I had time for only the briefest of chats with some of the people responsible, but it's obvious they've lavished a huge amount of care - and money - on the two storey store, which is so packed with stock and ephemera that it looks as if it's been in situ for half a century or so.
Interior: on the right of the second photo is Niall Maher, Vice President of Merchandising, who flew over from NYC for the launch.
RRL flew over several US craftsmen to construct the display shelves from English Oak, or to craft the beautiful Victorian-style mirrored signs. It looks like someone's been scouring reclamation years and antique stores for a long time. In an ideal world, my basement would look like this, and I'd spend my time smoking cigars and sipping brandy.
I was impressed by the breadth, and depth, of what was on display. For the past decade or so, I have tended to notice RRL for their heavily-distressed repro denim. Even a decade or so ago, while some of their design was a little generic for my taste, it was obvious they were using some of the best American laundries (notably, I'm told, Bart Sights). Now much of the detailing of the design, too, is much deeper, with some very esoteric vintage references. Just a few weeks ago, I was exchanging emails with Roy Slaper about Cinch designs; he'd come up with what he thought was an entirely new one, only for an old patent to be discovered by Mike Harris, which looked awfully similar. Now this RRL design seems to take a broadly similar influence, combined with their own detailing - which takes some cues from turn-of-the-century (the last century) Neustadter Brother pants. Nicely done.
I love the suspenders (OK, braces, too).
Yet what I liked best about this collection is the take on formal tailoring; the theme below is Deadwood, named after a defunct town in the West, and based on suits worn by gamblers and other shady types.
It's pretty authentic to 1890s tailoring - chunky but short lapels, the darts go way up toward the armpit, which gives a very distinctive, flattering profile. I saw this being worn by Edward, whom I know from Levi's but has moved to RRL, it looked terrific. Sadly I neglected to photograph him full length, but you'll get to see his bottom half in a minute.
On the left hand side of the shop is the second theme, Left Bank, based on the look of that ol' fashion icon, Ernest Hemingway. When he was slim, presumably.
Now, the items that I was drooling over the most. Some of the RRL items have what is, to me, pretty rarefied price tags. But these babies should repay you with years of wear.
Firstly, Northampton-made boots; lovely half-broguing, with what I'd describe as an american-influenced last shape. We weren't sure who made these - I'll amend the post if I find out - but RRL have a longterm relationship with Crocket & Jones, who have made some superb boots for them in the past. But for a Crocket & Jones design, this is very chunky. In a good way. My favourite C&J-RRL were Veldtschoen construction, but these are a conventional Goodyear Welt. Very nice waxy calf grain.
I was impressed with the shop, which is arguably out of my denim comfort zone. But one last thing struck me, compared to some of the RRL stores I've visitedin the past: the staff. They're lovely, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and approachable. This is Jude, displaying the Madison. If you have £900 burning a hole in your pocket, hurry; only 20 pairs available.
The RRL store is at 16 Mount Street, London W1K 2RH. www.ralphlauren.com
Update: according to an industry luminary (whom I'd like to feature here at some point), many of RRL's classic washes were done by Bart Sights, a well-known figure in the industry, also responsible for, among others, the first (and best) LVC Nevada replica. Makes sense. Merci to my source.