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On January 8, 1985, WWD reported that Ralph Lauren would be opening his first freestanding shop within the year. This was no modest operation. Lauren had signed a 20-year lease on the 20,000-square-foot Rhinelander Mansion, a landmarked New York building on the corner of East 72nd Street and Madison Avenue. “I wanted to put everything together under one roof and show it as one concept,” Lauren told WWD, adding that “when it’s in the stores, it doesn’t express everything I want to express.”
At the time this was a radical move, since Lauren’s line was carried at Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Bonwit Teller, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Barneys New York and Latham House, all of which occupied nearby retail space.
Rather than competition for the department stores that built his business, the designer saw his shop as complementary—as was the case with the 44 Polo franchises that were opened around the world. Besides, “the store should be wonderful advertising for our products,” Lauren said to the paper at the time.
This move also paved the way for American designers to follow the European tradition of opening freestanding stores. By the early Nineties, Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan, not to mention the Chanels and Vuittons of the world, not only had spaces on Fifth and Madison Avenues, but had expanded into suburban malls around the country.