Ralph Lauren has found a home for his women. Directly across Madison Avenue from his Rhinelander Mansion men’s flagship is a sister facility with a remarkable family resemblance but a distinct personality.
True to the brand, she’s opulent, feminine, graceful and grand. And, this being a Ralph Lauren production, the store is a cornucopia of lifestyle presentations.
Street-level show windows framed in black wrought iron announce the character of the store and impressive arched entryways welcome customers in. The environment offers a contemporary, feminine interpretation of ornate Rococo design. Antique and custom crystal chandeliers abound amidst period furniture, hand-cast plaster moldings, ceiling crowns, brackets and corbels and a filigree of decorative wrought iron grille-work.
The opening presentation of handbags and small leather goods is an integration of stained mahogany wood cases and a modern deco-style glass étagère with hand-finished brass trim that replicates polished antique silver.
Transition points, trimmed with carved wood and hand-cast plaster paneling, lead to a grouping of main floor salons, including footwear (with its signature antique marble fireplace) and Lauren’s first U.S. Watch & Fine Jewelry Salon. Black French-polished wall paneling and antique silver trim set the tone for dramatic shadowbox windows that present jewelry on floating neck forms lit on four sides by lighting consultant Bill Schwinghammer.
A signature grand staircase winding its way through the core of the four-story setting was inspired by the romance of a 19th Century Parisian hotel. Its wrought iron railing was hand-made in Europe by local artisans. A mix of framed art and photography accompanies the customer to the second level, where the Ralph Lauren Collection is presented in a high Rococo environment featuring hand-made hardware and moldings inspired by his Avenue Montaigne store in Paris, hand-cast wall grilles and plaster lattice cove molding.
Meticulous attention to detail is a hallmark of the environment. A European plaster team worked for six months to hand-carve minute plaster details such as bracket joints and delicate acanthus leaves that elegantly frame surrounding mirrors.
The more subdued third floor offers accents of mahogany and glazed wall paneling while presenting the Black Label, Blue Label and RLX salons. Lifestyle pockets of product lead customers from room to room. Blue Label is presented in an antique country setting featuring Tibetan Jasmine walls and fitting rooms trimmed with plaid flannel suiting fabric. The sleek RLX room, with poured acrylic concrete floor, automotive lacquers and diamond tread walls in the fitting rooms, presents a new mix of fashion product with functional technical fabrics for Pilates or yoga.
Ralph Lauren Home is on the fourth floor at the top of the grand staircase. Room settings feature two distinct lifestyle collections, an assortment of gifts, decorative accessories and tabletop, and a high-end bedding presentation. Visual enhancements include antique chairs and an eclectic mix from the flea markets of Paris and Belgium. No fewer than 120 Adel Rootstein mannequins casually appear in unexpected places throughout the space.
Though the architecture is bold, it is not the story. A collaboration of store design and visual merchandising uses architecture as a tool to enhance and present merchandise and place customers in direct contact with the product. Designed and built in challenging economic times, the store stands as an affirmation of American luxury retail and a commitment to providing consumers with quality and service, the linchpins of the Polo Ralph Lauren fashion empire.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recently presented Bronx-born and New York-based Lauren with the keys to the city, saying, “They don’t build them like this anymore.” He was speaking about the store. But he could have been speaking about the empire.
Polo Ralph Lauren, New York
Outside design consultant
Bill Schwinghammer, New York (lighting)
Adel Rootstein, New York