By  on March 29, 2006

TOKYO — From crowds of people vying for a glimpse of him to huge billboards advertising his brand, Ralph Lauren is having a major moment in the Japanese capital — and for good reason.

Tonight, Lauren, who is in Tokyo this week with his wife, Ricky, and his children David, Andrew and Dylan, is scheduled to cut the ribbon on his first freestanding flagship in Japan. The imposing white building on Tokyo's Omotesando shopping boulevard features about 18,000 square feet of selling space, which is dedicated to almost every aspect of the designer's expanding universe. When it officially opens to the public on Thursday, it will be the largest Ralph Lauren store in the world, exceeding even the iconic Rhinelander mansion on Madison Avenue in terms of selling space.

The store is a testimony to the strength of the $10 billion Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., which has made freestanding retail one of its key priorities for growth.

Lauren, on his first trip to Tokyo in 25 years, explained that the Omotesando flagship aims to showcase to Japan just how much his world has evolved and become a multifaceted, American luxury lifestyle brand. "I wanted to express to them the broadness and the breadth of product that we stand for today," the designer explained Monday during a walkthrough of the store.

The purpose-built Beaux Arts mansion is located in the heart of Omotesando, which is also home to mega-stores for Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Tod's. According to a source familiar with Omotesando's retail scene, a store like Lauren's could expect to have sales of about $2,000 a square foot annually. At 18,000 square feet of selling space, that would give the flagship a volume of about $35 million to $40 million a year.

Lauren was keen to open his first Japanese flagship on Omotesando, which backs onto Tokyo's trendy Harajuku district and Cat Street, considered by some to be the city's equivalent of Manhattan's Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, where he also operates a store.

"Omotesando has an energy," the designer said of his choice of location over Ginza, Tokyo's other tony shopping destination. "Before we open each store, we study the area. Omotesando seemed to be the hippest, newest, most energized place to me, which is why we opened the store here."

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