HFN Staff Report
A pioneer in the fashion world, Ralph Lauren brought that same forward thinking to the home category, becoming the first designer to create a network of licenses with different companies—and making it work.
One of the most broad-based designer collections, as well as one of the longest running, the Ralph Lauren Home program showed the industry how it could be done, wrapping a number of product categories around a lifestyle and having it resonate with consumers.
From towels to tabletop, flatware to furniture, the Ralph Lauren Home program has branched into new areas as well. It was the first to license paint, for example, a license held by AkzoNobel. It also recently launched a children’s line for home on its Web site, offering paint, fabric, wallcovering and furniture items for those parents who want to pass the Lauren lifestyle down to their offspring.
Some product areas are in transition—the furniture and tabletop categories will have new licensors in time for the fall markets.
But textiles is the foundation of the brand.
By introducing a lifestyle approach to product, the Ralph Lauren Home program brought sweeping changes to the home-textiles industry.
Before the Lauren program was launched by J.P. Stevens 25 years ago, manufacturers and retailers viewed home textiles in terms of individual product categories.
“Ralph Lauren was the first to say, hey, we can pull all of this together into one lifestyle program,” said Scott Maddalene, senior vice president of Ralph Lauren for WestPoint Home, the direct descendant of J.P. Stevens that now holds the Ralph Lauren license in decorative bedding and basic bedding.
“Before him was fashion, the hand of the artist only,” said Diane Piemonte, vice president of creative services for Revman International. “Ralph Lauren changed the way we all look at design by creating the gold standard for the lifestyle approach. But he also structured his organization around this approach by providing the marketing and support. It was really a landmark scenario.”
Revman now holds several designer licenses itself, including Laura Ashley, Tommy Hilfiger, Tommy Bahama and Michael Kors, among others.
“We were inspired by Ralph Lauren’s lifestyle approach,” Piemonte said. “We’re doing it in a microcosm with our brands. It’s something we all believe in, creating and supporting the brands.”
Lauren’s lifestyle focus also transformed how designer home furnishings were presented at retail.
“Look at the way bedding departments are organized in department stores now,” Maddalene said. “Everything is dominated by the designer brands, and that started with Ralph Lauren. He pioneered the stop-in designer shop. He said to the department stores, ‘Give us the floor space and we’ll create something that’s really exciting.’ ”
Lauren’s influence has also been felt in fabric. Since 1995, P/Kaufmann’s Folia division has held the license for Ralph Lauren fabric.
“There were other designers who dabbled in home, but Ralph Lauren was the first designer to catch on and have staying power,” said Howard Tooter, president of the Folia division. “For us to be able to participate with this license, we still feel is very important to us as a company. It carries a lot of weight in terms of image.”
Karastan, which carries the broadloom license, feels no different. Ralph Lauren “is the flagship of leading design in the home category; the brand, his reputation, the company’s reputation for excellence, high design and style is unparalleled,” said David Duncan, vice president of marketing for Karastan, which has had the license since 2000. “Lauren has his own sense of style … everything [the company does] has a specific point of view.”
Karastan’s licensed carpet collection is now in just under 800 locations, Duncan said. Karastan’s collection allows consumers to customize their area rugs, choosing their own trims, such as cotton or leather, from the broadloom line. “It’s what more affluent consumers want.”
For its bath rugs, its current licensee, Bacova Guild, picked it up when it bought Lacey Rugs several years ago. Brownstone has the table linen license.
Over the years, the Ralph Lauren tabletop license has been handled by numerous manufacturers, both big-name brands and private-label enterprises, with mixed results. It was most recently held by Mikasa, but not picked up by Lifetime Brands when it purchased Mikasa earlier this year. A new licensee is expected to be announced shortly.
“Ralph Lauren is an institution in American design. He’s a worldwide brand, an unbelievable talent,” said Lou Scala, president of Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Rosenthal. “He is one of the few American designers to penetrate the European and Asian markets.”