It’s hard to remember what Madison Avenue and 72nd Street looked like before Ralph Lauren. No one would recall if Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo inhabited the mansion at no. 867, which she had commissioned in 1898—she never actually moved in—but some may remember when photographer Edgar de Evia lived there in the fifties and how the ground-floor stores were once occupied by businesses like the Rhinelander Florist, La Cuisiniere housewares and an early incarnation of Eli Zabar’s E.A.T.
Glancing across the avenue to 888 Madison, where Ralph Lauren’s women’s and home collections have just opened in a grand, 38,000-square-foot space, one can imagine the townhouse that once stood there and what it was like when the owner, Alva Vanderbilt, convinced her daughter Consuelo to marry the Duke of Marlborough; seen as a highly strategic union, the couple divorced in 1921.(The townhouse remained a private residence until 1951 and was, until two years ago, the home of Ralph Lauren Sport.) Farther down the street is Ralph Lauren Layette and Ralph Lauren Kids. The only structure not branded by the company is the St. James Episcopal Church, established in 1810. But in the world of Ralph Lauren, where every detail and environment works to create a wonderfully idealized vision of American life, that sort of works too, no?
It has been nearly 25 years since Mr. Lauren restored the Rhinelander mansion to its former glory and transformed it into a retail flagship. When it opened in 1986, New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger called it “the most successful conversion of a New York house into a luxury emporium since Cartier took over the former Morton Plant residence on Fifth Avenue.” It achieved, he wrote, “just the right balance between beautiful objects for sale and beautiful objects placed to enhance the experience of being in a stage set.” The assessment has never been more true. This fall the mansion transitioned from a showcase of all things Ralph Lauren to a men’s-only flagship. The façade retains all its Beaux-Arts glory, and the grand mahogany staircase remains at the entrance. But each of the four floors is now a fully realized portrait of the Ralph Lauren man it represents.
Taking the elevator to four, formerly the home collection floor, one emerges into Black Label land: a limited-edition Confederate 120 Fighter Combat Edition motorcycle ($72,000) stands guard surrounded by mannequins in sleek zip-up jackets and pants with the label’s signature tapered leg. There are cantilevered leather shelves stocked with black and gray cashmere and books like Art of the Bugatti ($95) and The Beatles: 365 Days ($30). A long hallway presents a gallery of curated one-of-a-kind items sourced by Lauren and available only here: an earthquake-proof glass-and-steel Oracle turntable ($12,000), for example, or a tabletop fireplace by designer Carl Mertens ($750). The aesthetics carry over into the dressing room, where a black leather chair sits against a sharp black-and-white pinstripe fabric wall. (The trope continues on each floor: Polo’s dressing rooms are covered in a soft tweed; Purple Label’s have shirting-striped fabric.) The area designated for RLX, a line of high-performance athletic wear like the orange Microfiber Pinnacle windbreaker ($298), is lit by a cutting-edge LED-lighting system and has white acrylic floors.
If you can, walk down to three: The stairwell is painted a hunter green, the floor covered in camel carpeting and the walls are replete with “ancestral” portraiture. Roughed up oak floors, perfectly threadbare Persian rugs and bluegrass music signal the Double RL section. Wooden shelves out of some fantasy 19th-century dry goods and supply store hold exclusives like Harris Tweed blazers ($990) and a limited-edition oiled canvas trench coat ($1,600) as well as handpicked vintage items like patterned Navajo blanket belts and turquoise buckles. The Polo area—marked by jute rugs and cable cashmere sweaters—features a large screen with a computerized system called Create Your Own: Shoppers can choose from multiple Polo shirts and monogram styles. Give the store about 20 minutes and it will give you a personalized polo.
The second floor is designated for Purple Label and its made-to-measure program. There’s a pool table lined in violet wool propped with mannequins in double-breasted Purple Label suits; an anteroom with mahogany shelves lined in purple suede offers custom crocodile luggage and accessories (monogrammed mouse pad anyone?). The made-to-measure program is a well-kept secret among the sartorially obsessed—one gentleman told us, unprompted, that the Ralph Lauren custom suit is as close as it gets to true bespoke—and has never been more completely presented: Suits can be custom-ordered in about 100 cashmeres, shirts in more than 200 fabrics; everything from velvet slippers to traditional oxfords are bench-made. For those who can’t wait the six to eight weeks it takes to complete a custom suit, the Sartorial Collection, which debuted at the men’s mansion, offers suiting crafted entirely by hand.
Browsing the room one fall Saturday, a client stopped to assess the changes that had been made to the mansion: “I like it,” he said. “I just miss the home collection and the beds. They used to let me think I could fall asleep and pretend I lived here.” For that retail fantasy, he’ll now have to head across the street. The women’s and home store that opened last month is, many believe, the grandest shopping statement made in this vicinity since Bergdorf Goodman opened in 1928. The arched windows on the façade are said to have been specifically requested by Mr. Lauren to resemble those seen in turn-of-the-century Paris. There is, for lack of a better word, splendor inside these walls. A dramatic staircase takes shoppers from floor to floor, cream limestone tile with black cabochons beneath their feet. Ralph Lauren fine jewelry will be introduced here in the company’s first watch and jewelry salon in the States. The entire ground floor is dedicated to accessories like the Ricky bag that can be made to order in 21 shades of crocodile. Dressing rooms are draped in hand-blocked French toile. Floor-to-ceiling French doors on the second level open onto a balcony with a direct view of the mansion and its men’s collections across the way. This floor houses the runway collection as well as women’s made-to-measure. Its look is signature high Hollywood glamour with linen damask sofas, bouquets of white roses, plush carpenting and a working fireplace. The color palette was described in a way that seemed to reflect the entire experience of shopping here: It is, simply put, “dreamy creamy.”
For more details, call 888-475-7674 or go to ralphlauren.com.
Man According to Ralph
Each floor of the Ralph Lauren mansion at 867 Madison presents a man with the exquisite convenience of organization: Every level offers every single sartorial thing that he might need so he can walk out of the store completely realized in the Ralph Lauren label of his choice. The Black Label floor has one-of-a-kind Panerai watches alongside sleek Ralph Lauren aviators and slim tapered suits. The RRL area offers Lauren’s Japanese denim as well as handpicked vintage items. The Purple Label space has its charcoal cashmere double-breasted suits, the recently introduced Sartorial Collection of handmade clothing and also the fullest selection of made-to-measure services of any Ralph Lauren store in the world. Here, a floor-by-floor dissection and a few favorite things we found along the way.
The Weekend: Black Label is on the fourth floor of the mansion. There are sleek tapered suits and nylon weekenders (left, $1,195) as well as a gallery of handpicked items like Geoffrey Parker game sets ($1,800), limited-edition Halliburton attaché cases ($265) and Minox spy cameras ($300).
Evening Standard: Purple Label—in all its gray cashmere and double-breasted splendor—is on the second floor. Amid the made-to-measure services and the handmade sartorial suiting are glorious extras like crocodile luggage and onyx and diamond cuff links ($1,895).
Made-to-Measure: “We like to think of this as a small custom atelier only designed by Ralph Lauren,” one salesperson told us. The second-floor made-to-measure salon offers custom services for each label in the store. Purple Label shirts are available in 200 fabrics ($425).
Off-Duty: The Madison boot ($1,200) is a mansion exclusive and takes about 72 hours to produce. It is one of many Double RL items available only at this store. Others include a limited-edition oiled canvas trenchcoat ($1,600) and the Madison Market tote ($195).
Then There Was Woman
After two years, the Ralph Lauren women’s and home store has opened at 888 Madison. It’s a reflection of its Beaux-Arts brother, Ralph Lauren men’s, directly across the street. But while the Rhinelander mansion is done in a chateauesque style, the new store is more neoclassical, and at 38,000 square feet, she is no less grand. The store was conceived from the ground up as the definitive showcase of the Ralph Lauren woman, complete with the company’s first jewelry and watch salon in the States and made-to-measure services on par with those offered in the men’s store. It’s worth shopping here just to see the hand-blocked wallpaper in the dressing rooms.
Custom Ricky: The Ricky has become something of a signature for the brand. There will be a Purple Ricky made exclusively for the store ($17,995), but the bag can also be custom-ordered in 21 skins colors and monogram styles (from $18,700).
Watches & Bijoux: Those who remember walking into the Rhinelander mansion and ogling the vintage jewelry will be happy to know that the women’s store has an area reserved strictly for watches and bijoux. The vintage pieces will be here, yes, but they’ll be joined by the new line of fine jewelry, including this diamond Link Stirrup watch ($175,000).
Made-to-Measure: The second floor of 888 Madison showcases the women’s runway collection, plus an exclusive sleepwear collection. A separate area—complete with working fireplace—is the made-to-measure room, where women can receive the same benefits of custom tailoring, like this blazer (from $3,798), as their male counterparts at the men’s store.
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