Have you ever noticed that the classic “mid-life” crisis always seems to happen to men who are going to live to a hundred? I bring it up for a couple of reasons, but mostly because next week I turn 34, I’m wearing my thinning shoulder-length hair in a pony tail, I rented a drum machine and am making music that might be generously described as experimental hip hop, and this year I bought another leather jacket I’m not a hundred per cent comfortable wearing. On top of this, I’m drinking and smoking more than I ever have in my life. So 68 seems as good a guess as any for my impending death, which would put me square in the middle of life, and as you can easily deduce from the drum machine and the leather jacket and the smoking and the drinking, square in the middle of some sort of crisis too.
Don’t worry, Ralph, this isn’t some cry for help. It is probably nothing more than the summing up and taking stock that birthdays always tend to inspire. What didn’t give me pause was that at 33 I was about to start reading Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren, a book that has the word “dishy” on its back cover four times. In all fairness, I had just finished Postwar by Tony Judt, an 800-plus-page epic history of Europe since the end of the Second World War. I had earned something a little light and, I hate to say it, dishy. So you’ll forgive me for reading this book, which really must have wounded you.
The book’s tone – vague traces of admiration for your achievements mixed with an almost gleeful desire to diminish you – can probably be traced back to the fact that you had agreed to co-operate with the author and then changed your mind. As he lays it out in the preface, your insistence that he not mention an affair you had with a Polo model and his insistence that he had to (journalistic integrity and what-not), were the cause of the friction that led you to back out. The rest of the book reads a little bit like score settling.
What I found odd (odder even than the fact that I was reading a dishy biography of Ralph Lauren) was that so many of the anecdotes from Poloroids included to ridicule you, actually made me like you even more. Stories about you gazing distractedly in mirrors and saying “aren’t I pretty?” put a huge smile on my face. Anecdotes about your disdain for the plebs who buy your shirts at Macy’s made me laugh out loud.
Which brings me to mid-life crisis and the amateur psychologizing that accounts for your alleged infidelity. After it was all over (I skimmed through this section of the book – I would have preferred more gossip about when you worked at Brooks Brothers) you went back to your wife and went on a self-improvement binge. Physical fitness and buying back your womenswear licenses seem like a much more Ralph way to go about a mid-life crisis than just sleeping with some model. As for me, I’ll probably fantasize about dressing like a 16-year-old prep schooler, fret about what to wear when gardening and have a gin and tonic. After all, summer is here.