperation gave life to something new which spread in breadth and deep down. In the Middle Ages it was the Near East, Venice, Sicily, Spain, Eastern Europe, etc. We live in the epoch of megalopolises — large centers cease to be only national capitals. Moscow isn’t Russia, New York isn’t America and London isn’t England. Such words can be heard from Russians, and from Americans, and from Englishmen. These are the centers of the global world, which spread impulses outside. Moscow is the largest city of the post Soviet space speaking the language which is meanwhile understood in all the republics of the former USSR. Generations will pass, Russian will concede to English, and Moscow will argue the status of the cultural and business metropolitan country of the post Soviet space with London, Berlin, and may be with Minsk.

Viktar Korbut
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