POLO JEANS: LAUREN’S LATEST BUILDING BLOCK IN WOMEN’S VENTURE
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — “It’s very interesting to be out there on every level,” said Ralph Lauren as he toured the floor of the new Polo Jeans Co. showroom at 575 Madison Ave.
Lauren has clearly devoted plenty of time and energy to getting himself “out there.” Since retrieving his women’s wear license from Bidermann Industries last fall, he’s been signing licenses and bolstering the women’s wear staff to build a structure that he hopes will rival, or even surpass, his $550 million Polo men’s business.
It’s a strategy that many see as a prelude to a public offering.
One of the first moves he made was to sign a jeanswear license with Sun Apparel, the El Paso, Tex., jeanswear manufacturer that also holds licenses for Sasson and Todd Oldham, and manufactures its own Code Bleu and X-Am brands.
Polo’s jeans line debuted this year, and the women’s line is now being shown to retailers. It’s scheduled to start shipping Aug. 1 to about 600 stores and will be accompanied by a $20 million print-and-TV advertising blitz. In-store shops are going up at several locations; the average size is 600 square feet, but some of the shops are 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
“There are sophisticated customers who will come in and say, ‘I know this guy, I like his stuff, I know it fits,’ ” said Lauren. “And then there will be a whole new customer who will see the ads and be drawn in by that.”
Lauren hasn’t had an easy time getting the right denim chemistry. The Double RL line, which is men’s wear but marketed as unisex, was criticized for poor fit and weak sell-throughs. Other women’s denim ventures, such as Ralph Lauren Westernwear, a joint venture with The Gap in the late Seventies, also failed to take off.
But Polo Jeans Co. is not just denim. It’s a full sportswear collection based on denim, from fleece to tailored sportswear.
“It’s no longer just denim,” he said in an interview. “It’s a jeans mentality. It’s the flavor of how this woman lives. There’s a jeans consumer who has another mentality, a different way of looking at things. This addresses that sensibility in each of those categories, but it’s authentic to what it has to be.”
Still, Polo Jeans is coming into a market that gets more crowded every day, as designers here and abroad decide to add jeanswear to their mix. And at the price point that Lauren has chosen for his basic jeans — $48 — he’s going head to head with stalwarts such as Guess and Calvin Klein for the young, hip consumer.
But Lauren, who designed the line as a combination of classics, activewear influences and Americana, believes it will appeal to a customer who wants versatility but with attitude.
“I’ve always believed that the origin of jeans is very Western, but this is a mix,” said Lauren. “It’s very contemporary, very sleek — it’s not just cowboy. There are elements that work everywhere. It really fills her wardrobe. It can be really jeans-looking or very sophisticated.”
“It hits the woman and the young, contemporary customer,” said Mindy Grossman, president and chief executive officer of Polo Jeans Co. “It depends on the moment — summer will be a little wilder, while fall is a little more sedate and sophisticated.”
Grossman declined to offer a first-year sales projection, but said, “We can see this becoming a $300 million business in the next few years.”
Polo Jeans includes premium denim fabrics such as 16-dip denim: a 14 1/2-ounce cotton denim that has been stonewashed for softness and then dipped 16 times to a very dark blue, to appeal to the current taste for dark but soft denim.
“There are four core bodies, three basic washes and three inseam lengths,” said Grossman. “We have slim, classic, relaxed and loose. We’ve also got a boot-cut crop style, a flare pant, a few slim twill styles and a 20-inch full leg. We’re offering the 16-dip in all basic and fashion cuts, because there’s a customer who may not be ready for fashion, there’s a customer who is, and there’s a customer who’s ready for both.”
Other fabrics include stretch poplin, cotton shirtings, Polartec fleece, merino wool, stretch satin, cotton jersey, leather, laminated rubber and corduroy.
Wholesale prices of tops range from $11 for a basic cotton T-shirt to $34 to $36 for a synthetic knit; fleece pieces are $24 to $32.50; shirtings are $25 to $39; jeans are $24 for basic cotton denims and go to $31 for a specialty fabric or wash. There is leather outerwear from $75 to $225. Tailored jackets such as the four-button velvet piece are about $80.
“The line really has breadth,” said Lauren. “I see it mixing with my other lines — with Sport, with Ralph.”
“We have about 75 [stockkeeping units] on Quick Response alone,” said Grossman.
Lauren also paid plenty of attention to the details, such as the tiny American flag tab sewn into the watch pocket on jeans. That logo also appears on the washable leather waistband patch, printed inside the laminated, fleece-lined peacoat and sewn on the back of a classic denim jacket.
Western touches include pearl snap buttons, contrast stitching and pointed yokes on the shirts. Lauren’s affection for motorcycles shows up in lean black leather jackets, while there’s a bit of mod in the velvet four-button jacket and low-cut pants.
There are also slim basics such as wool jersey or stretch denim shirtdresses, long merino skirts and flat-front chinos.
But Lauren and Grossman say they don’t plan to just churn out variations on basics. There will be “a lot of innovation in fabrics and styles,” such as the addition of some colored denim for spring, Lauren said.
“There has to be fun in this line,” said Lauren. “But there also has to be balance. It should be a little provocative but wearable.”