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A Store is Born: Madison Ave. Welcomes Ralph Lauren Baby

NEW YORK — Talk about finding a niche.<br><br>Just a couple of hours after opening the new Ralph Lauren Baby store at 872 Madison on Monday, uptowners were rifling through perfectly appointed racks and stacks of luxe baby gear. Shoppers were...

NEW YORK — Talk about finding a niche.

Just a couple of hours after opening the new Ralph Lauren Baby store at 872 Madison on Monday, uptowners were rifling through perfectly appointed racks and stacks of luxe baby gear. Shoppers were stocking up on miniature versions of Ralph Lauren’s iconic looks, from cashmere cableknit sweaters, pinwale corduroys, oxford shirtdresses and seersucker suits.

The 900-square-foot space was designed to reflect the reigning Ralph Lauren sensibility of mahogany paneling, white linen walls, sisal carpeting and a coffered ceiling inspired by the one at the Rhinelander Mansion just across the street.

“It has an old-world charm to it with jelly bean-themed windows and four-foot-high cashmere bunnies. It’s not a massive presentation, but that gives it some of its charm and character,” said Wayne Meichner, president of Polo Retail Corp.

The space is decorated with framed antique children’s sketches, a Victorian bassinet and a tiny seersucker valet chair. Other touches that add to the store’s quaint effect include a custom-made rocking horse, crocheted booties, little western jackets and vintage christening gowns.

The firm was driven to open a separate children’s store (which is a few doors down from another Ralph Lauren store) because it outgrew the children’s space in the mansion, said Meichner.

Along with the infant, toddler and layette categories, the store carries vintage pieces, accessories and giftware. The company declined to project first-year store sales. According to Meichner, there are no current plans to open other stand-alone baby stores, but he wants to create more space for children’s apparel in other Ralph Lauren stores.

Retail prices for the clothes, which Meichner characterizes as “a microcosm of our men’s and women’s world done for toddlers,” start at $25 for polo shirts; $95 each for Double RL five-pocket jeans and denim jackets; $150 for cableknit cashmere sweaters; $240 for navy blazers, and $200 for Swiss dot dresses.

Meichner also points to a dearth in the market of formal toddler clothing as an important component of their strategy.

“It has become difficult to find dressy, tailored apparel for boys and great dresses for girls,” he said. “Many of the majors have gone out of that business, so we think there is an opportunity as well to service that customer, in terms of their needs, whether it be for holiday or something else.”

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.