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Standing Out From the Scrum: Rugby Touches Down

Rugby is ready for a rollout. The younger-skewed and lower-priced retail division of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. currently operates 10 stores in the U.S., but company executives have major plans for expansion both here and abroad.

Rugby is ready for a rollout.

The younger-skewed and lower-priced retail division of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. currently operates 10 stores in the U.S., but company executives have major plans for expansion both here and abroad.

“We’re looking to push it out aggressively,” said Roger Farah, president and chief operating officer, hinting the firm is eyeing Europe and eventually Asia.

Originally aimed at the collegiate market — the first store opened on Boston’s Newbury Street in October 2004 — Rugby has broadened its reach during the past three years.

“I think we found that all ages are buying it,” said Ralph Lauren.

In a recent conference call with Wall Street analysts, Farah explained: “Rugby is still in the discovery phase in terms of customer profile and demographics, male-female and casual versus dressy. Surprisingly, age has been more elastic than we anticipated. It was interesting to find that [Rugby] appeals to the younger customer and that it reaches higher up [among some older consumers]. It appeals to those older, in their 30s, who are young at heart and contemporary in their thinking.”

To wit, the latest Rugby unit opened this month at 2017 Union Street in San Francisco. Other stores are located in New York; Georgetown in Washington; New Canaan and Greenwich, Conn.; Chicago; Palo Alto, Calif.; Seattle, and Dallas.

No other sites have been announced, but the company said the “real estate development team is working to identify the next Rugby store locations.”

Existing stores are 60 percent women’s wear and 40 percent men’s and offer seasonal collections that are grounded by, appropriately enough, rugby shirts, as well as knit polos, oxford shirts, sweaters, denim, chinos, jackets, suits, dresses, outerwear and accessories.

All the merchandise features authentic detailing and is often inspired by vintage designs. The company describes the offerings as “flavored by old-school inspiration, nostalgic athleticism and modern-day eclectic prep.”

Among the most popular items, according to Polo, are the rugby shirts, which can be customized with an assortment of patches under the MYOR (Make Your Own Rugby) concept.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

This fall, the company began offering several new products, including leather accessories and handbags for women. Key styles include a tote, saddlebag and clutch. A new Haberdashery collection for men also bowed in New York, San Francisco and Georgetown.

Among the men’s wear are the Rugby Suit and the University Jacket, along with shirts, neckwear, dress accessories and leather goods. The Rugby Suit, which retails for $650 to $750, is made in the U.S. and is a modern update to the classic sack suit of the late Fifties. It features a fitted three-button jacket with a soft natural shoulder, a lean notch lapel and a center vent and flat-front trousers. Fall fabrics include worsted wool, flannel, doeskin, tweed and corduroy.

The University Jacket has three buttons and a notch lapel, a slightly looser fit overall and a center vent. It retails from $248 to $428, depending on fabric.

Right now, the Rugby collection is only available in the 10 stores, but by early next year, e-commerce is expected to be added. A new 330,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art distribution center in North Carolina is being constructed for ralphlauren.com, and once that is up and running, the company can add online shopping for Rugby. Certain sections of the facility will open in November; it is expected to be completed by March.

To promote the label, Polo recently launched a marketing site, rugby.com, which shouts out: “Experience the new store concept by Ralph Lauren — a place where preppy Ivy League tradition complements new styles to cultivate a rich sense of character and individuality.”

The site offers vignettes of the season’s fashions as well as a style guide and tips on key fashion trends, how to tie a traditional four-in-hand or bow tie and how to master the “casual denim rolled-up look.”

There are no plans to wholesale the label, the company said; however, Colette in Paris presented a collection of styles from the brand that were sold during the Rugby World Cup at the beginning of September. But a spokesman said that was a one-shot deal.

Nevertheless, observers expect Polo to intensify its focus on the brand in the future. “It’s the best-kept secret in the industry,” said one vendor. “It’s priced right, it’s fun, it’s young. It’s like the old University Shop used to be 40 years ago, but with a 2007 sensibility.”