By  on October 15, 2007

Ralph Lauren's women's business is on course to one day rival his men's.

When Ralph Lauren celebrated his 40th anniversary with a show in Central Park in September, he chose to stage his milestone moment without a single men's wear look on the runway.

"I think I've shown men's and women's together maybe once or twice, and I think it somehow gets confusing," he told WWD days before the show. "This is also a working event, I'm doing a collection. It's not a separate party. I still have a job to design a collection where writers are going to write about it and do their critique.

"I thought about it," he added. "For a while I was going to do it, and then I changed my mind. I change my mind a lot of times."

Lauren's final decision is also further proof just how serious he is about the women's business. His roots may be in men's wear, which continues to be the engine of the Polo Ralph Lauren empire, but women's is catching up quite nicely, both from a perception and a sales standpoint.

Buffy Birrittella, executive vice president in charge of women's design and advertising, said the gap is closing between the two, if the numbers are added up across the various divisions.

"Lauren is almost up to Polo, and Rugby women's is bigger than men's," Birrittella said. "We have a fantastic men's business on every single level, but there are still the accessories — there's a bigger business to be done in women's than in men's accessories. I think there's a bigger women's business to be done on every level. We want to surpass [men's]."

Birrittella clearly knows what she's talking about. She has worked with the designer for more than three decades, and closely familiarized herself with the aesthetic even before, when she was a fashion editor at WWD's brother publication Daily News Record and was introduced to the designer by the paper's in-house illustrator Michael Farina. She started at Polo in January 1971 as a part-timer after asking Lauren to hire her, and joined full-time only months later.

"I told him, 'Hire me three days a week,'" she said, recalling her hopes to continue writing freelance on the side. "And then I went on an assignment to Israel, then on vacation with my boyfriend. About a month later, Ralph said, 'When do you come to work? You either have to work full-time or I'm going to find someone like you.' I said, 'There's no one like me,' and he recognized a similar spirit as himself in me.'"

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