NEW YORK — With the late-August opening of the first Polo flagship on Fifth Avenue fast approaching, Ralph Lauren is moving closer to letting each of his brands stand on their own.
In February, the company said it would start to layer in Polo stores as it expanded its Ralph Lauren luxury stores. In addition to the New York City store, a combined men’s and women’s flagship at Lee Gardens, an exclusive luxury shopping mall in Hong Kong, is slated to open in October and will offer a separate Purple Label assortment. There are no plans at this time to open freestanding Purple Label units.
“We’re in the midst of defining and separating stores,” Lauren said, adding: “It’s all in the vision.” Overall, the company has 436 directly operated stores.
In a presentation of his spring collection at his Madison Avenue offices here Tuesday, Lauren opened with a “very big, strong statement” of Purple Label, which he called the “glamour in the world of Ralph Lauren.
“This is now a big luxury brand that is growing and moving and we’re seeing sales build,” he added.
Anchored by luxury tailored clothing with a slim, modern silhouette, the label is targeted to a “very sophisticated guy with a point of view who wants chic suits and sportswear,” he said. Double- and single-breasted models were offered and Lauren said he believes men are ready for double-breasteds again. “I wear them all the time because no one else does,” he said with a laugh. “But there are also a lot of young ceo’s who want fashion and specialness, and this gives a sense of power and looks elegant.”
In addition to the requisite black, the mix included plaids, pinstripes and solid charcoal-gray suits, many of which were accented with high-collar shirts with contrasting white collars. “This is a man’s wardrobe,” he said. “The gray look is simple, beautiful and easy to wear. And it’s stimulating the clothing business.”
Lauren also showed different hues of blue, ranging from traditional navy to cobalt. “This is wearable,” he said. “And it’s clothing with a hint of international flavor for the young guy who loves fashion.” Coordinating neckwear was available in subtle prints and patterns that “woke up the look.”
A capsule within the collection was titled Black Safari and included floral or leopard print pants, cotton sweaters, unconstructed cotton blazers, crocodile leather jackets and other luxury sportswear pieces. “The look is very chic and timeless,” he said. The color palette centered around chocolate brown and tans but also included stark whites and blacks.
Although Lauren doesn’t expect to sell a lot of pure white suits in the U.S. market, he said that as an international brand, this could play in “China, Hong Kong, Brazil and South America. We’re offering them things they haven’t seen,” he said. “People don’t tell you what they want, they have to be shown.”
In a move to address all facets of a man’s wardrobe, Lauren revealed Purple Label denim for the first time. The offering included a washed two-piece denim suit, a more formal three-piece model in a darker wash and even a wide-leg sailor’s jean. “We go where we need to go,” Lauren said. “That kind of pant needs a wide leg.”
Other key sportswear items included leather toggle coats, safari-inspired parkas, colorfully patterned swim shorts and even knit pinstripe shirts in a variety of colors. “This guy has flair,” Lauren said.
He noted that the Purple Label sportswear is “a big strength internationally.…It’s growing very strongly.
Clothing is the backbone of men’s wear, but if you like our suits, this man wants more of what we do and the [expansion of the] sportswear has added a whole dimension.”
Next up was Polo, which Lauren said was “advanced” this season as it prepares for its stand-alone debut. He filled an entire room with everything from the brand’s signature jeans, plaid shirts and distressed jackets to varsity sweaters that he showed with white jeans, nautical-patterned sweaters, another denim suit, washed graphic T-shirts, plaid shirts, flight jackets, camouflage-patterned shorts, skinny, ragged cargo pants, and Indian prints on everything from jackets to backpacks.
“This is a story of eclecticness and change,” he said. “We’re showing them how to wear what they never thought they’d wear. It’s a way for the Polo store to make a statement. It shows how the brand has evolved without giving up our heritage.” He said the collection has moved beyond clothes for polo players and is now an assortment of “great designs and imaginative ideas with 47 years of history and recognition.”
Sprinkled within the Polo assortment were pieces from the RLX line, the company’s most technical offering, which made their appearance in items such as lightweight jackets and vests.
Lauren said the depth of the Polo offering shown in the showroom will be similar to that used in the new Polo store. He said he chose the location on 55th Street and Fifth Avenue because “that’s the place everybody goes when they want to see New York City.” And although he has traditionally opted for sites off the beaten path — he said when he opened in the Rhinelander Mansion at 72nd and Madison, people said no one would ever go up there — this is different. “The amount of people who walk by is amazing. You can show off who you want to be. This is long overdue.”
In addition to the three-level New York store, the company has also secured a 20,000-square-foot site on Regent Street in London and an 8,000-square-foot location in Singapore. Concept stores in China are also in the cards.
The Black Label collection for spring offered “sleek and edgy” tailored clothing and sportswear “at a good price.” In addition to suits, the offering included jeans in white, brown and camo prints, as well as mixed-media jackets. “This is major, but the other [labels] are explosive,” he said.
The designer’s RRL collection of vintage-inspired jeans, shirts, chinos, workwear and accessories has developed a cult following both in the U.S. and internationally, he said, particularly in Asia. There are currently eight stores devoted to this concept in the U.S. and overseas, and the brand is wholesaled only on a very limited basis. “The Purple Label wearer is also a RRL wearer,” Lauren said.
The final stop on the spring tour was an accessories room where the designer showed off everything from dress and casual shoes for each label to luggage, small leather goods and jewelry. “We are really growing accessories,” he said. “Men today have the ability to mix sneakers and suits and not have rules. Everything goes now.” Asked if he’s ready to extend his growing watch business beyond the luxury Ralph Lauren brand, the designer answered, “Not yet.”
Having an assortment this vast that spans nearly all categories in a variety of labels will keep Lauren from holding a runway show for his men’s wear anytime soon.
Would he support the burgeoning idea of creating a separate men’s fashion week in New York City next July? “That means I can’t have a vacation, and that I don’t like,” Lauren quipped.
Turning serious, he said that although he has staged dozens of fashion shows in his career, his men’s offering has grown too large to do it justice on the catwalk.
“When you do a show, you try to make a statement,” he said. “But big is very complicated. And you can’t do and say what you want [in a show format.] The little wrinkle in the jeans or the stretch in the gray shirt — you won’t see that in a two-minute show.”