Ricky Lauren Reflects on New Book, the Hamptons, Her Family
by jill rappaport
My relationship with Ralph Lauren, the brand, began when I was just 13 years old. I had saved up for months to buy my first Ralph Lauren tennis sweater; I adored the distinguished RL crest emblazoned on the left side. That sweater became my most treasured possession and from then on, I was hooked. You can imagine how I, as a brand fanatic, felt when I got my first on-air job in the early ’80s at KRON-TV in San Francisco and secured my first exclusive interview with none other than Ralph Lauren himself.
Over the years I have gotten to know more about the Lauren family, with beautiful Ricky at the helm. What I have always admired about her (besides, obviously, her wardrobe) is what a kind, gentle person she is. She lives by the mantra: family first.
Her fourth book, Ricky Lauren The Hamptons: Food, Family, and History, embraces the great love she has for her family, the memories, scrumptious recipes, and incredible experiences, all centered around the Hamptons. Gracing the pages of the book are Ricky’s own beautiful sketches and watercolors—who knew this soft-spoken dynamo was such a talented artist as well?
Now, I feel as though I have come full circle with Ricky’s exceptional family. The only thing missing is my cherished RL sweater which, years later, I traded to a girlfriend for a pair of vintage Ralph Lauren riding boots that I am proud to say I still wear today. They are natural, elegant, and timeless—one of a kind—just like Ricky Lauren....
JILL RAPPAPORT: You’ve published four books; this one is not only a love letter to the Hamptons, but it’s also a beautiful collection of cherished memories for your family. What inspired you to do this type of book now?
RICKY LAUREN: I think about my children, and what would make them happy, what they can take with them into the future, and the traditions that we shared—sitting around the table having meals together, telling stories. It was something that I didn’t want to forget. I don’t think they do either; they’re very sensitive about those things. The book is a gift from me to them.
JR: Looking through the book and reading these recipes, they’re not only delicious, but also quite healthy. The table, the meal, that was always such an important part of your lives—tell me about that.
RL: We would meet for every meal and just enjoy being together at the table. I’ve collected recipes over the years, since Ralph and I were married. I cared a lot about being healthy and what everybody was eating, so the recipes that we loved so much, I altered to make them healthier. I also cut down on a lot of ingredients because I don’t like complicated recipes. Now with the availability of fresh food and organic things, it’s goody-fantastic, especially in the Hamptons where you’re right by the sea and the farm stands—we’re very fortunate in that area.
JR: I can’t cook to save my life but after reading some of these yummy recipes I might even attempt Nana’s Rum-Laced Brownies.
RL: Ralph’s favorite—they are amazing. He wanted to put a shop in the store for her, but she was so modest she just said, “No, no, no. They’re just for you.”
JR: Just as important as the ingredients in your recipes, so much of the importance of this book is the presentation.
RL: I love to explore the different elements that I can put together. I have different themes in my mind—it just makes it more of a challenge for me, and then, in turn, it influences the people who are dining with us. They get inspired and excited, and then they like the meal more because they know much care and effort has gone into it. If you have shells from the beach, pretty looking stones, a small handful of flowers, raffia, which you just take dry grass and wrap it around a napkin, you can make that napkin look different even if it’s a simple little white piece of fabric.
JR: You said in the book, you just enjoy color so much. The more color in the food, the more beautiful the plate.
RL: When it comes to food it’s not only about color, it’s about texture. You want to do a very elegant treatment of very simple things.
JR: This book is truly a feast for your eyes and mouth, but more importantly, the beautiful photographs and the original watercolors and drawings from you. Who knew you were such a talented artist?
RL: Thank you! It was a surprise to me, too. Years ago I did some paintings, and I had a teacher who would give me lessons. Then she said, “Okay, you’re on your own. Now you can do whatever—just try.” And I didn’t try at all. Time went by, and suddenly here I am doing this book because I said I really want to try again. I had so much fun, and I’m really going to pursue it a little bit more now.
JR: Could we maybe see a gallery of Ricky Lauren watercolors one day?
RL: I wish, but who knows. My heart was really in it. When I was painting my children, it meant so much to me to get it right. I was remembering the days when they were young and how sweet they were, and it came through me into the painting, I think.
JR: Tell me about the importance that the Hamptons has played in your family’s lives and your own over the past 40 years?
RL: From the very beginning, when my oldest son was a baby, we said “It’s hot in the city; where can we can go?” And in those days people would say, “You’re a young couple; why don’t you see what life is like in the Hamptons?” We did, and we thought it was just beautiful. We would go back and forth, spending the weekends at the beach, and during the week we would go back into the city. Then the other children were born, and we moved from Southampton to Amagansett.
JR: Your family has always been the number one priority for you and Ralph. Why is that?
RL: It’s what we learned from our own parents. They were there for us. They always came home for meals. They always cared about us. My parents were pushing me to be the best that I could be, without any pain or pressure; it was more about love. That was instilled in us, so we, in turn, did that with our children. I’m hoping our children will have gotten something from their upbringing and will do the same when someday hopefully they have families.
JR: Clearly, your three children—Andrew, David, and Dylan—have inherited those wonderful qualities. They are all very successful, compassionate, kind human beings; you’ve definitely passed on the qualities without taking the dynasty for granted, so to speak.
RL: They were never spoiled. The primary thing we both taught our children was about spending time together and enjoying the moments. It wasn’t about materialism at all.
JR: At 47 years of marriage, what is your secret? That’s quite an accomplishment and something really to be admired.
RL: It’s being friends, caring about similar things, caring about each other and the things we’ve created together, like the children, and just spending time together as a family. The times we’ve shared are very important to us. We talk about them, or we just keep on going from the foundation that was strong in the beginning. I think that’s important.
JR: You have always been considered to be the low-key, elegant, soft-spoken woman who, in reality, is the true driving force behind the king of American design. Tell me about your impact and the key role you’ve played with Ralph and the dynasty he has created for American design.
RL: It’s difficult for me to speak for him; it’s a good question to pose to him: “What does your wife mean to you? Is she your muse?” I think I’ve heard that before. I’m not that involved in the business. I’m the matriarch—more the person who, in the end, says no.
JR: But, if you had to step out of your modesty box a little bit, how do you feel you’ve inspired him?
RL: I think by being very honest, telling him exactly what I think when I see something. I never see the shows before everybody else. He’s always working to surprise me, and to surprise everyone, and to create something the world is going to love and enjoy and treasure and hopefully keep for many, many years. Each time I come to the show, it’s something new for me, and I never know what to expect. He’ll look to me and say, “What do you think?” And I’ll tell him exactly what I think—good or bad, but, for the most part, it’s always good.
Photography by Carter Berg Hair by Julien Farel Makeup by Virginia Young at Streeters; Ricky Lauren (Ralph & kids); françois halard/ralph lauren corporation (surf setting); sylvie becquet (table setting); susan wood (lauren family); Courtesy of Ann Stratton (clams); Sylvie Becquet (Outdoors); Barbra Walz (family photo)