Lauren Making It Clubby on Rodeo Drive

Ralph Lauren is about to show Beverly Hills the meaning of the word tradition. Don't take it personally. He already did the same for New York.

The Bronx-born fashion tycoon and reigning arbiter of "aristocratic American" taste will see his name above the door of his second free-standing Polo/Ralph Lauren store, at 444 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, as of August. The space was previously occupied by the Cafe Swiss restaurant.

From the sound of it, the West Coast shop will attract as much attention as Lauren's Eastern establishment--a restored Madison Avenue mansion opened a little more than a year ago, where antique English furniture, oil portraits and restored architectural details create the feeling of a private home or exclusive club from Edith Wharton's era.

The same group that converted the Manhattan manse, including Lauren and several members of his staff, as well as the New York architectural firm of Naomi Leff & Associates, have reunited to help realize the Western venture. Added to their numbers this time is local retailer Jerry Magnin, the new shop's owner. (Lauren is the licensor.)

Magnin has long featured Polo fashions in the Rodeo Drive menswear shop he opened in 1971. He is closing that store this summer but reopening it within two years at a new location, he says.

The West Coast Polo/Lauren shop, like its East Coast counterpart, will evoke a clubby environment--this one inspired by British colonials in the Caribbean, Magnin says. (Lauren keeps a resort home in Jamaica.)

The clubhouse effect starts at the curb. To discourage hoi polloi traffic, Magnin says, the store is entered by way of a courtyard, recessed 50 feet from the street. "You can't just fall in here from the sidewalk," he explains. "It's a subtle way of saying the store is really for local people, not tourists. If you want to see the Ralph Lauren store you've got to work a bit." Another subtle hint, Magnin says, is the valet parking available only at the rear of the shop.

As for its appearance, "the New York store is heavier, darker, more ornate," explains Jerry Robertson, who oversees development of all Polo shops. "In Beverly Hills, Ralph wanted a light, airy feeling to go with Southern California." The California shop's facade will be of cast stone with Georgian style, stone columns, mahogany framed and shuttered windows and blue canvas awnings. "It will look like a Caribbean men's club from the 1890s," Magnin suggests.

One of many imported antiques to be a permanent fixture in the shop is a sandstone-and-alabaster fireplace from an English castle. There will be a profusion of overstuffed furniture, Persian rugs and Chinese porcelains. "We've kept the same vocabulary as in the New York store," Magnin says, adding that the price tag for the Beverly Hills store is in excess of $10 million. (Lauren has reported that the bill on the New York store was more than $14 million.)

The 14,500 feet of selling space in the Beverly Hills store will be divided into a number of small rooms--Magnin calls them "shops"--including one for glass and silver gifts, home furnishings, women's lingerie, women's wear, menswear, rough wear and accessories. Magnin says the home-furnishings room is larger than the one in the New York store.

There won't be any formal store opening, nor is Lauren scheduled to make a personal appearance, Magnin says. Instead, there will be a series of unconventional evenings at the store in late August and September. On designated nights, it will be open for shopping, but only to the particular charity organization that has reserved it for the evening. Magnin will donate 10% of proceeds from purchases to the group's cause. That sounds clubby enough for starters.

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