Ralph is the Greatest!
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\"RROk, I confess, I am in love with Ralph Lauren. Not the man, whom I’ve seen up close only once, but the brand, which I think is by far the greatest and most iconic American brand in the both the retail and apparel space and beyond. Ralph Lauren has created a world in which his brand lives. The brand is referred to as “The World of Ralph Lauren.” This is how the company refers to it, and, this is how we, as consumers, have been educated, by Ralph to think about and experience the brand. The World of Ralph Lauren is a place of elegance and luxury, of classic and rugged American style. The World of Ralph Lauren has its roots in a rich and glamorous American past. In an old world “WASP” lifestyle with touches of the American West; of polo players and yachts; of country houses, of Palm Beach, Nantucket, Southampton and the Maine coast; of old-school Boston and the New York establishment; of the Virginia hunt country and the ski slopes of Colorado, Utah and Idaho.  The World of Ralph Lauren presents very specific images of effortless and timeless style and taste. It is not pure fantasy. The images are rooted in an other-worldly reality that some people have actually lived. Picture the extended Kennedy family tossing a football in Hyannis on a fall afternoon, and then dressing for dinner at Downton Abbey.

The World of Ralph Lauren exists in every tightly controlled image the company presents, in every possible medium, including five branded Ralph Lauren e-commerce sites. The World of Ralph Lauren is found in company-owned stores; in concessions-based shop-within-shops; and in three key department stores which account for 45% of the company’s wholesale revenue of $3.14 billion. Department store distribution breaks down to about 20,000 Ralph Lauren shops-within-shops dedicated to RL products, each a mini World of Ralph Lauren. Wherever and whenever the consumer meets the brand, it is a consistent experience. It is clear. It is unmistakably Ralph Lauren.

To control the brand, Ralph Lauren single-mindedly controls the company and his vision for it. Ralph Lauren went public in 1997, long before the hoopla surrounding Michael Kors and those , like Marc Jacobs, who are about to follow in Kors’ footsteps to cash in and out. Another fashion icon, Liz Claiborne, a seemingly now forgotten fashion success story, completely lost control of the brand and its roots after becoming a public company and cashing out. Not so . Ralph Lauren, Chairman and CEO, continues to lead the company and instill his vision in it. RL revenues are projected by S&P to increase by 6.5% in FY 2014 to $7.40 billion. Entities controlled by the Lauren family own about 83% of the voting power of the company’s outstanding common stock.,according to S&P, allowing Ralph to elect directors and “control any matter that is submitted to shareholder vote, including mergers and asset votes.” David Lauren, Executive Vice President of Advertising, Marketing and Corporate Communications, and Ralph’s son, was named a Director of the company in August of this year, might be a suitable successor to Ralph – and one who could insure control of the brand and its vision.

Ralph Lauren had a vision for the brand from his earliest days as a tie salesman/designer. Inspired by the likes of the Duke of Windsor and Katherine Hepburn, either of whom could appear quite comfortably in a Ralph Lauren ad today, Ralph Lauren continues to inspire customers with his vision of luxury and a life well-lived.

In 1984, Ralph Lauren restored the Rhinelander mansion on the southeast corner of 72nd and Madison in New York, creating a proper home for his World and all of its accoutrements. At the time skeptics scorned: “What are they going to sell there?” “How will they fill all of that space?” “Who is going to go all the way uptown to shop on Madison and 72nd Street?” “How will it affect sales at Bloomingdale’s less than 20 blocks south?” Some people thought it would be a disaster, but, it was a stunning and gorgeous success spawning a mini empire of glorious little World of Ralph Lauren destinations from Paris, Singapore and Saigon, to Beverly Hills and Chicago. Two of the flagships, Paris and Chicago, now boast restaurants, all the better to luxuriate in the World whiling away the hours, sipping coffee out of Ralph Lauren cups or champagne out of Ralph Lauren goblets, relaxing after shopping or as destination in and of itself..

In October 2010, Ralph Lauren opened a sister mansion in Manhattan directly across from the Rhinelander to showcase the Women’s and Home collections. The original Rhinelander mansion now houses Men’s. “I know that as I started to build my own stores the business got better… it helped Neiman’s and Saks…” Ralph Lauren told the New York Times when the new mansion opened.

These stores are spectacular articulations of the brand. Curated Worlds of the brand, with no detail left un-thought or poorly executed — from the pitch-perfect uniforms of the sales associates in the new Mansion: black dresses with little black jackets, stud earrings, pulled back chignons for the attractive women; dark seemingly bespoke suits, white shirts, and ties for the well groomed men. The merchandising, interior store design and display, dressing areas, packaging and high touch customer service echo the brand vision. Water is served on silver trays in dressing rooms. Fitters, also dressed in the little black dress uniform, are courteous and professional. The show, splendid retail theater,, is one of style, elegance and purpose. The purpose is as much to connect customers with the World of Ralph Lauren as it is to sell them a $10,000+ handbag or watch, or a $3000+ jacket or dress. Or a $75 candle. Or a $600 sheet. Why else would these items be worth so much? After all, a black dress by any other name is still a black dress. Or, is it?

Well, I for one, say it is not. The worth of every item of Ralph Lauren product – from baby clothes — perfect little Layette onesies,– to Lauren by Ralph Lauren, the mainstream department store brand, to the fine jewelry, the handbags, the Ralph Lauren Collection evening gowns or the custom made men’s suits –is enhanced exponentially by the value of the brand and its aura. The aura of the brand, its cultivation over time, its position as part of a greater ‘World’ and the consistency of this experience at every customer intersection has created exceptional value that goes well beyond the individual worth of any individual item. Ralph Lauren is no ordinary brand. The whole of it has meaning and every customer who wants a piece of it understands this. This meaning is not created overnight, like Michael Kors’ jet setting lifestyle brand but, one which has been carefully thought about, controlled and nurtured by Ralph Lauren himself, yes, a visionary leader, for 45 years. My guess is that Ralph Lauren, as a company, will retain its value over time, and it will do so with careful stewardship of its most significant asset, the Ralph Lauren brand.

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