Yesterday saw the completion of Ralph Lauren's real estate remedy as his more popularly priced Denim & Supply brand took over the space that originally held the designer's defunct Rugby boutique on University place. It's as if he got rid of his fantasy version of collegiate wear and replaced it with something somewhat closer to what college kids actually wear. Whether the built-in NYU client base for the location will be shopping up a storm at Denim & Supply remains to be seen, but promoting the more casual, jeans-based brand seems to be a better strategy for the designer to court a younger customer.
This will be the first Denim & Supply shop in New York and the second in the U.S. after the recent Boston Rugby-store-conversion, with more to come as other locations of the folded chain get retrofitted for a new brand. Lauren's smartest move was to strip the former store's interior of its cluttery, whitewashed fixtures to open it up. The gutted aesthetic naurally works better for the new line, but of course the folks at Ralph Lauren turned around and fitted the newly stripped interior with more, different clutter. They are, after all, junkies for clutter at Ralph Lauren, but the new aesthetic at Denim & Supply is more surplus store-inspired, and not entirely unlike the way his RRL shops looked when that sub-brand debuted about 20 years ago before eventually morphing into a vintage-based collection (following the evolutions of Lauren's myriad brands can be exhausting).
Denim & Supply may well succeed as the Abercombie & Fitch/American Eagle killer that Rugby failed to become. The store is brimming with denim in every possible stage of distress from lightly faded to fully shredded with Indian fabric patches to multicolored paint-stained to brightly hued garment dyed versions. Then there are the cargo shorts in every possible camouflage or animal pattern, to be topped with chambray or maybe a polynesian print western shirt. Add some randomly placed American flags and plenty of bandannas and voilà! You have the Ralph Lauren formula for casual wear with a rock/hippie/boho edge. Expect to aee it replicated widely soon, possibly at a mall near you as the company is pushing hard for more freestanding shops for its own labels. With Abercrombie experiencing yet another wave of unfavorable PR on several fronts, The time might be right for the original Americana designer to step in and bring them down a peg or two.
Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply 99 University Place at 12th Street, Greenwich Village