Ralph Lauren Dreams in California
The American-born designer’s first major runway show at Paris’ fashion house during the spring-summer 1996 season, a year after he joined the eponymous department store’s family, was a triumph. He transformed the fashion house’s New York headquarters for an entire afternoon, turning the place into an open-air party, complete with a dance floor. During a press conference, Lauren, sitting in the front row, asked an inquisitive reporter how the show was going. “Well,” he replied, “We’ve just begun.” That, indeed, was the last word on anything happening in New York.
The following fall, Lauren was lured away to the French Alps, where he opened a New York outpost. Lauren did not linger long in his new home; three months later, just before the 1996-97 Paris couture season, he took his family on the road, visiting 15 cities during the next decade. Lauren remained in one location: the fashion house, which he renamed Ralph Lauren, Inc. (RLI), had made steady progress since opening the doors in March 1996. In New York, Lauren had expanded the department store, renamed its second main showroom Fashion Square, and had opened a luxury hotel that eventually outgrew that space. With RLI, Lauren had become more of a brand leader than a fashion designer. Lauren also began to make his way across the pond, opening two stores in London, in collaboration with a Japanese supplier. Meanwhile, he began to attract an international clientele, including the heads of states, the king of Spain, and a dozen other heads of state. Just as the designer had turned the department store into a showcase for American-born talent, so had he turned it into an arena for the world’s fashion leaders.
After eight years at the helm, Lauren was at last ready to make a move. The New York showroom had, indeed, outgrown their space. Lauren and his team needed a larger, more impressive showroom and store in New York. And while Lauren wanted to stay in Paris, they needed to find a location that was just as