Hail the hometown hero! Bronx-born Ralph Lauren celebrated 40 years in the fashion business last night with a star-studded runway show and dinner for 500 held in the Central Park Conservatory Garden.

Born Ralph Lifshitz on Oct. 14, 1939, Lauren developed an eye for style early in life - he used money earned from after-school jobs to purchase expensive suits.

But there is no typical stint at fashion college on his résumé. Instead, Lauren studied business at City College but dropped out before receiving a degree. His first gig touting style was as a glove salesman.

Next up was a job at tie manufacturer A. Rivetz & Co. It was at Rivetz were Lauren began designing wide ties, a stark contrast to the super-skinny versions then in mode. The ties would become the genesis of his entrepreneurial career.

With help from his older brother and a loan for $50,000, the man whose name would become the epitome of All-American style, launched his first business enterprise in 1968 - Polo Fashions.

Polo - still the go-to label for a preppie-classic take on modern style - grew to become an international business success, in part due to Lauren's canny knack for creating an aura of wealth and success around his products. As important as the actual designs are the packaging and advertising campaigns.

Buying Ralph Lauren is buying into the lifestyle - be it real or imagined - the brand represents. Old-money preppiness, tweedy English aristocracy, polo-playing playboys, rough-and-ready cowboys - there's something for everyone.

Lauren's empire (he is the founder, designer and chairman of the $900 million company and his net worth is estimated by Forbes.com to be $2.3 billion) reaches across men's wear, women's wear, jeans, fragrances, accessories and homewares. You can even cover your walls in Ralph Lauren paint.

Having envisaged the lifestyle, Lauren now lives it. He's rich, has a photogenic family and the jet-set life.

Classic American sportswear: Easy living in the most luxurious fabrics - stretch cashmere, silks and cottons. Stealth-wealth wardrobe mainstays for life in the 21st century.

Perfectly preppie: From pastels to primary hues, be it on land, sea or by air, Lauren creates clothes made for those who live (or aspire to live) an elegant life.

A uniquely sporty long sleeve rugby by Ralph Lauren. Cut from fine jersey, this piece is both softer and more rugged than the average polo shirt.