By  on May 18, 2007

MOSCOW — "I feel like I'm an ambassador of America," enthused Ralph Lauren on Wednesday evening after he cut the ribbon of his first flagship — a stately three-floor white house located down the street from Red Square — in this congested, energetic center of vibrant new wealth. "I feel so proud to be an American brand in Russia."

If there was any doubt that Lauren, who jointly inaugurated a second store just outside the city, is one of America's most visible style icons abroad, the real U.S. Ambassador William Burns offered his own warm endorsement.

"He's the quintessential American brand," said Burns, who had missed the dinner in the ambassador's residence feting Lauren the night before due to the overlapping visit of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Burns looked relieved to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lady Gabriella Windsor and Argentine polo sensation Nacho Figueras after several days of high-level diplomatic talks at the Kremlin.

"There's never a dull moment," he joked of the rhetorical jousting between Moscow and Washington.

There was plenty of spice and amusement at the store party, too, courtesy of the gaggle of long-legged Russian beauties mingling in the crowd as Frank Sinatra crooned over the sound system and waiters distributed Champagne.

Yet if there was a contrast between the scantily and colorfully clad local PYTs and Lauren's elegantly conservative aura, there also was a feeling of family. After all, as David Lauren remarked, his father's ties to Russia run deep. "We visited a genealogist on the trip," revealed the designer's son. "My dad really wanted to trace his roots here."

Marvin Traub, the legendary retailer who helped Lauren on his way when he was still peddling his first men's ties, recalled his own common history with the designer. "We go way back," remarked Traub, who explained he has been coming to Moscow for years. "I think Ralph Lauren is going to do great here. It's amazing how the city has changed and how much tastes have evolved."

But not everyone was focused solely on Moscow's promise and charm. After several days visiting the Russian capital, Figueras explained he was looking forward to a romantic escapade to St. Petersburg with his wife, Delphine. "We can't wait," he said. "Moscow is impressive. But we hear St. Petersburg is beautiful, too."

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