NEW YORK — Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. just built a retail mansion on Madison Avenue — and tonight the company plans to rip it apart, make it disappear, reconstruct it, and do a whole lot of other shenanigans using groundbreaking digital technology that could change the way retailers consider using their facades, not to mention fashion shows, advertising and more.
It’s been 10 years since the company launched polo.com (which now operates as ralphlauren.com), and as part of the anniversary, Polo is staging a four-dimensional installation at its stores on 888 Madison Avenue here and on London’s New Bond Street with a light performance that could be straight out of the blockbuster movie “Inception.” Except that this isn’t Hollywood fiction. Up to 1,000 people are expected to witness the event live in both cities, and in New York, the company received permits to block off two lanes of traffic on Madison Avenue.
“We were looking to use technology in a new way,” said David Lauren, senior vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communication, who masterminded the eight-minute spectacle after his team came across the technology of digital mapping in Amsterdam a while back. “This is not just a game changer; it’s a life changer. It’s fashion changing film, architecture, technology. It’s an entire building turning into a stage set.”
The idea was initially conceived as a celebration of the brand’s new digital flagship in the U.K., but Ralph Lauren himself encouraged his team to host a simultaneous event at the new women’s and home store in New York.
The use of architectural video mapping is a new move for a fashion house, and is in line with Polo’s role as an industry pioneer when it comes to embracing technology.
“We started polo.com 10 years ago,” David Lauren said. “Since then, we had many technological innovations. We did our first ever children’s storybook, a virtual tennis clinic, and the first shoppable fashion show. We pioneered merchantainment.”
The company was a trailblazer when it launched its Web site in 2000, being one of the first major fashion companies to bring an editorial touch to the genre with exclusive content, from celebrity interviews to features on design, home, entertainment, sports and business. Since then, it has been at the forefront of other technological innovations, including launching interactive shopping windows and being among the first fashion companies to embrace mobile commerce, iPhone applications, virtual runway shows with “make-your-own” options, and online tennis Legends Clinics with Boris Becker during the Wimbledon tennis championships and Venus Williams for the U.S. Open.
For the 10th anniversary of the e-commerce site, which has sales in the U.S. of $200 million, David Lauren wanted to create a special 4-D celebration — “a spectacle that seamlessly brings together fashion, architecture, music and fragrance,” he said.
About 150 people worked on the project, which required architecturally mapping every stone, cornice and window of the two stores and digitally recreating 3-D replicas, not to mention replicas of the buildings behind them. Lauren said that Polo also tapped 100 people who worked on the “Harry Potter” series of movies for help with the special effects required. The teams have been working on the project nonstop since May, said Lauren.
In New York, the facade will serve as a screen for the projection of point-pixels of light, which can bring about optical effects that will leap out onto the street and down Madison Avenue. The projection will have a larger resolution than IMAX, with high-definition video projectors and eight images laid on top of one another.
“It’s 3-D without glasses, it’s almost Orwellian,” an enthusiastic Lauren said. “This will change the way you look at fashion, fashion shows, advertising and the Internet. We can take our building, which looks like a beautiful Beaux Arts building, and show cutting-edge modernity.”
On Madison Avenue, the light show will feature multiple scenes that will unfold over eight minutes, telling the story of the company in multiple scenes. David Copperfield-style, the building will disappear before the audience, and be rebuilt block-by-block with accompanying sounds for special effect. At one point, it will appear lit from within with silhouettes moving on the inside. Like a dollhouse, the mansion will open and four-story tall models will appear from the inside and walk in a runway show. In other virtual scenes, the facade will open like a curtain to unveil a giant red Ricky bag; the sound of galloping horses will lead to a polo player bursting through the facade and down Madison Avenue, with Prince Charles’ polo team playing a virtual game; a Ralph Lauren watch face popping out like a cuckoo clock; a belt looping through the windows and giving the building a squeeze, and giant virtual ties flapping out at the audience. In a 4-D twist, a spritz of Ralph Lauren’s Big Pony fragrances will be released into the audience as the collection of bottles appears to float out from the facade. The show will end with a 3-D hologram of Ralph Lauren himself, looking out onto the street through one of the mansion’s windows. The designer is expected to watch the spectacle — and himself — from Madison Avenue, while David Lauren will be in London witnessing the event there.
David Lauren declined to disclose the cost of the event, which sources estimate to be more than six figures — but a far cry from $160 million budget of “Inception.”
He said that in his travels in Asia, he has seen a lot of use of light installations at retail, but the new technology opens the door to new opportunities.
“We are celebrating 10 years,” he said. “We wanted to do the best thing we could think of, and go all out. Brands have started to play with projection and lighting, but we wanted to push it further. We invested our talent to make a statement about how fashion can be a leader in technology as well.”