PARIS — Ralph Lauren is adding more horsepower to his revved-up European profile with a lavish exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs devoted to his collection of rare vintage sports cars.
“I look at these cars as moving art,” the designer mused Tuesday as he surveyed some of the 17 gleaming beauties displayed in rows under the museum’s soaring nave. “These have a different, aristocratic sensibility to them.”
“The Art of the Automobile: Masterpieces of the Ralph Lauren Collection” opens to the public Thursday and runs through Aug. 28, giving the American fashion icon another golden moment in the French capital, a year after he christened his largest store in Europe in a 17th-century townhouse on the Left Bank here.
“It’s exciting to come here and bring my style and my flair. Paris has been very receptive,” Lauren said, citing sales 70 percent above plan in the 13,000-square-foot Saint-Germain boutique, and a fully booked Ralph’s restaurant, with its leafy, picturesque courtyard and ranch-fed steaks. “The French are particular about food and fashion. To be able to succeed in Paris is a good sign.”
Indeed, the store has already attracted more than 300,000 people, according to Polo’s tallies.
Lauren drew a parallel between the quality of the fine European automobiles on display, most of them with solid racing pedigree, and the vitality of his European business, which currently generates about $1.2 billion, about 21 percent of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.’s reported sales. (The U.S. accounts for 67 percent; the rest of the world 12 percent.)
“The expansion [in Europe] has proven that they want quality, and quality is what I’ve always believed in,” Lauren said. “America is more mass oriented; Europe is more class oriented.
“The business has gotten stronger because the products have gotten better and better,” he continued. “We are considered a real luxury brand today. We probably sell more luxury clothes than anyone in the world.…I think there’s a lot of room in Europe for our concepts.”
In fact, Lauren said showing his collection in Paris instead of New York remains a real possibility.
“I’ve thought about it. I’m sure one day I’m going to do it,” the designer said, dressed in jeans, a sweater, blazer and cowboy boots — all in black except for the red threads on his lapel signifying the Legion of Honor he was awarded last year. “I feel I’m an international brand today. It’s been our goal to build an international business, with Paris and Europe. I have three stores in Paris now and that won’t be the last. We have Rugby and we have Double RL.”
As of the end of its fiscal third quarter, Polo counted 52 directly operated stores in Europe and has identified Rome, Berlin, Barcelona and Madrid among cities to help expand its retail presence on the continent. Last fall, Polo launched online sales in the U.K., and it will add France and Germany this summer.
Bringing Lauren’s cars to Europe — the crème de la crème of a collection numbering more than 60 vehicles — was certainly a mammoth logistical feat, requiring they be loaded and unloaded onto airplanes in the order in which they were later winched up stone staircases into the massive museum, home to collections spanning furniture, ceramics, toys, advertising posters, fashion and assorted objets d’art from the Middle Ages through today.
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