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Ralph Bringing Blue to Bleecker

Ralph Lauren plans to open his first women’s-only store for Blue Label on Sept. 6 at 380 Bleecker Street in the heart of the West Village.

NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren sees women in a blue light.

This story first appeared in the August 4, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The designer plans to open his first women’s-only store for Blue Label on Sept. 6 at 380 Bleecker Street, a 700-square-foot space between Charles and Perry Streets in the heart of the West Village.

On Bleecker Street, a quintessential tree-lined Village thoroughfare with antiques and pastry shops, Ralph Lauren will join Marc Jacobs at number 403 and Lulu Guinness at number 394.

“It’s a very young, very hip area,” said a Polo Ralph Lauren spokeswoman. “This is going to be very much of a branding statement.”

The spokeswoman declined to project a volume for the store, but retail experts said it should generate more than $1,000 a square foot, given its size and the price of the merchandise.

The company has said its new growth phase will center on the Blue Label line, which provides casual apparel for a younger customer. Retail has become increasingly important for Polo. With 255 owned stores and 85 licensed stores around the world, retail operations generated 40 percent of the company’s $2 billion in annual sales in 2002.

Three stores were converted to the Blue Label format last fall, and 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot Blue Label sites are expected to be launched in the U.S. and abroad.

However, the Bleecker Street store is something of an anomaly, both for its small size and singular focus on women.

“There are only a couple of places in the world that could support a store like this now,” said the Polo spokeswoman, citing New York and Los Angeles among key cities. She declined to elaborate on whether the move signals a strategy at the company toward single-gender stores.

Retailers such as Banana Republic and Marc Jacobs have explored the idea of single-gender stores, while junior retailer Gadzooks just eliminated male-oriented merchandise from its stores altogether.

Robert Cohen, executive vice president of Robert K. Futterman & Associates, a retail broker, said Polo Ralph Lauren set its sights on Bleecker Street and looked for a year until a space became available.

“Polo was intent on doing something small and quaint,” Cohen said. “They didn’t want to do another big box like the Double RL store in NoLIta or Polo Sport on West Broadway in SoHo.

“This was a play off Marc Jacobs’ venture and his success there,” Cohen added. “Bleecker Street is a thoroughfare that will take you from SoHo to the Meatpacking district. Marc’s whole reason for opening on Bleecker Street is that he lives in the neighborhood and wanted to do something that was cost effective without the pressure of high rents.”

Rents range from $80 to $120 a square foot, Cohen said.