immigrants from Belarus. His father was an artist, “but he struggled and painted houses sometimes because he couldn’t make a living. Life was a little tough.” He changed his name at 16. After working at Brooks Brothers he started designing ties and next year it will be 50 years since he started selling ties under the Polo label. He followed up with a full menswear line and expanded into womenswear and eventually homeware, watches, fragrances and a range of clothing labels to suit different pockets. He once said he wasn’t designing clothes, he was “creating a world”. Although his polo-player logo is known all over the globe, he has only ever played “cowboy polo, out west, where they use brooms. I like sports and I couldn’t call it baseball or basketball and I thought: ‘Polo.’ Although Americans didn’t know what polo was really, people who go to polo matches are stylish people. So I thought the name was really good and then I added my name.” He started with clothes for men and he still finds them easier to design. “Menswear is more subtle than womenswear. Men don’t want to be fashion freaks. They want to look good but they don’t live for fashion. Women are much more fickle. They don’t care what brand it is, they want it. Women are more adventuresome; they are more experimental with dresses and skirts and shapes.” What he regards as timeless English style has always been a key influence. “I have always loved England because of the
JULY / AUGUST 2016
‘non-fashion fashion’. English style was one of my inspirations because it was not about fashion. You wear a sweater when gardening and put a patch on it and it looks great.” He is encouraged by the sense of style he sees in London these days, after a period when he worried about us. “When I first came to London I loved English clothes and I was shocked when I saw one time a lot of flashy clothes that didn’t look like England. England was trying to look like something else. Now England looks like England.” One of the things this boy from the Bronx is particularly proud of is that for several years he has been designing the outfits for officials at Wimbledon. “Wimbledon is beautiful, it is traditional. I am a traditionalist. It’s not that I am backwards, it’s just that I love heritage, I love longevity. That’s been my philosophy, but you constantly update so that you look contemporary. You have to move with the times and update but understand that the past also has a wonderful sensibility.” He has a museum-quality collection of classic cars and waxes mechanical about British marques, including Jaguar, Aston Martin and an old Morgan he once owned. What about RollsRoyce? “No, too flashy.” Then he adds quickly: “I love seeing the Queen in one.” While he talks about heritage he doesn’t seem to dwell on his own. Of his parents he says: “They came from parts of Russia. I opened a few shops in Russia but I couldn’t connect exactly where they were from.” I had read that they were from Belarus.
Images courtesy of Getty Images
Published on Jul 1, 2016
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