By  on August 20, 2007

NEW YORK — Spring previews at Polo Ralph Lauren showed insight into a multi-level brand strategy that grows ever more crystalline, making the sub-brands more identifiable than ever.

“You go from Polo to Purple Label, Black Label and RLX, which are all different,” said chairman and chief executive Ralph Lauren. “They could be worn by the same guy or they could be different. Some guys just say, ‘I’m a Black Label guy,’ or some guys only want the luxury of Purple Label. I could wear it all because I like playing with clothes and I like the diversity of a wardrobe.”

The first spring delivery of the Polo collection is a cheerful statement of vivid, saturated color, unabashed preppiness, and the appeal of looking pressed and pristine despite the proximity of (perhaps imaginary) horses.

That delivery gives way to a much more timeworn aesthetic. A nautical group is predominantly navy and white, with nearly everything washed and rumpled.

“This has a vintage quality but it’s mixed with cashmere, with wool,” Lauren said. A pinstripe jacket and vest, for example, turn out to be made of cashmere knit upon inspection. A black and white group is similarly textured, but with hints of vintage gym clothes. And the final Polo delivery is vintagey, South Pacific beachy. There is a yellowed madras shorts suit, an ink-stained trench, and swim trunks that have cargo styling and WWII-era screened graphics.

Moving on to RLX, the company has clearly worked hard to develop the identity of this sub-brand.

“You know that RLX is technological product, but we’ve made it into fashion,” Lauren said. “It’s got style and sleekness and modernness.”

Utilitarian and aviator-influenced pieces mix with polished pieces and metallic accessories to give the collection an upscale vibe that should suit the private-jet-share set. The company has also found that RLX integrates well with Ralph Lauren Black Label, from a styling standpoint.

The full Black Label collection offers streamlined tailoring and buttery leathers. Some surprising colors, like tangerine and turquoise, have been injected, but whittled silhouettes with narrow ties and lapels, along with an absence of pattern or embellishment, keep the overall effect relatively minimalist.

Ralph Lauren Purple Label, on the other hand, is the most luxurious and most custom-made offering and therefore more flamboyant. Yacht-worthy ensembles of dark jackets and brightly colored linen pants are finished with a brilliant neckerchief, ascot or 4 1/4-inch tie in a paisley or English floral pattern.

Lauren launched his 40-year-old company with wide ties, but he said these Purple Label ties were not intended to be a retrospective gesture.

“I just felt it was exciting for right now. The boldness of the colors and patterns makes the whole look exciting. For years the tie was put away. Guys were wearing shirts and suits with no tie. I think that’s over,” he said. “The tie is the news.”

In other news, Purple Label gets its own logo for spring. Embroidered on flat-knit cashmere sweaters and piqué polo shirts, the jockey and horse are, appropriately, at full gallop.

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