NEW YORK — If retail theater is dead, someone forgot to tell Ralph Lauren.
At a time when physical stores are fighting to regain their relevancy for increasingly digitally driven shoppers, Lauren created an uplifting environment that’s attracting shoppers and inviting them to linger and smell the orchids.
The designer’s Madison Avenue flagship through Monday is a banquet for the senses with an immersive floral installation replete with the sounds of chirping birds and fluttering mechanical butterfly wings, created for Lauren’s February see-now-buy-now runway shows.
The living walls throughout the first and second floor are made up of about 100,000 orchids, give or take a few, 300 air plants and desert agave, intertwined with moss. The living set has soil that needs to be replenished throughout the day and designers were moving the white blooms around until they had it just right up until the doors opened for the runway shows on Wednesday night.
At a shopping event on Thursday for the collection, clients swooned over the romantic, blossom-filled tableaux. There was informal modeling for inspiration, canapés for fortification and Champagne and wine for the lubrication of wallets.
Leslie Schwebel, a longtime customer, attended Lauren’s consumer-facing runway show Wednesday night and returned Thursday for a closer look at the collection.
“I’ve been wearing Ralph Lauren since before he had stores,” said Schwebel, who lives mostly in California. “I’ve gone to a lot of his shows way downtown. This [setting] is beyond my expectations. It’s magnificent. The collections are always gorgeous.”
The designer sent a floral arrangement to her hotel before a show, which sometimes provides a clue to its theme, Schwebel said.
“On Feb. 14, I received flowers in my room and they were all orchids,” she explained. “Never did I think it was going to be floor-to-ceiling, and upstairs and downstairs.”
Schwebel got a tease of the flower walls on Wednesday morning when she showed up at the flagship, forgetting that it was closed in preparation for the runway shows that night. “The doors to the store were blacked out, but a [worker] opened the door and I saw the back wall,” she said. “When I walked in last night, I was in awe.”
Jeanette Norsworthy, who attended one of the shows, was smitten with the floral displays. “I don’t think I could ever forget that feeling,” she said. “I’ve been to four Ralph Lauren shows. The collection was elegant but wearable. I don’t think there was one thing that I saw where I didn’t say, ‘Oh my God, I want that.’ It was absolutely stunning, just gorgeous.”
Norsworthy said the see-now-buy-now aspect of the collection is appealing. “It has a huge impact, seeing a show and not having to wait six months to get the clothes.”
“The flowers are so appealing,” said Dana Guercio. “How many do you think there are? There could be a million orchids here. The collection really hit me in the heart. It’s iconic and modern in a way that only Ralph Lauren can do. It’s like I would want to wear everything.”
“Oh my goodness, those are my colors. I’m a New Yorker visiting from Colorado, where I moved,” said Stefany Lys. “It’s just a happy, serendipitous stop.
“The flowers are magnificent. I knew right away they were not going to be fake. It was great to bump into my friend, Richard Schinto [executive sales associate], who’s been with Ralph Lauren for years.”
Asked whether she’ll buy anything from the collection, Lys said, “There is that jacket…distressed leather with a button on the neck. I’ve got my eye on it.”