Author and photographer Ricky Lauren sits down with her youngest son, David Lauren, to share favorite memories from nearly 40 years of summers on Long Island’s East End
David Lauren: Hi, Mom. Thanks for sitting down with me. So as you might have guessed, my first question is…who’s your favorite son?
Ricky Lauren: Ha! Dylan!
OK, who’s your favorite middle child?
[Laughs.] Even better. OK. You get that one.
Thanks! So I’m looking through this book, and it has captured such an amazing piece of our lives. It features your sketches and photos and recipes, and while I feel like I’ve watched you keep notes and take pictures since I was born, how long did it really take you to make this book?
Well, you’re right—it took many years, because when Daddy and I first got married…
[Laughs.] Don’t say Daddy, Mom.
[Laughs.] Of course. Well, from the very beginning, when Ralph and I first got married, I started collecting recipes. Over the years, as I learned more about health and nutrition, I worked on them and refined them, and those became the new recipes. So over the years, things were changing. And often, when I felt that I had something that we loved, I would take a picture of the dish, and I would place those photos next to the recipes in scrapbooks, and those became my first “cookbooks.” I found that a picture really helps to tell you everything.
The Lauren family, from left: David, age 3; Ralph; Andrew, age 6; Ricky and Dylan, age 1½, in East Hampton, summer 1975
Speaking of pictures, you’ve done such an incredible job documenting our lives and keeping track of everything we’ve done since we were children. Why was and why is this so important to you?
I believe it’s important to have a heritage and traditions to uphold. I think it’s very important to know where you came from and to be able to visit that from time to time and have the nostalgia of those moments embrace you. That’s why I have saved so many of the children’s toys in a special closet. The toys help us to identify the different stages that the children went through. You are able to revisit them yourselves, and the further hope is that future generations will be able to explore them and get to know a little bit about what life was like for you as you were growing up. I feel it’s also important as a parent to share your own past with your children. So over the years, I’ve tried to tell my story to you, as well. I think children should feel as though they know their parents as well as their ancestors. This is why I took each of you to Vienna, the place where my parents came from.
“I believe it’s important to have a heritage and traditions to uphold. I think it’s very important to know where you came from and to be able to visit that from time to time and have the nostalgia of those moments embrace you.”
When people ask me what my most valuable possession is, I’ll often tell them it is my photo album, and that’s something that came from you. When did you start to keep such organized photo albums? When did that become so important?
From the very beginning of my life, because my parents had two albums with only a few photographs in them when they came to New York City from Vienna. They fled from Europe during the Nazi occupation of Vienna and went to China [first]. These photographs were their most prized possessions. Over the years, they accumulated pictures of themselves and of me as a little girl. They treasured the life that they had, and they felt so lucky to be alive. So they kept the albums that I loved to look at and hear the stories behind the photos. That inspired me to do the same. I always wanted my children to have the same experience.
Ricky Lauren in Montauk, summer 1985
I noticed there’s a lot of your artwork in the book—watercolors in particular—and I watched you create so much of this. What made you start using watercolors, and why is that such an important part of your life?
I love watercolors. The colors to me are clear and bright against the pure white paper, like stained glass or candy!
Maybe the color is where Dylan [Lauren, CEO of Dylan’s Candy Bar] got her inspiration to make a candy store.
I think maybe she did! To me, color is very important. I believe a plate of food should be a beautiful, colorful presentation. Food is important not just for [its] taste and smell, but also for the way it looks, and color is very important in that experience.
I always felt very lucky as your son to be able to come to these amazing meals, where the tables were so beautifully decorated. You’ve always made eating together such an important part of our lives. Was that the same for you as a child, or was that something that started when we were born?
That was the same for me as a child, as well. Sitting around the table was a very important tradition and experience for my family. It is a precious bonding time.
A lot of people will say to me, “Your parents are in the fashion industry, and they must have been traveling all the time, and so you probably weren’t very close.” And I always say, “No, no, no…that’s not true.” I will tell them, “We always ate all of our meals together.” To me, that was one of the reasons we were so close.
I absolutely agree. Very often, when we were traveling, we were able to take our children with us. We were very lucky in that respect.
Mrs. Lauren with Rugby, the family dog, in Montauk, 1990
Can you talk about why the Hamptons are so significant to us as a family and why you decided to move there?
We live in New York City for the most part. The Hamptons, being [approximately] 90 miles away, are quite close and offer a very different lifestyle. There is a laid-back, easy social lifestyle. You can be as private as you choose. There are different parts of the Hamptons: Some are a bit more serious and established, and others are more casual and simple and unique unto themselves. Southampton is a bit more formal, and you have Amagansett, which is about a barefoot walk to the beach. Then you have East Hampton, which is a bit more groomed but very family oriented. And you have Montauk, which is the most remote: a fisherman’s enclave, a surfer’s haven, an artist’s retreat. The beaches of the Hamptons, with their pristine white sand, the ocean crashing on the shore, the seagulls screeching up above, the sea breezes blowing across the beach grasses, present nature at its most inspiring. People have visited the Hamptons and come away invigorated and revitalized. Some creative people have considered the Hamptons their muse.
And where do you get your inspiration?
Nature inspires me wherever I am.
You’ve done many books. In reality, you’ve done six books, although only four of them have been available for sale in stores. You did the book on Colorado [Ricky Lauren: Cuisine, Lifestyle, and Legend of the Double RL Ranch, Assouline, 2006], which was about your life out there, and you’ve done this book on the Hamptons. Now that you’ve finished it, do you look at the Hamptons any differently?
Yes, I do, because I did so much research on the history of the Hamptons, and I was amazed by what I learned. I felt that the early history was very interesting, and I enjoyed telling that story in the book. From there, I went on to learn about the artists and architects and authors who were inspired by the Hamptons, and I felt that this was something I wanted to share with everyone, as well. And I thought to combine all this with our family history and my experiences with creative parenting, preparing healthy meals and entertaining in the Hamptons.
Ralph and Ricky Lauren in Amagansett, summer 1976
One of my favorite recipes in the book, if not my absolute favorite, is Nana’s rum-laced brownies. At 5 years old, I had no idea they had rum in them but thought they were delicious, and they’re really a part of my history and my memory. Tell me a little about those brownies.
My mom [Nana] would make them for special occasions—a birthday or an anniversary—and she would bring them to us. We would eat them and treasure them for as long as we could. We’d save them in the refrigerator and, every now and then, take a few morsels out and savor them until there was nothing left. Ralph loved the brownies so much that he wanted to put a shop in the store to sell Nana’s brownies. She would say, “No…they’re just for you!”
Mom, I’m so proud that you wrote this book. It’s such an amazing piece of our lives and such a testament to the world you built for us. And to see it all captured in this book…well, for me, it’s very private and very personal, and yet I’m proud to share it with my friends and family.
All of these wonderful questions you asked me have brought forth a lot of wonderful memories and thoughts for me.
[As RL Magazine’s founder,] I’m used to doing these types of interviews with my father, your husband, but I’ve never done them with you because you’re always so much more behind the scenes. When you actually put yourself out there, it’s so clear that you’re just as much the center of the family as Dad is. Sometimes people don’t realize how much influence you have on everyone in this family, and I think this book documents that.
Thank you. Thank you so much, David.
Do you think you and Dad inspire each other?
I think so. I’m so proud to have Ralph as my husband. He is a great captain of the ship, and I love having him at the helm. We’re all very lucky to be with him, to share his dreams, to be a part of them and to embrace each other and love each other so much.
- (Left) courtesy of Ricky Lauren; (right) family portraits on cover courtesy of Susan Wood and food images courtesy of Ann Stratton
- Courtesy of Ann Stratton
- Courtesy of Ricky Lauren
- Courtesy of Susan Wood
- (Left) courtesy of Susan Wood; (right) courtesy of Ralph Lauren