In the wide-ranging and exclusive interview with WWD about the appointment of Patrice Louvet as Ralph Lauren Corp.’s new chief executive officer, founder Ralph Lauren and his incoming ceo talked about a variety of topics beyond Louvet’s job. Sitting in the living room of Lauren’s home in Bedford, N.Y., the executives touched upon such issues ranging from see-now-buy-now to department stores to Louvet’s own fashion tastes.
Here, excerpts from their conversation.
CHATTING WITH RALPH LAUREN
On continuing with See-Now-Buy-Now:
It’s working for us, and it’s doing something. I don’t know if it will work forever. The more people that are not in it doesn’t boost the concept. I think it has its good points and its bad points. I always know when I try something out, you try to be a little bit adventurous in creating newness and you have to try some things, and it may not work. You had to try it out, and we had a lot of good success with it. At the same time, maybe it shouldn’t be that way.
On retaining focus:
You want to take advantage of what you did. I’ve had brands that are part of Ralph Lauren, whether it’s Polo or Purple Label. In the world of Polo, there are beautiful suits and ties and chinos. We build complete concepts that really work: The Polo store, the Polo restaurants, sheets and towels. All these things have to be nurtured. Sometimes when you have too many brands, you start to spread out in too many places. You have to make sure you’re not doing that and are clear in your vision. Who are we and what do we stand for? You have to tighten up. There is the matter of what’s happening in the world. You have to focus more.
On pioneering experiential retail:
Our company opened the mansion (on East 72nd Street in Manhattan) and had home furnishings, we had room settings, we had children’s, men’s. I saw families go upstairs and shop and that’s an experience. You have a life, you’re living with clothes, living with furniture and creativity in your life. It’s fun to shop. I’m a big believer in product. You have to have the vision of who you are and what you stand for. Then you have to experiment — open a restaurant, open a coffee shop. I did that a long time ago. There’s talk about creativity, direction and leadership. You know, I’ve been there. These last few years have been tougher in the retail business in the large stores, and it’s been that way for everybody.
On department stores:
I think department store leaders will have to find a way to bring people into the store. Some department stores don’t have a reason for being with outlet stores and discounters. But one thing you have to know, if something is great, if a store or a restaurant is great, they go into it.
I think retail stores are still valuable. I find for our brands, the stores that are more special, the more we stand for something, the better we are. Quality is very, very important. As far as e-commerce, come back and see me in a year and tell me how good it is.
I’m a big believer in teams. I love the people I work with. People who started out in their 20s have been with me 25, 30 years and are still young. I like relationships. To run a business and to build a company — it’s not one man who does it. If I didn’t have the people I have in my company, I’d never have gotten anywhere.
CHATTING WITH PATRICE LOUVET
On areas of growth at Ralph Lauren:
If you look at my profile, one reason I’ve been recruited is my global experience. I have worked in Japan, Europe, the U.S. I’ve run global businesses for many years now. Obviously we need to get the U.S. business back to growth. The European business is showing good signs of growth and there’s more to be done. And there’s the whole Asia space, the whole China space, that I think is relative white space at Ralph Lauren. China is not easy. If you look at what the Ralph Lauren brand stands for, how distinctive it’s positioning is, I think it’s incredibly relevant for the Chinese consumer.
On his fashion profile:
I’m not really a fashion guy. I really like that space. I had an opportunity during my career in P&G to lead our prestige division twice. It’s about a $3 billion business. I was in charge of beauty licenses for many fashion brands. Gucci — I got a chance to develop their fragrance line, I loved it. I worked with Hugo Boss, Dolce & Gabbana, Rochas, Lacoste, a great diversity of brands. I really enjoyed it.
On being a Ralph Lauren consumer:
I’ve always loved this brand. My interactions with Ralph Lauren go back decades, from the first store I discovered in Place de la Madeleine in Paris. The brand has been a go-to for me for gifting to my two twin brothers. Every Christmas they get a sweater or a shirt. I have a real fondness for it.
On his MBA from the University of Illinois:
I went to a business school in Paris and was really keen to study in an American university. I fell in love with the U.S. when [we lived here when] I was a kid. I was determined to come back, to spend some time at a U.S. college. My business school had an agreement with the University of Illinois. Originally it was for three months, but I liked it so much I stayed and went on through my master’s.