I recently visited the Ralph Lauren Rugby Store in Covent Garden. I happened to be in the area with my friend Barima as we were waiting for a friend and, deciding not to spend the idle minutes poking around in the Apple store, we thought we’d have a look.
It occupies a spectacular Georgian double-fronted mansion that was formerly home to LK Bennett, the women’s fashion brand. Facing onto the bustling and increasingly upmarket Piazza (London’s ‘little bit of Tuscany’, cornered by the Royal Opera House) it is an ideal location for the brand; young, but still smart.
When Rugby was launched in 2004, the first thing I heard was that it was a facsimile of Gant. I remember people gushing with ill-deserved confidence “Basically, they’ve just…like ripped off Gant completely!” So, the brand that revived waspish prep (RL) and was then copied by others (including Gant) is doing a little copying itself. I suppose that’s fashion karma. “No!” they responded “you don’t understand; the brochure, the looks – they’re the same!”
At the time, it seemed incredible to me that a massive juggernaut like Ralph Lauren would copy a moderately successful but well-known high-end fashion brand in the aesthetic and delivery of an entire sub-brand. However, we all know that very few good ideas are completely original, and Ralph Lauren’s entire brand is based on redelivery of older fashions.
Having never seen Rugby’s wares – shameful, but I just assumed an updated version of the now-defunct Polo Sport – I didn’t know what to expect.
After a mere thirty seconds, I realised that I hadn’t been missing much. Rugby would perhaps have been more relevant to me back in 2004, when I was a mere 21 years of age, but for an old man like me, it was like the Disney store. Like other youth brands such as Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch and SuperDry, almost every garment has some form writing on it; RL this, Rugby that, meaningless numbers, bogus heritage – the usual fake-collegiate bumf.
The worst thing about it was that the real touches of Ralph Lauren were few and far between. There were some beautiful Madras and knitted ties, one of which I bought, and some splendid self-tie bow ties, but they seemed bizarrely out of place. This was like a theme park store, in the (evil) spirit of Abercrombie & Fitch. I thought the days of shameless branding were over for Lauren with the decline of Polo Sport but this is far more brazen, and possibly worse.
Admittedly, some of the goods are marginally more tasteful than other brands, and some of the colours and patterns are classic Ralph, but I couldn’t help feeling that the online lookbook, painting Rugby as the errant-but-stylish son of Polo, misrepresents the brand. Considering that RL Rugby is attempting to appeal to a demographic that views Polo as something their golf-playing dad would wear, this is the strangest part of the marketing.
This is not only about taste, it’s about age too. I felt old in there, and not just because I was one of the only people looking through the ties. The brash furry lettering, the excessive use of jersey, the lack of tailoring; perhaps it was an unusually awful collection? It was all too much for me, and I found myself doddering out with my tie, feeling life had passed me by. Rugby Ralph Lauren was clearly not meant for me.