By Cathryn Keller
The Smithsonian Institution honored the designer Ralph Lauren on Tuesday at a ceremony at the National Museum of American History in Washington for his "lifetime contributions to American artistry, entrepreneurship, creativity and vision," it said.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Wayne Clough, the Smithsonian secretary, in awarding the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal to Mr. Lauren, who has a house in Montauk.
Mrs. Clinton thanked the designer for his leading role in preserving the original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem in 1814 and became the centerpiece of the Save America's Treasures campaign launched in 1998 by the then-first lady. Mr. Lauren donated $13 million to the campaign, of which about $10 million went to the museum to help preserve the fragile wool and cotton flag and present this symbol of American identity to the public. It is now on display in a Smithsonian gallery in lighting that evokes the "dawn's early light" of the song.
Presentation of the medal followed a naturalization ceremony conducted by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson, who administered the Oath of Allegiance to 15 new Americans.
In remarks Tuesday Mr. Lauren, a second-generation American, recalled his parents, immigrants from Belarus, studying for their citizenship exams. He spoke directly to the newly sworn citizens, saying, "You are very lucky to be here."
"I started with nothing. Good parents, good family‚ they inspired me to go to school and do the right thing," he said.
Saying that the pinstriped suit he was wearing was not new, and that his involvement in preserving the flag was "not P.R., it came from the heart," Mr. Lauren said that while he is not a historian, he believes in history.
His daughter-in-law Lauren Bush Lauren represented another historic connection: her uncle, then-President George W. Bush, spoke at the first naturalization ceremony held during the museum's reopening in 2008 after a two-year, $120 million renovation that included the new Star Spangled Banner gallery and the museum's public square, a five-story, sky-lit atrium, where a crowd of more than 400 spectators lined the balconies and part of an adjacent hall for Tuesday's ceremony.
Despite the large contingent of Lauren family members and Polo executives from New York and a media crush including national, fashion, and political reporters, the event was pure Washington -- a mix of patriotic pageantry (flags, color guard, and the Pledge of Allegiance), bipartisan speeches, and a performance by the bluegrass group Della Mae.
The James Smithson Bicentennial Medal honors those "who have made distinguished contributions to the advancement of areas of interest to the Smithsonian." It was established in 1965 to honor James Smithson, a British scientist whose bequest of gold coins worth about $500,000 led to the establishment of the Smithsonian in 1846.