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A global recession is looming and the recent explosion of the Turkish luxury market may be slowing, but that doesn’t seem to faze Polo Ralph Lauren, which is opening its first stand-alone store in the country in the luxe Istinye Park mall here.

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


“Who knows what will happen, but the decisions we make are always long-term decisions and, you know, Istanbul has been around a long time,” said Charles Fagan, Polo’s executive vice president of global retail brand development, as he toured the new 6,500-square-foot unit. For the venture, Polo has linked up with Unitim, which brought Harvey Nichols to Istanbul, as its Turkish partner.


The imposing stone building, entered through a wrought iron gate, is inspired by architecture from the late Ottoman Empire, which was run for 550 years from this city. Inside, the large women’s accessories gallery displays the Ricky bag amid chandeliers and oversize vases, and the women’s wear halls are filled with the Collection, Black and Blue labels, showcasing items such as a jade evening gown, native American inspired felt and cashmere jackets and elegant black and leopard suiting with a whiff of the Forties.


The Polo collection of sportswear, classic cashmere cable knits and riding-inspired casualwear is in the back, past the stone fireplace and leather sofas and behind the sweeping limestone staircase. The store seems designed to thumb a nose at any prospect of economic gloom. “We wanted to introduce ourselves in Turkey this way — as luxury,” said Fagan.


The designer section of Istinye Park certainly is that — opened just a year ago, the area already hosts names such as Chanel, Gucci, Prada and Jimmy Choo.


“In Europe we are known mostly for our chic American casual sportswear, but luxury has always been a big part of Ralph Lauren,” Fagan elaborated. “And in some ways this is why we have tended to weather economic storms better than others, because our take on luxury has been less…fleeting… and if you are going to spend money in a recession you look for value.”


The layout and ambition of the Istanbul store, with men’s wear — Purple Label, Black Label, Polo and tailoring — now upstairs, visually explains the strategy Ralph Lauren has been following for the past three years.


Aligned, Fagan said, with the new women’s wear and accessories store on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, the Istanbul unit tells the consumer that luxury, women’s wear and accessories, presented direct from own-brand stores, form the core of the brand’s aggressive international expansion strategy. Women’s wear has increasingly taken the center stage as Ralph Lauren opened stand-alone stores in Milan, Moscow and Los Angeles, and will continue to take a growing role as expansion plans take the label to Dubai and South Korea.


“Probably 75 percent of our product assortment is now Collection, Purple Label and Black Label,” said Fagan. He said women’s wear now made up close to 50 percent of the Ralph Lauren output.


The Istanbul store’s mahogany woodwork, leather and stone details strongly evoke the Ralph Lauren identity, but the effort to tune into the local psyche is evident as Ottoman-style portraits stare out from amid Western hunting scenes and blackand- white Hollywood photographs.


Ralph Lauren has not been a big presence in Turkey, but a two-year experiment in Istanbul’s Harvey Nichols has proved a success, Fagan said, inspiring the label to bigger things here.


A few years ago, a Turkish fashion designer ridiculed the local luxury consumer as “overdressed, bottle blonde nouveau riche” women buying Versace on hire purchase. Since then, an influx of international luxury labels and the expansion of Turkish high-end department stores such as Beymen and Vakko have created a more mature market.


“If we had opened five years ago maybe there would not have been this understanding of sophistication and elegance which we see today,” Fagan said. “Now I find enthusiasm — people really seem to get Ralph Lauren.…They really seem to understand Ralph’s ability to take American icons such as a buffalo plaid shirt and turn it into a chic cashmere coat.”

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