he son of Belarusian immigrants who settled in The Bronx, Ralph Lauren
has come a long way from his retail beginnings as a Brooks Brothers
salesman. In 1967, with the financial support of clothing entrepreneur Norman Hilton, he created the Polo brand, and the world’s love affair with his quintessentially preppy American look began. Here, the designer ruminates on his label’s exponential growth over the last 43 years and the long-awaited unveiling of his stunning new Paris flagship.How does it feel to be opening your biggest store in Paris?
Although I’ve had a presence in Paris since 1986, when we opened our first flagship on Place de la Madeleine, followed by our beautiful women’s store on Avenue Montaigne in 2008, I never felt my story was completely told. With the opening of our new store in Saint Germain I feel it will be.How did you come across this new building?
I have always wanted to be part of the romance of the Left Bank. One must be patient to find the right location and the right space. 173 Boulevard Saint Germain was perfect: I loved the architecture of this historic French mansion in the heart of the most romantic part of Paris. I loved its spirit, the cobbled passage way opening into an intimate courtyard and the rustic charm of the old stables which will now be our restaurant.What did you envision for the store and has it been realized?
In 1986, when I opened my first store in New York City, restoring one of the great old mansions of the Upper East Side, I invited people into a world. It wasn’t just a store—I was taking you into a home filled with mood and atmosphere. I had this same vision for the store in Saint Germain, a hôtel particulier built in the 18th century. We have gone to great lengths to restore all the authentic details from the “parquet de Versailles
” floors to the heavy timbered ceilings of the original stables that will now be a dining room. Inside this welcoming space we invite you in to make yourself at home.How do you feel the Ralph Lauren aesthetic translates to Paris?
All the great writers and artists, many of them American, were drawn to Paris for its romance, history, culture and artistic spirit. I am by nature romantic. All my collections have a cinematic spirit to them and I cannot start designing a collection until I know my heroine. In some ways I guess you could say I write through my clothes. So what could be a better backdrop for my dreams than the City of Light itself?If you had a day to yourself in Paris, how would you spend it?
With my wife Ricky walking through the little streets, exploring the shops and stopping at a little café for lunch.What differences do you see between New York and Paris?
New Yorkers seem always in such a hurry to get from one place to another, whereas Parisians seem to take more time to enjoy the journey.What about the classic American style for which you are known versus classic French style?
Classic to me means things that are timeless and enduring; the things that never go out of style. They can be American. They can be French.From your early days as a salesman to the global brand that Ralph Lauren has become, you have been a major retail pioneer. Is there anywhere else in the world you are keen to expand to?
I was recently in China and am very interested in exploring further possibilities there. It will be an ongoing adventure. How do you see your brand's continuing evolution in the digital age?
We started that exploration over ten years ago with the launch of RalphLauren.com, and now it is our largest single store. We have led the way with mobile phone technology. The challenge is to harness the power of technology to clearly demonstrate the uniqueness, quality and luxury of all our products––to tell our story personally in a new way to a new generation and marketplace.