His ranch is amazing, his clothes are iconic — and two of his children just got married. But while the focus was on Ralph Lauren’s storied career at New York’s Lincoln Center Monday night, it was also on a cause: cancer. The designer recently opened the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention — a partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center — in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, and stars turned out to toast his big accomplishment Monday.
“I do my job and I do what I do, but I think there are many things you can do in life to help,” Lauren told PEOPLE on the red carpet before the event. “We’re human beings, and we’re living the life.”
During an on-stage interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lauren explained why he started his cancer care center. “[It was] because of a woman by the name of Nina Hyde, who was a fashion editor in Washington (at the Washington Post), and I wanted to help her,” he shared. “I couldn’t help her in the end,” — Hyde died in 1990 at the age of 57 — “but I got connected to it, and I saw all the people that had the disease, and how it affects your life.”
Lauren was supported Monday night by his newly married daughter Dylan, as well as son David and his new wife, Lauren Bush Lauren. “I’m very proud,” David told PEOPLE. “This is a cancer center in Harlem, which really deals with the underserved community. There is an incredible disparity between healthcare up in Harlem, and 10, 20 blocks away. The cancer rates skyrocket — the situation is pretty dire. The Ralph Lauren cancer center is much needed.”
The evening took a lighter turn when Winfrey, handpicked by the designer to conduct the interview, quizzed Lauren about his lengthy career in fashion. As the designer spoke about holding on to treasured items — “I have all my old clothes,” he revealed — he also said he loves what he does, and considers himself an ambassador of American fashion.
“It’s not the American image,” he told Winfrey when she asked him about constructing a decidedly stateside look. “It’s an international image. Today when people are in Paris or Russia I’m not sure everyone knows where you’re from, but I feel like I’m a representative of America.” Not that your country of origin should matter when you get dressed. As the designer quipped, “Good taste is international.”
–Kate Hogan, with reporting by Jeffrey Slonim