By  on January 24, 2002

NEW YORK -- Ralph Lauren is headed back to the bridge market in a big way.

Next month, Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. will debut a women's lifestyle sportswear collection, Ralph Lauren Blue Label, with ambitious plans to generate first-year wholesale volume of $100 million globally.

"It's a larger picture of Ralph Lauren," Ralph Lauren, chairman and chief executive officer of Polo, told WWD. "It's not about bridge, it's not about price or department stores. It's about lifestyle. It's about rounding out the picture of everything I believe in."

Lauren called the new Blue Label line "the counterpart to Polo" and said it represents a piece that was missing from his women's business.

Blue Label, which will hit retailers for fall 2002 selling, will be geared to Polo stores around the world, as well as such select specialty and department stores as Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Bloomingdale's, said Doug Williams, president, global business development at Polo.

While Blue Label will have its own point of view and design statement, Williams said it will compete with all bridge and upper bridge resources, including Kors, DKNY, Tahari and Ellen Tracy. "The plan would be to put it in the right environment to showcase the products," said Williams.

Based at 550 Seventh Avenue, Blue Label will have its own showroom and dedicated sales staff. A head of the division will be named in the next two weeks and will come from within the company, said Williams Blue Label is being designed in-house and will be distributed by Polo in the U.S. and Europe. It will also be produced by its overseas licensing partners for distribution in countries such as Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Canada. Williams said the line will stylistically reflect Polo's core values and heritage. It will be officially introduced to retailers during market week, beginning Feb. 18.

Asked if this wasn't a difficult retail environment to launch a new collection, Williams replied, "Ralph has something to say that's different, and we think it's a huge opportunity for the company."

Beginning in fall 2002, the Ralph Lauren Sport line will be discontinued and its lifestyle component will be incorporated into Blue Label. The more active elements of Ralph Lauren Sport will be absorbed into the RLX Polo Sport label. However, some of the Ralph Lauren Sport licensees, such as swimwear and footwear, will continue to use the Ralph Lauren Sport moniker, Williams said.

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