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Designer Ralph Auriemma: “I would use my platform to end hatred and bigotry in our world. I admire people who use their platform to try to eradicate racism”

As John Lennon sang, I would like to be able to inspire people around the world to Give Peace a Chance. There are people who have a platform that are using it in negative ways, I would use my platform to end hatred and bigotry in our world. I admire people who use their platform […]

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As John Lennon sang, I would like to be able to inspire people around the world to Give Peace a Chance. There are people who have a platform that are using it in negative ways, I would use my platform to end hatred and bigotry in our world. I admire people who use their platform to try to eradicate racism.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ralph Auriemma, the Creative Director at Paul Stuart. Ralph has been working in the menswear fashion industry for over 30 years. A native New Yorker, he takes his inspiration from movies, art, and architecture for his designs. Ralph is the man responsible for Paul Stuart’s, and the sub-brand Phineas Cole’s, meticulous approach to men’s fashion and knows a thing or two about the industry — he’s a veteran of the menswear scene knows a thing or two about fabric, cut, and silhouette.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In the 1970s, I was working summer jobs doing manual labor. I lived in a rough neighborhood in East New York and didn’t have a clear direction for what I wanted to do with my life. For my high school graduation photo, my Aunt took me to a local menswear store in Brooklyn. The owners of the store happened to be looking for a part-time stock boy and after noticing my interest in clothing, offered me a job working in their store during the summer and after school. This was a lot easier than the manual labor work I had been doing and thankfully, started me on this career path and changed my life.

They had old movie stills in the store of famous actors from the 1930s. I took one of them with me to the local barber and had him cut my long hippie style hair. I also saved my money and bought a double-breasted suit, shirt and tie to match to wear at work. When I graduated from high school, they hired me full time and began mentoring me in the men’s fashion business. Even though I lived in Brooklyn, I had never been to Manhattan. They took me to New York for the first time, brought me to the garment center; to the showrooms that they bought clothing from and inspired me on this elegant and glamorous career path. I was fascinated by the styles of the art deco era; the architecture, the clothing, and the textiles and this inspired my passion for menswear and took me away from the rough neighborhood I had been growing up in.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

A fabric supplier recommended me to Ralph Lauren for a job they were looking to fill. When I met him in person for the interview, he said, “You have 15 minutes to convince me to hire you.” We ended up talking for 3 hours. I was in sartorial heaven — I was with my hero. It turned out that we are both New York sons who have a lot in common. We both love old movies, menswear, hamburgers, and the New York Yankees.

We ended our long conversation with a job offer for me. I promptly quit the position I had and started with him the following Monday. I stayed there for 9 years learning from the master. I then met the owner of Paul Stuart who offered me my own collection, Phineas Cole. I’ve been the creative director now for both Phineas Cole and Paul Stuart collections for more than 12 years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you have made?

It was a hard life lesson then but it’s funny now. I was introduced to a men’s shirt manufacturer who was looking for a trainee in his showroom who could design and sell ties for him. Knowing nothing about ties but very ambitious, I said I would do it. He arranged for me to fly to Milan and spend a week going to different silk mills in the Como region. I thought it would be so easy and that all I would have to do is pick out the patterns I liked. After my first appointment, I realized I was way in over my head and was completely lost. After visiting more than a dozen showrooms, learning a little at each appointment I finally had a meeting at a mill that had the type of archive that I was looking for. The owner had vintage books of designs from the 1920s that appealed to my aesthetic style. I picked 50 designs there that were sent to the New York office. When the box arrived, the owner hated them. I was devastated but I said let’s let the customers decide and thankfully, to my relief, they loved them.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

It’s the heritage and tradition of the company that separates us from other men’s clothing brands. Paul Stuart was started in 1938 and has been a fixture in the American menswear category for 80 years. This philosophy makes us stand out and provides a singular point of view. It’s my great privilege to be the creative director for the company — to honor the DNA of the past and modernize it for the future. Paul Stuart is one of the last remaining men’s haberdasheries in the country with more than 20 tailors on-site at its original location at 45th and Madison Avenue. The future is in the people, not the clothing — it’s their energy that makes it special.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

You must keep pushing the envelope forward and believe in what you are doing. It’s hard to take negativity in a positive way but if you are going to persevere in this industry you have to stay true to yourself and not let others negative comments derail your journey. Stay true to yourself and believe in what you are doing.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I strive to speak out against hatred and bigotry whenever and wherever I have a captive audience. I wish I had a wider platform to reach more people.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

The lyrics of the famous song by John LennonGive Peace a Chance” are relevant to me in all areas of my life. Visually, romantically, politically

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

There is a lot of youth in the fashion industry that inspires me. It’s the people, the young guys in the industry that follow the heritage and sophistication of Paul Stuart and are inspired by Savile Row and custom clothing. It’s the next generation of well-dressed young guys that understand the history of fashion that inspires me.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry. Please share a story or example for each.

If I knew what they were I would have succeeded already but I have a long list:

-Perseverance

– Integrity

– Inspiration

– Ambition

– Goal-oriented

– Drive

– Motivation

In a nutshell, stick to your beliefs. Having ambition is what makes a person a success in this industry.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As John Lennon sang, I would like to be able to inspire people around the world to Give Peace a Chance. There are people who have a platform that are using it in negative ways, I would use my platform to end hatred and bigotry in our world. I admire people who use their platform to try to eradicate racism.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@paulstuartny

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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