BRIDGET FOLEY’S DIARY: On Saturday Ralph Lauren will present his men’s Purple Label collection in Milan. With that move now a given, would Lauren ever consider showing his women’s in Europe as well, Paris perhaps?
In a word, “absolutely.” Lauren delivered the surprising answer during a preview of his men’s collection last week. He stressed that he has no current plans to flee New York Fashion Week for the City of Light, but noted that he’s open to any maneuvers with the potential to strengthen the image of Ralph Lauren as an international brand.
For now, Lauren remains committed to the American fashion calendar. To that end, he will show men’s Polo on July 16, during the inaugural NYFW: Men’s. Whether he might ultimately use that split as a template for women’s — Purple Label in Europe; Polo in New York — remains to be seen.
The topic of showing in Europe opened a conversation about brand-positioning on a global scale in which Lauren acknowledged that every international presence strengthens the company’s profile. In addition, he said that increasingly today, customers don’t look at brands through the prism of national origin. “We are an American original brand, but we are now all international,” he said. “I think as you live in an environment, people get to know who you are. I believe as we open stores, wherever they are, the [customer] is going to look at us without saying, ‘they’re American.’”
Lauren even suggested that there’s nothing particularly American about his famous aesthetic. “I don’t really believe there is an American look,” he mused. “The obvious would be cowboy, the obvious would be preppy. But in reality there are a lot of preppy looks in Italy, a lot of preppy looks in England. There’s a more sophisticated look, too. We’re playing into all of the worlds.”
Lauren acknowledged that some issues of perception have traditionally dogged American fashion in the global conversation, issues linked to longtime dependence on department stores. “America has not been known for high quality on some level,” he said. “We have been more involved with price because there are a lot of department stores. I hope I’m not getting myself in trouble.”
He noted that the gaps, perceived and actual, between American luxury and its European counterparts have narrowed. “There used to be a major difference in American designers with clothes,” he said. “When you’re dealing with luxury, there’s less of a difference; when you’re dealing with accessories, there’s less of a difference. [For consumers] it’s a matter of, what companies do I like? Do I like this one, do I like that one?”
There are, however, practical product-based differences that must be addressed, differences linked more to climate and lifestyle than to significant swings in taste level from region to region. “You have to design [while conscious of] the environment and the location,” Lauren said, noting the importance of lightweight offerings across Asia throughout the year. “There are certain things that may be more viable for some places than others.”
Because the luxury customer is a sophisticated woman who travels, it’s essential to offer her an on-brand but distinctive experience in every store in every market. To that end, Lauren sometimes does special items for specific stores, particularly so with handbags, as exclusivity can be a matter of a special color. “The idea is to make our brand as interesting as possible,” he said. “Our stores are all different. We have stores that are more wood and stores that are more modern. As time moves on, you sort of feel the change in decor and environments. My goal is really to set a tone that is timeless…[but also] has a sense of what’s new at the moment that’s exciting.
“You have to be aware that the world changes very quickly,” Lauren continued. “You have to be tuned in.”