Ralph Lauren has had a monster year. The opening of his women’s store in New York, erected across the street from The Rhinelander Mansion that itself set a new standard for designer retail back in 1985, might have played like a big, beautiful, optimistic punctuation mark on a remarkably newsy year.
Built of Indiana limestone, the 22,000-square-foot marvel is so credible an evocation of a grand Beaux Arts mansion that it prompted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to offer, “When they say they don’t build them like this anymore, they’re wrong.” The mayor’s comment came as he presented Lauren with the keys to the city on the store’s staircase in an emotional ceremony in October. The project — at an estimated cost of $50 million — was all the more stunning because it developed during the recession. “What this does,” Lauren told WWD, “is prove that we believe in the world, we believe in America and we believe that people want good things.”
Yet Lauren wasn’t finished. His ultimate exclamation point on the year came a month later, when, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of polo.com, he staged dual 4-D digital extravaganzas — one in New York, with the new store as a backdrop, the other in London — which used cutting-edge architectural video mapping to create remarkable outdoor light shows featuring imagery that seemed to leap out from the buildings. “It’s almost Orwellian,” Lauren said. The point, to highlight Polo’s leadership and daring in the digital arena, wasn’t just for show. Ultimately, Lauren said, such technology will “change the way you look at fashion — fashion shows, advertising and the Internet.”
Lauren’s brick-and-mortar moves were not limited to the women’s store. He renovated the now all-men’s Rhinelander, and opened his third outpost in Paris, a 23,000-square-foot gem in a 17th-century town house that, in addition to his multiple collections, also features the restaurant Ralph’s, home to the now-most-famous hamburger in Paris. Along the way, he was presented with the Legion of Honor by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Nor did Lauren neglect that which makes the whole ship run, the merch, showing some of his best collections for both men and women.
In November, he sat for a keynote Q&A at WWD’s CEO Summit, at which he put the year’s news in context of his career. “I think any successful company has to have a leader with a voice and a direction,” Lauren said. “I had a vision about what I like and believe in, and it keeps growing.”