Today's the big day for Ralph Lauren's new Women's and Home Mansion at Madison Avenue and 72nd Street after yesterday's VIP preview where the designer received the Key to New York City. Now is your chance to weigh in on the imposing new boutique. How much you love it depends on how much you love Ralph Lauren, who, popular as he is, can be surprisingly polarizing. We can promise you that inside it is just as lavish as we expected and then some. There were few surprises among the dazzling ersatz Gilded Age decor. The store centers around a grand staircase that sweeps up through the four floors ending at the home collection showcase at the top. It's worth noting that the boutique no longer sells the same Lauren by Ralph Lauren home furnishing merchandise that is sold in department stores. Here you will find his exclusive premier bedding, gift and tabletop lines arranged around the model rooms that made the top floor of the mansion across the street such a destination when it opened decades ago.
More than anything, what struck us about the new store was how Lauren is now following the merchandising patterns of European luxury brands like Gucci or Prada. The main floor, much like Gucci's Trump Tower brand palace, is devoted to accessories and sunglasses with a detour into the designer's new precious jewelry and timepiece lines. Lauren is surely the most successful designer in America, and possibly the world, but he has learned a few lessons from the extravagant flagships that he as well as his competitors have begun to scatter across the globe. Gone are the counters of antique jewelry and watches in favor of his own seamless brand presentation. Another surprising European-influenced change was in the sales staff. They were still a fresh faced, camera-ready group, but while they were once styled within inches of their lives, sometimes modeling the brand's most extravagant signature looks, they are now discreetly clad in black uniforms, with sleek dresses or jackets for women and understated dark suits with white pocket squares for the men.
Lots has been and will be written about the store, including yesterday's New York Times article which was stuck on the notion that none of these opulent flagship stores are profitable alone but serve as valuable advertising vehicles to sell less expensive merchandise elsewhere. There's really no way to verify that presumption, and its accuracy will certainly vary from brand to brand and season to season. This building must have come with a price tag well into eight figures, and the overhead on Madison Avenue is generally staggering, but whether the store is profitable is really neither my problem nor yours. The store, along with its refreshed brother mansion across the street, only proves that for sheer theatrical retail spectacle, Ralph Lauren remains the king.
Ralph Lauren Women's & Home Flagship 888 Madison Avenue at 72nd Street, Upper East Side
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Madison Avenue News Flash: Ralph Lauren's New Women's Mansion To Open This Friday