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The new Ralph Lauren store

888 Madison Avenue

Across from old store on Madison Avenue

Madison Avenue facade

Madison Avenue facade of new Ralph Lauren store at 72nd Street

By Carter B. Horsley

On October 15, 2010, the new Ralph Lauren store on the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street swung open its arched doors to the public, affording the opportunity to ascend and descend its very grand staircase and try to discern the shoppers from the mannequins and the very elegant sales people.

72nd Street facade

72nd Street facade

The most immediate question that came to many minds was whether Paris had any comparably grand "fashion houses" and one of the very handsome salesmen on the first floor proferred the opinion that the answer was "no."

72nd Street entrance

Detail of 72nd Street facade

The ground-floor facades are punctuated by very large, shop windows and very handsome, recessed, arched glass doors. The trio of arches on 72nd Street are repeated, minus the four-step entrance, on the avenue frontage where it is flanked by very large rectangular shop windows. The 72nd Street facade has a very handsome protruding, balustrated balcony while the average frontage is recessed above the arches with a balustrated terrace. Both frontages have lighting sconces and sidewalk landscaping.

The facades are limestone and the lower three floors are rusticated.

For many visitors the interiors were disconcertingly vast - just one enormous, seemingly unending treasure hunt as each room seemed to lead to more.  The disconnect was not so unreal as the interiors of the adjacent building on 72nd Street had been gutted to provide more interior space than might have been assumed from the building's exterior.

Gravel on second floor balcony

View over gravel terrace on second floor of the "old" store across the avenue

While there are many limestone mansions on the Upper East Side, one doubts that there are others with as large a gravel terrace.

Old Lauren store on east side of Madison Avenue

The "old" store across Madison Avenue

One associates gravel with the driveways of grand estates but not urban palaces and both this and the Rhinelander Mansion (see The City Review article) across the street are substantial and imposing enough to be called New York palaces. According to an October 7, 2010 "Streetscapes" column by Christopher Gray in The New York Times on the Rhinelander Mansion the architect for the new Ralph Lauren store is Weddle Gilmore Architects, which has designed several stores for the designer including one on Avenue Montaigne in Paris that has a very similar staircase.

Ground floor staircase

Staircase in new store looking up from the ground floor

Although it is definitely a very attractive addition to Madison Avenue whose above the ground-floor architecture is often less than grand, the staircase in the new store is quite special.

Staircase view

View from the top of the staircase

There are, of course, many duplex apartments with lovely marble staircases with ornate wrought-iron banisters and some townhouse staircases that are as high, but this one has wide stairs and an expansive and elegant use of large mirrors and is lined with many wonderful black-and-white photographs but has an unusual serenity because its marble stairs are not polished. Unlike some fantasy movies in which the hero's smile literally sparkles, the ambience here borders on the understated. It is not the minimalist decor of the Halston store on the avenue at 60th Street or the Armani store at 65th Street. This place overflows with abundance but is definitely upbeat and not stuffy and doughty.


View of the staircase

"In the pouring rain on Thursday, Martha Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, Charlie Rose, Candice Bergen and nearly every editor in town including Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter ventured to Ralph Lauren's newest women's store to watch the Bronx born fashion designer receive a Key to the City of New York," noted Priya Rao in her October 15, 2010 article in The Wall Street Journal.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Mr. Lauren with the key and a heart-shaped "I Love NY" keychain and the article noted that Mr. Bloomberg said that "It's the accessories that really make the outfit," adding that "Upstairs, Ralph asked me 'What does this key open?' The answer is, absolutely nothing."

Third floor staircase view

View of the staircase

In his article for, Hamish Boyles said that the mayor said "We can no longer say 'They don't build them like this anymore.'"  Mr. Boyles also wrote that "Ralph's magnificently grandiloquent (and giddily feminine) riposte to the 1898 Rhinelander Mansion opposite...has indeed been built from the ground up, all 22,000 square feet of it, complete with sweeping ambassadorial staircase and enfilades of elaborately paneled rooms lit with coruscating crystal chandeliers."

Horse and visting cowboy

The horse is part of the store but the cowboy hat belongs to the opening day shopper

This Lauren story is devoted to women's wear and home furnishings.

On opening day, it was fitting that a male customer wandered through the book and pillow department wearing a cowboy hat as he passed a fabulous large wooden horse with articulated mouth.


Top hat and saddle

Top hat and saddle on the first floor

Ralph Lauren has long championed both the healthy outdoor cowboy look and the preppy, "horsy" look and his take on elegance is exemplified by a prominently placed vitrine on the first floor showcasing a top-hat and a black leather saddle not far away from several jewelry counters.

"Although Upper Madison Avenue near Central Park is now a shopping street," Christopher Gray observed in his March 16, 2009 "Streetscapes" column in The New York Times, "it emerged after the Civil War as an address not far in prestige from Fifth Avenue.  Elite families built big houses on Madison Avenue, especially straddling the spine of Lenox Hill.  In 1893, Ruth Brown, a widow, hired McKim, Mead & White to design a house at the southwest corner of Madison and 72nd Street.  The architectural firm produced a commodious five-story house of Boston sobriety, with a classical balustrade and a columned portico but mostly a simple, unassuming facade of mottled brick, albeit on a lot 48 feet wide and 100 feet deep. Mrs. Brown town house was finished in 1894, but for unexplained reasons she never occupied it.  She sold it in early 1895 to Alva Vanderbilt, recently divorced from William K.Vanderbilt II....Louis Comfort Tifffany already lived in a grand house on the northwest corner of Madison and 72nd, and Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo was just beginning work on her fanciful chateau on the southeast corner.  It was completed in 1897 annd is now Ralph Lauren's flagship New York store.  In the year her arrival, Mrs. Vanderbilt staged one of the most important social events of the decade: the wedding of her daughter, Consuelo, to the Duke of Marlborough....Mrs. Vanderbilt had bullied her daughter into a titled marriage - to a man she carried nothing for....They were divorced in 1921. The Vanderbilt house was eventually sold to William Bayard Cutting, a lawyer, reformer and member of another socially prominent family.  His wife, Olivia, remained in it into the 1940s, becoming one of the last private holdouts among the shops on Madison Avenue....The Cuttings sold the house in 1941, and 10 years later it was replace with a two-story-high taxpayer-style building, designed by Boak & Raad with severe simplicity.  Ralph Lauren acquired the old Rhinelander mansion for his flagship store in 1986, and  seven years later took over the taxpayer on the site of the Cutting house....The Ralph Lauren company says its new store, designed by the Hut Sachs Studio of New York, will open in 2009 and was "influenced by such Upper East Side iconic landmark buildings as the Rhinelander mansion and the Duke and Frick mansions."

Third  floor interior

Seven mannequins relaxing with five customers and one salesman

Not all the shoppers on opening day were as elegant as the salespersons as some actually wore khakis. The interspersal of salespersons and mannequins was about equal and the mannequins seemed to be having the most fun since they didn't have to scurry about and be very nice to strangers, even those in khakis. Under the Lauren store across the street with its rather narrow and small entrances, this emporium has large and inviting entrances that hopefully will lure in many New Yorkers, visitors and tourists curious to immerse themselves in Newportian splendor, at least in terms of servant staff if not tall marble ballrooms. It should be noted that Lauren's former two-story store on the site was quite airy and refreshing with its large sunken room with fireplace and bright modern lines.

Bedroom with great floor

Not all of the interiors were palatially ground as this room with fireplace has country-house-style scraped floors

Whereas the store on the east side of the avenue had a few different ambiances, the new store seems to offer a new adventure though every wall opening. The arched glass door entrances recall the extremely refined and elegant and impressive entrances to Bergdorf Goodman (see The City Review article), traditionally the city's most elegant store, but that store's interiors are more conventional and do not have as many custom built-in drawers and showcases. Of course, Bergdorf Goodman is not asleep and recently opened a delightful, fancy and fine restaurant on its seventh floor overlooking upper Fifth Avenue and Central Park, an attraction that Lauren's new store cannot compete with.

Lounging by the balcony

There may be a few living rooms in the neighborhood of comparable size but none with "gravel" terrace and such relaxed mannequins

The Ralph Lauren "look" has never been known to be daring, but rather conservative. Here, his style is confident. Not everything in the store is irresistible like the cashmere teddy bears, but it is very hard to find wrong notes.

Jackie, Dean and Sinatra photos

Photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, James Dean, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in noon in linen department

One is easily impressed with the superb drawers and cabinets and the very discrete price-tags but its the nooks and crannies of the "house" that fascinate. Why is the picture of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald beneath that great photo of James Dean and that not so great photo of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Can the immense circular concha medallions of a $29,000 belt really be early 20th Century? The tall saleswoman and the label says so.

 Detail of straw pompom

Detail of huge straw pom-pom on display

And then what about the giant straw pom-poms. Are they man-made? Are they real? Was Mother Nature that perfect?

Why is the rug in the nice elevator so blah? Why isn't it marble, and, then again, why is the marble in the staircase polished?

It's all so very much, thank you.


Carter B. Horsley's image of staircase

Computer rendering of the staircase by Carter B. Horsley

It's not daring, but very comfy...

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