“I was following some horses, and I remembered [Porfirio] Rubirosa—who was a flamboyant guy in the period—and it was a really elegant sport. It was a sport of kings.” – Ralph Lauren, Hamptons Magazine.
So, what exactly does it take to be the inspiration behind one of the world’s most iconic brands? Not much, just five wives, diplomatic immunity, scores of Polo accolades, a penchant for fast cars, and a reputation as “The Last of the Famous International Playboys.” When it comes to playboys (a term that used to hold far more value than the a $4.99 tag on a porno mag) Porfirio Rubirosa is still the benchmark. From when he married the daughter of Colonel Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s brutal dictator, in 1932 to that fateful night in ’65 when he drove his Ferrari head on into a tree trunk to cap off an all night romp in celebration of his Coupe de France polo cup win, Rubirosa was the ultimate mid-century socialite. On one hand he was well-spoken, impeccably dressed, and worldly, and on the other he was also a womanizer, a constant partier, and for lack of a better term – a gold digger, having never worked a true day in his life. Yet to his wives and countless partners, (which included the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Doris Duke, Barbara Hutton, and Ava Gardner just to name a few) he was the ultimate companion – a man who looked like he was born in a suit, and could captivate an entire room.
Born to a middle-class family in 1903, at age eleven Rubirosa traveled to France with his father, a counselor to the DR embassy in Paris. Three years later, he was effectively adopted by a wealthy Chilean family who first introduced Rubirosa to the high society meets high culture world that he would dominate in the decades to come. Upon returning to the DR a few years later, Rubirosa was spotted by Colonel Trujillo during a polo match, and the dictator became so enamored with the young man that he soon named Rubirosa on the country’s top diplomats. Rubirosa schedule quickly filled up with visits to embassies the world over, but it was clear that the young playboy was far more interested in world-class women, lavish parties, polo matches and big engines. Whether he was gallivanting across the polo field in white denim and a white collared rugby, racing his Ferrari around the track in a belted jumpsuit, or escorting some young starlet to a black tie ball, Rubirosa truly lived the life that movies like Alfie and La Dolce Vita would have you believe all men were living back then. And that right there was enough to help inspire a young Ralph Lauren to name his brand after a sport that he had never even played. Here’s to you Porfirio, the playboy behind “Polo.”