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Into the Scrum

As it goes toe-to-toe with Abercrombie & Fitch in the teen market , Ralph Lauren hopes that Rugby will grab the ball and run with it.

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If you’re over 25—or if you’re under 25 but a fan of, say, death metal or fantasy goth—then Rugby probably isn’t for you. No, the latest brand in the Ralph Lauren empire is very much at the All-American (or at least English-public-school) tousled-but-very-clean-hair end of the spectrum. The womenswear is flattering on lithe young bodies, especially those that look like they summer on Block Island and winter at Choate, but at the same time quite modest. Rugby offers suits and blazers polished enough for first-job interviews, and dresses appropriate for dinner out with Mom and Dad. And the sportswear that makes up the bulk of the line has the broken-in “what, this old thing?” look meant to evoke Groton and St. Paul’s. Per the name on the door, rugby shirts are everywhere, with accessory patches available for $8 to $24.

In short, this is Ralph Lauren’s attempt to take back a piece of the fast-growing and seemingly insatiable teen market. That means meeting a lot of competition head-on in a crowded field: Abercrombie & Fitch will open 17,000 square feet at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street this fall, and American Eagle opened its third New York store this summer, both offering sun-bleached sailing-class fashion that’s very much built on Ralph’s own legacy. Lauren has wooed the status-conscious teen with an obscure foreign sport before, and he’s confident he can do it again. One only has to look at the recent resurgence of piqué polo shirts, this time worn two and even three at once. That this season’s versions feature polo ponies of steroidal proportions speaks volumes: Polo is a healthy brand, ripe for a little expansion.

Lauren is looking for this Lost Generation right where it lives: on campus. The first Rugby store opened last year in Boston, followed quickly by Charlottesville and Chapel Hill. New York’s is scheduled to open on September 23 on—appropriately enough—University Place, with a fresh-faced college-age staff of sales associates and plenty of space designated just for hanging out. The store is even equipped with “music-bartenders,” offering iPod-playlist suggestions and selling Jack Johnson CDs.

Rugby
99 University Pl., nr. 12th St. (no phone yet); opens September 23.


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