Ralph Lauren ''never knew'' he wanted to be a designer.

The 78-year-old American designer has no formal training when he started off his fashion career by making ties and now has 11 labels, over 1,000 stores, four restaurants and six Olympic teams worth of team uniforms to his name.

Speaking to US Elle magazine, Ralph said: ''I never knew I would be a designer. I didn't even know what a designer was, but I knew I had something inside of me that I wanted to express.

''When I started out, everyone in the fashion world seemed to look toward Europe for newness and real fashion. I was always inspired by America. I loved East Coast preppiness, the utility of the cowboy's worn jeans, American folk art, the glamour of Hollywood, and the rich heritage of Native American craftsmanship. It's always been there, right in front of us - on the streets, in the small towns, in the big cities - in the way people live.''

Ralph introduced his Polo Sport line in 1993 and created the iconic American flag sweater - which was worn by supermodel, Cindy Crawford, 52 on the prestigious US Elle 1994 cover - inspired by his American patriotism.

Ralph added: ''I have never consciously designed to promote any form of political message. I am proud to be an American and proud to be an American designer. Though things have changed in the world and in fashion, I don't think the passion that fills the hearts of young designers today has changed.''

And he says his work has always been inspired by people from all different walks of life.

Ralph added: ''What I do is about living. It was never about buying a shirt or a dress, but being part of a dream. I never designed for a special community. What I do has always come from the way people live - all kinds of people. It's honest and from the heart and never pandering, so hopefully that is what touches the diversity of people who wear my clothes.''