When the Ralph Lauren Home Collection debuted in 1983, it was not only gorgeous—it was unprecedented: a fully developed line that started with soft home and eventually included furniture, lighting, tabletop, rugs and even paint. The collection went on to do a rumored $500 million at retail at its peak, when it became the bestselling upscale brand in the history of the home furnishings business.
Since that heyday, the program has dropped back in both its sales and its prestigious position in the marketplace. An overreliance on Macy’s and other department stores played a role in the decline. So did the company’s tinkering with its branding, sourcing and licensing models, along with its use of third-tier off-price outlets to drive business. So the news this week that Ralph Lauren was hooking up with Haworth’s upscale residential division for an ambitious program—one based around Italian-made products and the launch of freestanding retail stores—suggests the promise of a new chapter for the brand.
Taken in the context of Ralph Lauren CEO Patrice Louvet’s recent initiatives to focus more on the higher end of the market, the new partnership makes sense. Haworth’s Lifestyle Design group is a portfolio of high-profile luxury furniture purveyors, including Poltrona Frau, Cassina and Janus et Cie—as well as Luxury Living Group, the maker of Dolce & Gabbana’s and Versace’s licensed home lines. There are upscale bona fides there.
According to a press release accompanying the announcement, the Haworth tie-in will “closely collaborate to bring the Ralph Lauren Home experience to consumers, partnering on design, marketing, and selection of store locations and store designs.” The furniture company will take over post-order customer service and white-glove delivery for e-commerce and existing Ralph Lauren stores worldwide. It will also produce the majority of Ralph Lauren furniture in Italy, exclusively on a made-to-order basis.
Ralph Lauren will continue to directly manage the development of its bedding, bath, tabletop and gifts categories, and will work with its existing partners for other home furnishings, per the company. Current licensees include Theodore Alexander for furniture, Visual Comfort for lighting, Keeco for utility bedding and Safavieh for rugs, while fashion, bedding and bath are currently handled internally by Ralph Lauren.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the deal is the news that Haworth will be developing and operating “a network of new, freestanding, immersive Ralph Lauren Home stores in strategic locations globally.”
There’s no timetable or details on where those stores would be, but a fleet of stand-alone Ralph Lauren Home outposts would represent a shift in strategy. The brand’s larger full-line fashion stores usually include a small space for home products, but nothing of any scale. There have been reports of dedicated home stores in the past, but they’ve usually been just that—reports. One notable exception: A small one did open earlier this year in Dallas, but there’s no evidence of any others currently in operation.
The Ralph Lauren Home stores could certainly mean competition for some of the existing players in the higher end of the retail market, including RH, Arhaus and Ethan Allen; but a lot will depend on the size and scale of the rollout. Given the brand’s four-decade history in the industry, one can make the case that it has missed many opportunities to take a leadership role in that space—it has some catching up to do.
Ralph Lauren the person has always loved the home business, according to many insiders who have worked with him, and he has always believed that Ralph Lauren the company should be a big player in the category. This partnership might finally be the way for it to get there.
Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.