LONDON — Ralph Lauren has brought the East Coast to west London in his new Chelsea store, which is packed with everything from American folk art to little black dresses fit for Daisy Buchanan.
Lauren waited years to set up shop on the corner of Fulham Road and Elystan Street, and he finally got his chance when the high-end kitchen cabinet company Smallbone & Davies moved out earlier this year.
The 6,200-square-foot space resembles the designer’s unit in East Hampton, with its general store that has an urban-edged vibe. All of Lauren’s lines, from Collection — including Purple Label for men — to children’s wear are on sale. The store also offers customized vintage pieces, including a black lace dress, a baby’s christening gown and motorcycle boots.
The Chelsea store is also the first Lauren unit in the U.K. to showcase his Home Collection.
Everything from the giant American flag hanging near the wooden staircase to patchwork quilts, old photography books, wooden schoolhouse chairs and creamy white water jugs is for sale.
"The Brompton Cross store is now one of my favorite stores. I love it," said a beaming Lauren at Monday evening’s opening party, where guests included Nina Campbell, Brooke de Ocampo, Saffron Aldrige, Zac Goldsmith and Liberty Ross. Lauren, who was in town with his wife, Ricky, and sons, David and Andrew, was even shopping in the store earlier that day.
The hip Brompton Cross neighborhood is already home to Joseph, Paul Smith, the Conran furniture store and Chanel, as well as such restaurants as Bibendum, The Collection and Daphne’s. The Lauren store is the designer’s third in London, after his flagship and children’s stores on New Bond Street.
Lance Isham, vice chairman of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., said in a telephone interview that the store suits the "energetic, international neighborhood."
He said he expects clients to be "young-thinking families, international singles and couples. It’s a very lifestyle-oriented store, which fits into the neighborhood environment." And while the neighborhood may be trendy, it still has a laid-back feel. Customers can even park their cars outside the store.Isham declined to release any projections for the three-level Chelsea store, but said sales had already exceeded expectations.
The clothing collections are located on the ground floor while home — including a dogs’ corner with cologne, beds and R- and L-shaped biscuits — is upstairs. The children’s collection is on the ground floor. Windows in the store are vast and look onto the elegant whitewashed town houses on the neighboring streets.
The store is crammed with merchandise, which may be jarring to the eyes of consumers in the area who tend to be more accustomed to bare-bones displays or shiny steel and glass.
"The store is merchandised in the way that Ralph Lauren designs and thinks of the world," said Isham. "Our objective with this store was to be welcoming, and we believe we create more energy this way than with a more minimal, sparse look."
De Ocampo said she loved the full-to-the-brim look of the store. "I love the fact that you can buy everything here," she said.
Alfredo Paredes, executive vice president of creative services, store design and home collection design, said the store is all about discovery and surprise. "We really wanted to create an eclectic, relaxed feel and bring out the essence of the East Coast. And Ralph Lauren loves the feel of a general store with urban touches."
On the first floor, customers can buy everything from canopy beds to bolts of cloth to vintage crystal. Customers are also able to use a computer provided in order to see the entire home collection.
The new unit is one step in an ambitious retail rollout that Polo Ralph Lauren has planned for Europe. As reported, over the next five to six years, the group plans to open at least 60 stores in the U.K. and Europe for the Polo and Ralph Lauren collections in major cities and resort towns.
The stores, a mix of directly operated units and franchises, will sell a range of collections including apparel, jeans, children’s wear, accessories and home furnishings.
"Retail expansion is our number one priority in Europe," said Isham. Polo also plans to build up its clothing production in Europe in order to ensure that prices are competitive with other European labels and that distribution runs as smoothly as possible."The goal, eventually, is to source and manufacture all of Black Label and Collection for Europe on the European continent," said Isham, adding that Purple Label is already made in Italy. Lauren also shows his Purple Label men’s collection in Milan.
Polo’s mega-retail rollout is its next step after taking direct control of its businesses, PRL Fashions of Europe Srl and Poloco SAS, in Europe.
Isham believes the company’s history and unique position in Europe is the ideal platform for growth. Polo’s international sales generate about 12 percent of its overall volume, and represent the most growth potential, financial analysts say. Polo Ralph Lauren had net sales, excluding licensing income, of $2.12 billion last year.
Currently, Polo has directly operated stores in London, Paris and Brussels, and about 10 licensed retail operations in Germany, Greece, France and the Netherlands. Right now, the company is focused on setting up retail and wholesale divisions for Europe and working on site selection and store development. Isham said the retail plan is threefold.
First, there will be a focus on primary markets where the company will open Collection, Polo and children’s stores. Second, the company plans to open in resort locations. And thirdly, Polo will invest in core markets outside the major cities — in the U.K., that means places like Birmingham and Glasgow.
Isham said ownership and control of its licenses will bring the Polo brand a new patina in Europe. "By owning the company in Europe, we have positioned ourselves both as aspirational — we are a luxury-lifestyle concept with high standards — and competitive, because so much of the collection is made in Europe."