NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren is galloping onto Fifth Avenue.
Today, when the designer opens his first Polo flagship at 711 Fifth Avenue, he will make a statement for the newly expanded Polo lifestyle, which now also includes women’s. The store, across 38,000 square feet and three floors, is a showcase for the brand’s new sensibility, which skews youthful with a downtown vibe, from the interior and how the merchandise is styled to the aroma at Ralph’s Coffee (more on that later).
“The concept for me was to make this modern, and to really show what Polo Ralph Lauren is about,” the designer said during an exclusive walkthrough of the store. “This was the first store where I said, ‘I have to build a new concept for Polo, and it should be young, and show everything that we have.’”
Polo is an instrumental part of the growth platform at Ralph Lauren Corp. This concept sets a blueprint for future openings and clearly delineates the brand from the designer’s Collection business.
This being Ralph, there is a still distinctly American feel throughout in details such as the wood of an Adirondack boathouse that marks men’s on the main floor, the custom river-rock stone fireplaces, display details such as vintage guitars and a suspended kayak, as well as iconic photography framed on the walls and collectors’ books that are for sale.
For a designer of Lauren’s stature, it may come as a surprise to some that he is only now embracing Fifth Avenue.
“As a New Yorker, I have always seen Fifth Avenue and it was not really for me,” he admitted, pointing to his choice to focus his main retail activity here around Madison Avenue and 72nd Street. “Fifth Avenue is a different audience. There are tourists shopping, or not shopping and walking and sightseeing. I have always run away from high-traffic areas, so this is an interesting experience. It’s a big space on one of the world’s great streets, and it’s exciting because it’s new for me. Challenges are exciting. I want to make a statement about what we stand for. This is it. The world of Polo.”
A giant monitor in the entry lobby flashes that message via video shorts by Bruce Weber, which can be seen from across Fifth Avenue.
“It’s the expression of where I stand today and how strong Polo is as a concept,” Lauren noted. “It gives it the space, it gives it its own individuality and it’s cool.”
Women’s, on the second and third floors, takes a different approach from men’s, with white-washed brick walls and wood-paneled ceilings like a downtown loft. The double-height shoe area features a mezzanine library. Vintage furniture and rugs, and special items like guitars and even a custom handmade Ascari bicycle that’s available for $20,000 add to the concept.
“She’s the downtown girl,” Lauren said. “She’s got heritage. She went to college. She is a smart girl, and doing whatever she wants to do. She is living downtown, and is energetic, classy, preppy-ish, but not preppy. She is more independent and individual. She is living in a loft, she goes to the movies, she goes out downtown.”
And she likes a good cappuccino. During the walkthrough, Lauren shared his aromatic preferences over a freshly brewed cup at his first coffee shop. On the store’s second floor, the shop overlooks Fifth Avenue and features white mosaic-tiled floors; white, weathered board walls, and an aged oak 18-foot ceiling. There is a large vintage oak library table for communal seating, as well as smaller marble top tables, accented with bistro chairs. The café can seat up to 22 guests.
“She is sitting down, having coffee at a communal table, reading a book,” he said. “I opened a store in Paris with the restaurant called Ralph’s, and this is how I see the young woman here. She reads, she stops in and buys clothes, or she is here with her friends and has a coffee.”
Lauren likes his coffee strong, no sugar. Working with La Colombe, he developed his own line of blends made from USDA organic coffees, including the Ralph’s Organic Espresso Blend, which mixes beans from Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Ethiopia. The café also sells juices, sandwiches (among them, roasted turkey as well as roasted pepper with avocado) and some of his favorite pastries, including “Nana’s Brownies,” made from one of his mother-in-law’s recipes.
Table bussers and counter servers wear striped shirts with knit ties in signature Ralph’s Coffee green; khaki pants, and butchers’ aprons with the coffee brand’s logo.
A restaurant, called The Polo Bar, is set to open in November in the former La Côte Basque space with a focus on steaks, hamburgers and farm-to-table food, according to Lauren.
“I love the sensibility of doing restaurants because I think that food and fashion go hand-in-hand,” he said. “It’s entertainment, it’s happiness, and I want to put it together as I see it today.”