There’s a lot more Ralph Lauren the person in Ralph Lauren the home collection than most people realize.
And the man charged with translating that vision into product is Stephen Earle, senior vice president of Home Collection design. Earle, who rejoined the company several years ago after a stint at Martha Stewart, said people would be surprised how involved Lauren is in the design process.
“There’s very little he doesn’t see and OK,” Earle told HFN, seated in his office next to the design studio at the company’s Madison Avenue offices. “It’s an amazing process. We present him with a dozen different design concepts and if he likes it, he likes it. If not, then not.”
Lauren said he is indeed hands-on. “Every collection is created based upon my inspirations and the way I believe people aspire to live,” he said in response to questions from HFN. “My collaboration with the home design team is constant.”
Sometimes Lauren’s inspiration comes from outside the fashion world. Indeed, when asked to name his favorite home products, he said, “I cannot say I have a favorite; however, a few iconic pieces do stand out, such as the RL-CF1 chair crafted of carbon fiber, a material found in race cars, one of many great passions.”
Ralph Lauren home has always been about lifestyles, a concept it pioneered before the word became an overused cliché. Balancing classic looks, like English country, with newer designs has become a hallmark of the line.
“It gives us a nice structure,” Earle said. “There’s always a balance between new looks and what people expect from us. But every five or 10 years, you have a new customer, so you can go back and do English Country in a new structure.”
Lauren himself sets that balance. “I have never been one to follow trends, so for me style has a kind of permanence.
“Having said that, I am always aware of the changing world around us and recognize the importance of reflecting the times, taking advantage of modern technology, yet remaining true to one’s personal vision.”
Lauren believes that one of his core lifestyles, formal, is not likely to go away even as America becomes more informal. “Though I think Americans love the casual life, I feel what we really enjoy is experiencing different lifestyles.
“Wearing jeans all the time would be boring,” he said. “Dressing up can be fun and transforming. The same applies to dressing up our homes.”
For Earle, translating that into products has become a multitiered effort as the company has gone into programs for J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, in addition to its conventional upstairs line for department stores.
“It’s all part of the same process and there are a lot more similarities than you would think,” he said. “The word that always comes across is integrity. And that’s across all brands.
“It just has to be beautiful and that’s what Ralph wants.”
One of the newer lifestyles to the Lauren line has been the Spa bed and bath line focusing on organic products, introduced last year and expanded this past fall. “We wanted to give it a lifestyle approach, so that’s why we wanted to do fashion for it,” he said. The initial line was mostly solid colors.
“We’re counting on this [eco-friendly products] being a seminal change,” he said when asked if this was just a passing fad. “It’s becoming a core value. And if we’re going to do organic, it has to be the best.”
Things like Spa are what keeps the job interesting, Earle said. “For a company based in history, there’s always something fresh and something that keeps it relevant.”
That very issue was a concern for Earle when he initially took the job. No more. “I worried about that at first, but now I feel like I could do this forever.” — Warren Shoulberg