He didn’t stage a big flashy show, and there were no silly clothes — the sort of frock put there because they make a good picture but whose usefulness is limited to someone with their own Las Vegas show. The silhouettes were familiar, from the cadet jackets and wide leg pants to the floor-length sparkly Polo dress with its short sleeves, tiny collar and little polo player perched over the heart. They were beautiful clothes, especially a metallic coat in a perfect shade of 14-karat gold.
Lauren’s clothes were not urgent. But they were extraordinarily gracious. He’s betting that every generation, as it matures and gains disposable income, will appreciate a little grace.
After celebrating his 50th anniversary in business with a lavish black tie dinner and show in Central Park in September, Lauren presented his spring collection in his Madison Avenue shop, which had been transformed into Ralph’s Cafe. This was no makeshift setting with a few cafe tables and metal chairs strewn about. Come on now — this is Ralph Lauren, people! He installed leather banquettes, set the tables with Ralph’s branded plates and filled silver serving pieces with Ralph’s sugar packets and Ralph’s butter. And, of course, Ralph’s coffee was brewed.
The cafe was not just for the show. It will remain open to the public — a bid to transform the act of browsing one of his stores into full-sensory entertainment. And, of course, the cafe serves as the perfect backdrop for folks looking to feed the social media monster. Lauren’s show is also Lauren’s sales pitch. His customers might not have been filling those cafe seats as the model walked through the room, each one smiling pleasantly and managing to get the usually stone-faced crowd to smile back. But shoppers still were top of mind.
The company’s recent earnings report showed quarterly net revenue growth of 5 percent compared with this time last fiscal year. The report highlighted the brand’s emphasis on digital sales and marketing and the importance of social media influencers. The report also noted the company’s custom designs for the wedding of Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra, which received an avalanche of media coverage, as part of its strategy for connecting with a younger consumer base.
For a mature brand like Ralph Lauren, one that has already branched out into every conceivable realm, from housewares to restaurants, staying relevant is the ultimate challenge. What surprised and delighted in the past can easily read as expected and boring. But the company seems to be finding a way forward, slowly teasing out ways to charm new customers without losing its essential essence.
Lauren already has multiple restaurants. Eating a Ralph-branded burger is not new. Dressing celebrities isn’t either. But the Chopra-Jonas wedding was a social-media-pop-culture-tabloidy feast. And at Ralph’s Cafe, you can sip and shop and make kissy face for a thousand selfies. This is a brand as entertainment, which makes it very modern — and in Lauren’s hands, still quite gracious.
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