All-American Perspective

  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    In October, the American Folk Art Museum honored Jerry Lauren for his rare and eclectic collection. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    In October, the American Folk Art Museum honored Jerry Lauren for his rare and eclectic collection. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    Lauren’s apartment is filled wall to wall with period treasures. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    His first masterpiece acquisition was a 19th-century weather vane. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    This circa-1890 model of a locomotive engine once topped a Massachusetts railroad building. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    A 1785 wooden rooster is the oldest weather vane in Lauren’s collection. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    Lauren set an auction record in 2006 when he bid $5.8 million for a weather vane depicting a Native American archer. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    Civil War–era stoneware jugs. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
    Lauren enjoys the energy conveyed in this sculpture of a polo player on horseback. Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
<< Back to Robb Report, December 2015
  • Sheila Gibson Stoodley

From 18th-century weather vanes to contemporary canvases, a fashion mogul has assembled a collection that spans the nation’s history.

Jerry Lauren’s Manhattan apartment reflects his life as a whole: It looks effortlessly perfect, but it is the result of decades of toil and thought. First your eye is drawn to the living room, where an exquisite trio of 19th-century duck decoys—a Gus Wilson eider, a Canada goose by an unknown carver, and a Lothrop Holmes merganser—command your attention. Soon, however, the airy space reveals a host of other treasures—19th-century weather vanes, wooden folk carvings, works by outsider artists—that compose one of the world’s finest assemblages of rare American art and collectibles.

Lauren, an executive of the Ralph Lauren Corp. and an older brother of its founder, is eager to show off his collection, a thoughtful, ever-evolving mix of big and small, antique and modern. He has created a place where Buddy L toy trucks coexist with Civil War–era stoneware jugs, where a limited-edition hand weight by Man Ray and a late-18th-century tankard by Myer Myers share the same tabletop, and where a Jean-Michel Basquiat hangs above a work on paper by Bill Traylor, each drawing energy from the other. “The things in my apartment, they go together,” Lauren says. “No matter what age they are, they work.” Just do not call the collection Americana. “I like to call it American art, or American folk art,” he says. 

Lauren’s vision is receiving its due: He was one of the headline honorees at the American Folk Art Museum’s October benefit gala in Manhattan. Nancy Druckman, the former senior vice president and head of the department of American folk art at Sotheby’s New York, introduced him at the event. She was also standing at the podium in 2006 when Lauren made a record-breaking $5.8 million bid for a J. L. Mott weather vane. “He is a perfectionist­—an über-perfectionist—and he comes from a family where this is a well-established capability,” she says. “He’s connected the dots between seemingly disparate categories of objects, the continuity being the quality of the things and the recognition that all of this material is part of a continuum of American art. He goes from waterfowl decoys to Bill Traylor to Basquiat. I think what’s very interesting about Jerry and probably fairly unique is his ability to see these relationships and then go for it.”

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