Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lauren Squared

Lauren Bush and David Lauren. Photo: Bruce Weber.
When Ralph Lifshitz and his brother Terry changed their last name to "Lauren" in the 1950s, they could never have dreamed of Ralph's future success as the premier American style-setter of the late 20th century. Even if they did imagine he'd be a smashing success in the fashion business, they could never have foreseen that their chosen surname would rocket from obscurity to one of the most popular names for baby girls. According to Ralph, he just decided to pick "a nice last name."

The baby name's ascension trailed Ralph's own success by just a few years. He launched his classic men's and women's clothing lines in the early '70s. By 1978, "Lauren" ranked as #80 in girl's names; it had arrived out of nowhere. By 1985, it was in the Top 20, where it remained until 2004.

When "Lauren" hit the Top 20, it was right around the time Ralph opened his flagship store in the Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue. In 1983, he'd begun extensively restoring the chateau to its former Beaux-Arts grandeur. When it finally opened, it raised the bar for the Manhattan fantasy retail experience — dizzyingly high, where it still remains.

We can speculate about whether Ralph similarly bestowed his magic on the unusual name "Madison," which leapfrogged from #628 to #366 between 1985 and 1986, and grew steadily more popular through the years. It has been firmly in the Top 10 since 1997. I doubt that a few hundred thousand parents are expressing their esteem for our fourth president or a city in Wisconsin. So let's credit Ralph (or blame him, depending on how much you like the name) for making this unlikely moniker fashionable. And while we're on this tangent — what if Ralph's flagship mansion had been located on Lexington Avenue instead? Would we now have thousands of 20-something Lexies filling the dressing rooms and hair salons of upscale America, alongside all those skinny-jeaned Emmas, Hannahs, and Laurens?

But I digress; I always do. Let's get back to Lauren.

In 1989, more than 21,000 Laurens were born; it was the peak year for the name, ranking as #9. And even last year, a decade of over-saturation didn't stop more than 4,400 mothers from naming their daughters "Lauren."

And why not? It's a simple, two-syllable name that complements many surnames. It conjures Lauren Bacall — a stunning, classy leading lady — at least as much as it suggests ruggedly handsome old Ralph himself. "Lauren" is aristocratic without being blatantly regal. In other words, it's not Victoria, a name that's stayed firmly in the Top 50 since 1987. You might say it's upper-crusty but modern. You might say it's the kind of name Calvin Klein or Marc Jacobs would choose for a baby girl.

Lauren is easy to pronounce, although many people mispronounce it as "la-WREN," as if that nice Jewish boy from The Bronx had pretensions of being French instead of quintessentially WASP. For the record, the French pronounce it Loh-RHON, making a throaty mess of the "R." Ralph's jaw-droppingly gorgeous flagship store in Paris is on the Blvd. St. Germain, but I haven't noticed a popularity resurgence of the name Germain — or Lauren — over there. (But I'm too busy eating pastry to pay much attention.)

Mispronouncing "Lauren" is still an easy litmus test for separating the cognoscenti from the wannabes. The same people who mispronounce it are likely to refer to Leonardo as "Da Vinci" and order cappuccino after dinner. (I'm not judging, I'm just sayin'... and I never forget that I'm a steelworker's daughter.)

One of the wonderful things about getting older is seeing how what goes around really does come around. It's only justice that Ralph Lauren's handsome, successful son David would fall in love with a thoughtful, accomplished, and altruistic designer/model named Lauren Bush.

Now, Lauren differs from your typical Bush granddaughter, not having sown such wild oats. She always seemed serious, even as a fashion model. She has a degree from Princeton and studied at CSM in London. David went to Duke, works for dad, and heads the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation. It's a fairy-tale match that I'm willing to bet will have staying power. They seem like the perfect, beautiful couple, except for one awkward detail: Ralph's daughter-in-law is Lauren Lauren. She was born in 1984, a banner year for baby Laurens.

Can you have too much of a good thing? I'm not sure in this case, but I do believe that, if anyone has the grace and style to carry it off, she does. The photo above is one of the couple's engagement photos. Here are two more photos from what has to be the prettiest little non-royal wedding of the century, held at the Lauren family's Double RL ranch in Colorado.

I love the fact that she accessorized her hand-embroidered and beaded tulle Ralph Lauren gown with blue socks and cowboy boots.
Formal wedding portrait. Photo: Norman Jean Roy.

Lauren on her way to her wedding. Photo: Mark Seliger

1 comment:

  1. Loved these pictures!
    It was so nice to meet you yesterday. I've been a fan of your blog and writing style and felt a bit star struck talking to you! I don't know how I knew, just had a feeling and I'm glad I said something. Hope to see you around the neighborhood!


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