Ralph Lauren steps down, hands reins to Stefan Larsson

Ralph Lauren, the quintessential American designer who built a fashion empire based on sweeping fantasies of country-club prep and the Wild West, is stepping down from his post as chief executive of the company.

Ralph Lauren  
Ralph Lauren  

Taking the helm at Ralph Lauren will be Stefan Larsson, a former H&M executive and president of Old Navy, Gap's down-market brand, which Larsson is credited with reviving. Old Navy has consistently been one of the few bright spots in Gap's brand portfolio since Larsson, who is Swedish, took over in 2012, making him one of the most visible executives in retail.

The change is a move by Ralph Lauren to get its financial house in order. Earnings at the upscale-apparel company, known for its Polo brand, have been pressured by a strong dollar and intense competition in the luxury space. Its latest quarterly earnings of $1.09 a share topped analyst estimates, but revenue dipped 5.3 per cent on a year-over-year basis. The company's share price has slumped by almost half this year.

In an interview, Lauren said that he intended to remain active at the company he founded, taking up new roles as executive chairman and chief creative officer. Larsson will report to Lauren, though the 75-year-old American designer characterized their relationship as a ''partnership.''

''When they start designing things I can't understand, I'll quit,'' Lauren said, sitting with Larsson at his side at his offices on Madison Avenue, adorned with the rustic paraphernalia - a tin toy robot, cowboy boots - that Ralph Lauren's stores have come to be known for.

''But I don't feel like I'm stepping back now,'' Lauren said.

Still, Larsson's appointment is the start of a succession at one of America's best-known fashion houses, which, together with the likes of Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, helped put American style on the map.

And it is the coming end of a golden era of American postwar designers: Karan stepped down from the helm of the house that bears her name earlier this year; Klein stepped away from his namesake company in 2002.

Larsson will take over as chief executive of the Ralph Lauren Corp. in November, and he will also join the company's board.

''One of the biggest reasons for me to join is the opportunity to work side by side with someone like Ralph,'' Larsson said.