If the 1980s were a movie - and the metaphor is almost unavoidable given actor/president Ronald Reagan's domination of the decade - the credit lines would have to include costumes by Ralph Lauren.

The designer's images were unavoidable: tanned, chiseled, prosperous cowboys in faded jeans and soft chambray shirts surveying their property. Cool, collected, prosperous gentry in tweeds and suedes surveying their property. Sporty, fit, prosperous children in Polo shirts surveying their inheritance.The Lauren Look symbolized the 1980s' inexorable march backward in time. By decade's end, the trend had a name: The New Traditionalism, or what was dubbed by others as "the baby boom's kitschification of middle age."

Lauren, who turns 50 this year, foresaw the potential of keying on the past and developed the philosophy, described in his ad brochures, of "originality, but always with integrity and a respect for tradition."

He's been wildly successful, with annual revenues of almost $2 billion last year, up eightfold from the decade's beginning. In Japan, his popularity has coined a new word, Ametoraddo, for "American traditional."

The preponderance of Lauren's wordless, evocative magazine ads and the breadth of his product line - from evening gowns to eyeglass frames - gave him a visibility unmatched by other designers. As a 1983 profile of the designer in the New York Times Magazine said, he presented "a fictional world made real with repetition."

Today, people don't just wear Lauren; they live Lauren.

In 1983, he introduced four home furnishings lines: Log Cabin, Thoroughbred, New England and Jamaica. Now there are others. The lines include beds, sheets, luggage, quilts, chairs and knickknacks. All present a picture of good taste, prosperity and quality.

Lauren was born in the Bronx. He pursued a career in retail after his father, Frank Lifschtz, an artist, urged his teenage son - then focused on becoming a baseball or basketball star - to develop an apparent talent in working with color and texture. He sold clothes at Brooks Brothers for a time, then in 1969, set up his own company.

His early fashion education had consisted of watching old movies of Fred Astaire and Katharine Hepburn vintage and perusing copies of Esquire magazine.

"Whether that world existed or not, I don't know," he said in a 1986 interview. "I saw things as they should have been, not as they were."

Even now, he has style names such as Crawford suit, Harlow jacket, or Dietrich jumpsuit.

Menswear slowly evolved into womenswear inspired by his wife, Ricky, to whom he has been married since 1964.

He has rarely faltered, although given his emphasis on tradition, it's been charged that he doesn't design, but merely reinterprets. It rankles him on occasion.

But if anyone is waiting for his star to lose its luster, it may be a long wait: His spring collection of Rough Wear was deemed the season's best with its Southwestern and American folk influences. It is upscale Wild West, with handpainted leathers and Navajo print sweaters.