There Goes the Neighborhood

Ralph Lauren comes to University Place

What on earth is Ralph Lauren doing around the corner from our apartment? Not that his new Rugby store, with its skull-embroidered khakis and Fair Isle caps and English boarding school mufflers and hacking jackets and endless piles of polos, all at inviting low prices, isn't charming in its own way. But it's on our local shopping street—University Place—where we are more accustomed to buying screwdrivers (both kinds, at the hardware store and at Cedar Tavern). Not to be alarmist or anything, but look what havoc one little Marc Jacobs shop wrecked on Bleecker when it opened a few years ago. Now it's far easier to find a pair of kitten-heeled pumps on that street than a slice of pizza.

University Place has long had a couple of boutiques, most notably Ibiza, with its droopy proto-bohemian clothes, and La Petite Coquette, for saucy garter belts and teddies to wear under those layers. But there's also a florist, and a supermarket, and a couple of dry cleaners, and a newsstand, and all the other retail outlets you expect on a neighborhood shopping street. And though Ralph has done his usual incredibly impressive job of installing vintage showcases, worn Persian rugs, beat-up suitcases, and other hallmarks of faded faux-bourgeois life, the advent of Rugby is an ominous development.

That said, we can't help but visit a few times a week on our way home, to grudgingly admire the goods. So taken are we with a blazer made of a curious sweatshirt material and trimmed with grosgrain ribbon that we try it on, even though it's from the men's side of the shop. (The results are predictably horrid.) There's one thing you can say about old Ralph—actually there's a lot you can say about him—he really does his vintage homework. Though the uninitiated might think this sweatshirt-blazer was inspired by the success of the fleece-obsessed Juicy Couture, jackets like this were actually once commonly sported at turn of the century summer resorts. (Who else would tell you these things?)

Apparently, cowboys have a lot more disposable income than rugby players: How else to explain the price discrepancy between the merchandise at Ralph's Rugby store and the goods at yet another new Lauren outpost, the western-themed Double RL shop on the corner of Prince and Mott? (Now there is a neighborhood that has been overrun—nay, glutted—with seemingly innocent little boutiques.)

Instead of yellowing photos of circa-1910 Rugby teams, the walls at Double RL are decorated with Beacon blankets; outside, an ersatz-ratty canopy shields hipsters on their way to Gitane next door. (Really, Ralph is right up there with Pastis and Balthazar in his ability to turn an ordinary storefront into a Tony award-worthy stage set).

If there are plenty of options for under $100 at Rugby, deeper pockets are required for the beat-up denims at Double RL. There's also more authentic vintage on sale here, which is good news if you are looking to spend $55 on an early 20th century white lawn blouse to wear under your overalls. The non-vintage jeans are $350, and even a work shirt so threadbare it seems that its working life is long over, will set you back $165. On the other hand, you can peruse the store quickly (it's small) then go outside and gaze across the street at a real antique: the early 19th-century brick wall around Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, a relic from an era when real horses, if not cowboys, roamed these streets.

 
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