Last Updated Apr 14, 2010 6:07 PM EDT
Just when you think Ralph Lauren (RL) has exhausted every possible cross-merchandising niche in Americana, the silver-maned sartorialist does one better and more unexpected than even the most die-hard fan would dare to dream of.
This time he's expanding his European empire, opening a third Polo Ralph Lauren store â€"- a flagship -â€" on the Left Bank in Paris. Despite the extraordinary feat of restoration (four years and teams of artisans), the plethora of art and artifacts that punctuate 13,000 square feet of retail space, and the presence of nearly every RL collection on the well-appointed racks, it's the food that throws Lauren's brilliant marketing sense into high relief.
That's right, food. Ralph's, as the store's restaurant will be called, is set to serve up hamburgers and other quintessentially American fare on the boulevard St. Germain, home of such legendary cafes as Flore, frequented by the French intelligentsia of the 1930s. Though the move may leave more snobbish gastronomes cold, Lauren's made a calculated entrance into the Parisian culinary landscape.
First, he sets the scene. And Lauren's no slouch when it comes to ambiance. The store will be carefully merchandised to showcase the clothing, just like in his other outposts, each section of this new Polo Ralph Lauren store is uniquely embellished with items such as a finely crafted wooden canoe hovering over a collection of nautical themed threads inspired by the boating life and meant to look as if one stepped off a yacht. Wandering, browsing and shopping such riches stimulates the appetite, n'est ce pas?
To create a natural progression from purchasing to feasting, the restaurant is awash in the same treatment as the store. Housed in the rear buildings of the 17th century complex in what were originally stables for carriages and horses, the dining room's fitted with dark timber beams, deep leather chairs, and scores of paintings of hunters and their hounds.
It's a suitably luxurious setting in which to serve â‚¬24 ($32.50) burgers and steaks made with Angus beef from Lauren's own cattle shipped from his ranch in Colorado. But Lauren was not satisfied with plunking down a concept and leaving it to chance, even though he's had success with an eponymous restaurant in Chicago. So he enlisted the help of Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group to teach Ralph's all-French staff how to correctly craft such American classics as fried chicken. To balance such star-spangled cuisine with proper Gallic service, Ralph's will be managed by a Frenchman, Olivier Maury, who's got an haute eatery of his own.
Finally, Ralph's restaurant will add an unmistakable element to the French flagship cementing it as a destination for residents and tourists alike. Roger Farah, Polo's president and chief operating officer told WWD that about 35 percent of customers in Polo's Paris stores are tourists and that its 40 European stores are about 50 percent more productive than their American counterparts because they're located in high-traffic centers like the Left Bank.
Such expansion into an established market with a new concept while the world continues to emerge from recession is also savvy of Lauren. The company ended the third quarter of fiscal 2010 with $1 billion in net cash and investments, compared to $908 million in cash and investments at the end of the third quarter of fiscal 2009. Staying ahead of the curve means things can only get better for Ralph Lauren.