Playing Polo: Ralph Lauren’s Winning Tactics
DAVID LAUREN IS standing at the doorway of the Madison Avenue building, where rangy young women with shiny blonde hair - and country guys with locks longer and wilder than their well-groomed dogs - are showing the broad scope of the Polo Ralph Lauren collection.
David Lauren himself has a plaid shirt with that Long Island /New England look.
"It's one of my favourite shirts - I used to wear this for math class in high school," says Lauren, 44, proving that this brand is not fast fashion. It is built to last until the next generation, since David has just given his father, Ralph Lauren, a grandson.
As New York Fashion Week buzzes with un-answered questions about altering presentation dates and a seismic shift to a show-now-buy-now policy, I ask David how much he thinks the fashion business is up for change.
"Ask me about technology, and one of the things I know is the first ever shoppable fashion show, which we built for a brand called Rugby," David said. "And that's almost TEN years ago now - when you could just see the collection and buy it. But the truth is that the industry wasn't ready to align that way. So we did it for one or two seasons and then it became more complicated. I believe the industry is just getting there now."
Ralph Lauren certainly has an impressive back history with Polo turning 50 next year. I looked across at the models reclining in their slender sportswear, and noticed that there was less prairie romance and more rock 'n roll to the metallic biking trousers, shimmery, silvered leather biker jackets and fringed bags.
Polo Sport was new to me - a 21st-century meld of functional fashion for the gym. It has built-in high-tech elements, such as cooling fabrics and reflective finishes.
"I think the beauty of technology is that it does not have to align to a set calendar," said David, referring to the current proposals that clothes destined for summer or winter should be offered closer to those seasons.
I asked how much of the Ralph Lauren's business is done through its own stores. But I soon realised that these things are complex, which is why it will be difficult to attempt to cram all fashion into the same timeframe.
"I would say for 'Collection' it is a large part - up to three quarters are sold in our own luxury stores - luxury stores with charm," David said.
"The other brands are a wholesale business, so Polo would mostly be wholesale channels, where we don't have as many dedicated stores as for 'Collection'."
I was impressed by the sheer number of Polo outfits and items, including city, country and sports, for the male, as well as the range of women's outfits and accessories. I asked David the million dollar question: under the now proposed new delivery and promotion order, how would it be decided to invest in product and to deliver it on time?
David had a wise reply.
"The ultimate goal of technology is to know your customer better - not to feel more disconnected," he said. "So if you use the technology and with your sales people, you know your customer, then the goal is to buy what you think your customer needs."
I took a coffee from the specially installed Ralph Lauren bar and pondered what I had heard: that endless For Sale mark downs are because stores do not understand the needs and wishes of the consumer; and the importance of technology to fill that retailer-customer gap. I noted that every single thing from the horse racing statue to the photograph of Ralph Lauren in one of his vintage racing cars - and including my coffee - was 100 per cent on message.
That seems like fashion's smart way to go.