Greg Lauren’s fashion pedigree is of course not in question. His uncle is the iconic trailblazer Ralph, while his father Jerry has been at his brother’s side throughout the meteoric rise of Ralph Lauren, and served as its head of men’s design.
But what was not a given was the independent success that Greg has achieved by utilizing this insider knowledge, and turning the classics he grew up with inside out. He has forged his own unique path and his creative journey has seen him don many hats: actor, painter, sculptor, designer. Nothing is set in stone as he continues to evolve and discover who he is, as is the artist’s way. As a fashion designer, Greg identified the necessity to reuse and upcycle early in his career, producing bespoke and individual garments made with the care and quality of a true artisan. Now ten years old, his eponymous label continues to grow, as Greg keeps searching for more sustainable methods of working, and effectual ways to promote equality and diversity within his company and industry.
His passion for art, life and learning, and his responsibility to his family, his team, his customers and our planet all shine through as we welcome him as the latest subject of our ‘Who The F*** Are You?’ profile, answering the 20 questions that get to the heart of who we are.
Who the f*** are you?
Boom. When I saw that question, I thought, “Wow.” It’s one of my least favorite things to answer. I literally hate it even when someone asks for a bio, because while I love my work, I love when what I do speaks for itself. Of course, technically my name is Greg Lauren, and I am the founder and creative director of Greg Lauren. My wife and my mom and my closest friends, a few select people, call me Greggy.
And the truth is I’m an artist. That’s what I really think of myself, as an artist who I spent years finding. There were so many different disciplines and my journey has been an interesting one for me to get to that point. I think of myself as an artist who loves to create. I love to make a mess in the studio. Nothing makes me happier. Whether I’m doing that alone or collaborating with an incredible group, that is what I love to do. I’m Greggy the artist.
How are you feeling right now?
I feel really good. I know that a lot of what your whole mission is about is that there’s a real importance to share and bond on self-care. And I know some of these can be overused words, but I’m actually discovering how important some of them really are. Personally, I’ve discovered the idea of, “What does balance look like for me?” Even though I love working and it’s usually imbalanced in that way. But I now meditate multiple times a day and have found a way that, at this stage in life, in order to feel good we have to create certain non-negotiables for ourselves. Things that, when I don’t do those in the course of a day, without fail, I am less of me than I want to be. And so, between meditation, exercise and spending time together with my family, I’m grateful. There’s something to be said for knowing when to plug in and when to unplug.
And I’m extremely inspired by the work we’re doing at the studio. You go through different phases, and I think it’s essential to look for those things that light you up. I’m fortunate to have a team that humors my passions and my ideas. And when I get us involved in projects that stretch the bandwidth pretty tight, we still make it happen. As a result of that, I would say, in spite of what is happening in the world, which is frightening and concerning, I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic that there’s a sense of hope out there, in spite of what’s going around, and that’s important.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I’m a born and bred New Yorker. And I grew up on 66th and 3rd, which is in the city. I grew up at a time when New York City, with all of its flaws and character, there was something about it. That is what made it this incredible backdrop for movies and stories and literature, and the front and back page of newspapers. It was certainly an exciting time. And I got to witness that as a young child.
I learned to play baseball, which was my favorite sport, with a rubber sponge ball in a playground near me, where it was a modern version of stickball. And there was something that was beautiful about that. I would run home late, with my hands just completely covered in the dirt from the asphalt. And I loved every second of it. I grew up in a classic, white brick apartment building in New York City. And it wasn’t fancy and it wasn’t anything like the idealized images that then became the brand, and the images that you partook in portraying, John. But I also got first-hand exposure to literally the birth and development of what my family – specifically my father and my uncle – were building. And that was exciting. Because I am just old enough to know what that business looked like at the beginning, not what it became. Because I saw some of the early days, the conversations, the visuals, I learned about the things that were inspiring to my family, the heroes that they had, growing up in the Bronx, in the 30s and 40s.
I’m grateful that I grew up in a place like New York City at that time. I’m not sure, as a parent today, that I would ever allow the kind of freedom that we had then. I would walk down the street as an adolescent and just be exposed to every type of person, architecture, sounds, voices, languages. It was incredible. It was really fun and exciting to just be in the middle of the melting pot.
What excites you?
Well, this is going to sound a little idealistic. But I love creativity. I love projects. I love collaborating and creating things. There’s an electricity to it. Projects can come out of a seed of an idea. How my visual mind works, when I see something, I could jot it down on a crumpled napkin, I am that person. It could literally be a drawing that I do quickly with the pen that I borrowed from the server at a restaurant. Even though I go back and forth between an iPad, which has kind of changed my life, I still feel most at home carrying stacks of computer paper, and that napkin.
And so, sometimes my favorite thing is to see that seed of an idea, and then, cut to two months later, that piece has been created by my team and me in our atelier and it looks like that little sketch. I love projects that seem impossible. That feel like, “Can we do this? Can we create a whole capsule collection out of this?” Then, next, not only are we doing it, but it’s happening and it’s taking place and there’s an opening. And when you collaborate with the right people, in whatever capacity, it is really exciting and no different than that exhilaration you get from playing tennis, chess, or acting opposite someone.
What scares you?
My senior year, I thought I was a pretty good baseball player. But I couldn’t get past some of the mental stuff, ‘the yips’. I’ll never forget a game where I struck out four times in a row in one game. And even worse than that, three of them were what are called backwards Ks, which means I struck out looking, as opposed to swinging and missing. The pitch came in and I froze. I didn’t swing.
I still have that dream, and I can’t change it. I never thought of it this way until I’m speaking to you. But it has something to do with undeveloped potential or not coming through. So, that scares me. “Greg! Just swing! Just swing.” So not taking chances, not following your intuition, not going for it, terrifies me. Because I never want to look back at something and say, “Oh! If I had just tried that…”
What is your proudest achievement?
I am one of three. And I was extremely close with my cousins, Andrew, David and Dylan, so we really grew up like six siblings, especially during the younger part of our lives. So my answer to this, really, truthfully, is raising our son with my wife Elizabeth. I could spend hours, days really, chatting about her as a mother. I simply do my best to follow her lead. And that sounds like one of those kind of trite answers. But when we get through each day, and I feel like I’ve been present as a father, even with work, and given him some sense of guidance and been a parent, being a father really is my proudest achievement. Everything else, to me, does pale in comparison.
The one thing that I’m really pleased about now, we had two pieces that are being borrowed by the Costume Institute / Metropolitan Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition ‘In America: A Lexicon of Fashion’, for their upcoming exhibition that opens next week. My mom, very quietly and stoically, became a docent at the Costume Institute. And one of my absolute favorite childhood memories, of a son and a mother, was when I would go and meet her at the Costume Institute before it opened. That was her joy, to take us around the exhibitions before it opened to the public. So now to come full circle, to be part of that show, I’m pretty proud of that achievement. And to be there as Greg. Not someone’s nephew or not the last name.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
My mom passed about 13 years ago. I would say the hardest thing, that I am strangely so glad that I experienced, is that I held her hand as she passed. It was one of those things that I don’t know if anything will ever compare… apart from maybe in an opposite way, being there the way we are now for the birth of a child. That moment of literally holding my mom’s hand as she passed is indelible. It was one of those that, while I say it was the hardest thing, it was somewhat beautiful that I was able to experience that, because so many people don’t get to. But I know in many ways it’s easier to get the phone call. I saw it happening, and that’s something that was pretty hard as a son.
Who was your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
I have pieced together mentors rather than one singular one. My dad, who most people don’t know was literally head of men’s design and by Ralph’s side for all those years, was probably the most influential in training my eye, even though I would then deconstruct that later.
Any night of the week went something like this. After dinner, we’d sit and watch a Yankees game – and the Yankees in the 70s were wild and on top of the league. Then the game would end, we’d turn the channel, and there was a Cary Grant or Gregory Peck movie. The beauty of it is my dad never really changed who he was on the inside. So we might be lying on the couch, and he’d have on a pair of gray flannels, or chalk striped pants that he had worn that day, but they were unbuttoned because it was after dinner. We were having – this is a New York thing – Entenmann’s chocolate-covered donuts. And while enjoying that moment as a father and son, on the couch, eating a donut, we’d be talking about the drape of Cary Grant’s suit, “Oh, look at that Glen plaid.” Or, “Greg, look at that. That’s a peak lapel suit, double breasted. Look how that falls on, look how great it looks.” And I would absorb that.
I had great art teachers in high school as a kid. So I really do owe them. I can name them: Diane Footlick, Bob Lahotan, Aaron Kurzen. These were rudimentary art classes in high school, but it was through those teachers that I absolutely learned the importance of art. If my dad, and being exposed to my uncle, taught me about the importance of details, and the importance of quality and craftsmanship, it was through my art teachers that I truly learned about the foundation and the creative fundamentals before you can go and riff.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
I’m totally a DC man. Batman, Batman, Batman! So my fictional heroes, always Batman, followed by The Six Million Dollar Man or The Bionic Man. These are my guys. I would also have to throw in Rocky. I loved heroes that were… when I say flawed, it was more that they were human. No one gives Batman enough credit for the fact that he is just a man. He’s just a human with no actual superpowers. So the humanity in him, the emotional, the fact that he trained to make himself into that hero, is something I was always obsessed with. The human side of it. It led to the paintings that I did, where I started to question – and this was before all the movies – what happens if Batman doesn’t want to go out or in the middle of the night? I did this painting called ‘Cup of Coffee’ of Batman sitting at a diner, having a cup of coffee, depleted, sad, down. Maybe he’s like, “I just can’t do it tonight.”
Real-life heroes… There’s a separate conversation about the fact that I think we just take for granted the everyday heroes that I see more and more through a child’s eyes: firemen, soldiers and doctors, frontline workers, and with the 9/11 anniversary coming up, first responders. Those are real-life heroes, but in terms of larger-than-life heroes, I have always been obsessed with Muhammad Ali. I love the idea of when someone is heroic or becomes heroic, what makes them heroic? We create the hero. We endow the person with heroic sensibilities, for whatever reason, whether it’s the circumstances, whether it’s the time. So here’s someone who was heroic because we were obsessed with his abilities and his bravado and the larger-than-life persona. There are amazing people today. I believe that LeBron James, as a global athlete, is doing great things. But Muhammad Ali was from a time where it shook things up. So Ali is probably top of my real-life hero list.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
So there’s a pair of pants, a Greg Lauren pair of pants, that I think sums it up. I grew up my entire life, even as a kid, wearing cut-off vintage military pants. Oversized, at every decade, wide leg, there were cinched cargoes. So that was something that, when I started my collection, was a focal point of deconstructing these things we love. And obviously, as many people know, I started with deconstructing vintage military garments and fabrics and duffle bags and tents. But I remember when I’d come across the most incredible, but completely destroyed, M65 jacket, the classic field jacket. I suddenly said to myself, “Wow, this is the most ubiquitous piece of vintage clothing maybe known to my generation of people who love vintage. But I see a pair of pants here. I want to use it.” It was too small. It was vintage. It was destroyed. I forget what year it was, but it was early on, and we turned that jacket into a pair of pants that we called the army jacket lounge pant. I have the first pant, the first version of it, that has become a staple in the collection. It is so destroyed and we keep repairing it and we keep fixing it. I would say there’s not a single thing that I go to more frequently in my current wardrobe than that pant, over and over again.
What music did you love age 13, and do you still love it now?
Well, I risk a little bit of embarrassment here, but I was absolutely a Top 40 person and I love Duran Duran. That doesn’t mean that I was not also a huge Madonna, Prince fan… I mean, Aha, ‘Take on Me’. I loved all of that music. I really didn’t develop a more sophisticated sense of music until later, although I do credit the fact that I went to camp with a lot of people who were from the New Jersey area, and so discovered Bruce Springsteen. A little Duran Duran right now is great. And Prince and Bruce, still very much on my playlists.
What is the most inspiring book that you have ever read?
I’m not the person that’s always reading a book. I like magazines. I like articles. I’m not so much a book person. The most frequently read books right now in my life are what I read to [my son] Sky at night. There is a book that I absolutely love that we read all the time called ‘A Beautiful Oops’. And I think it’s pretty appropriate for adults as well. We refer to it all the time. While it’s a children’s book, it is literally the ethos of everything that I’ve done as an artist and as a designer, because so many of the things in all that we’ve created were mistakes or were accidents.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
The movie that I will watch any time it is on at any moment is ‘Saturday Night Fever’. Not even necessarily because of the dancing and the music, though that’s part of it. But something about this person who had something in him and was so longing to get out of what he came from, and be different from his friends. To make it and to make something of himself, set against the backdrop of that New York that, at the time, was my world. I mean, I wasn’t in Brooklyn or Queens, but there was something about that movie. And then, of course, the year before was ‘Rocky’. There are so many others, but those were two movies that forever made an imprint on my psyche.
What is your favorite word or saying?
My favorite word is create, period. Create.
And then I do have a saying that I share because it was something that somebody once said to me, one of those teachers actually. I think absolutely rule number one for any artist or creative is, “Tell the story that you are uniquely qualified to tell.” I say that over and over again.
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
Wow, this cuts right through it. So I am really focused on The Dash. I don’t even really know the full poem, but I believe it’s written by someone named Linda Ellis. I would rather not think about legacy or what happens when I’m gone, and put it all into while I’m here. That goes back to one of my fears, never wanting to look back with regret about having wasted my time here. I would so much rather pile up experiences than accolades because I think at the end of the day, when you’re gone, you’re gone. And I just try to be somebody who does what I say I’m going to do. And that means as much for myself as to the people around me. So I would love, maybe this is corny, but if I had to leave something behind or an impression behind, it is that I hope that people who encountered me felt a little bit better than before.
And finally… a quickfire five favorites.
So it’s a toss up between F-150 and a Jeep CJ7. But I’m going to say a Jeep Wrangler. Classic, vintage, because my first car was a Jeep Wrangler.
Yankees, a hundred percent. It’s not even close.
I’m not a foodie. My wife is not a foodie. I have a secret addiction to peanut butter. I love peanut butter and honestly, if you give me an amazing peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I am thrilled.
Honestly, whatever. But I do love my Braun beard clipper because over the years, I don’t really love shaving anymore.
Well, am I allowed to say my own? Because I finally got to the point where I felt like somebody who makes their own food. I truly have gotten to the point where, unless it’s something that we don’t make, like performance pants or something like that, I essentially only wear what we make.
Visit Greg Lauren here.