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Paris gets a taste of Ralph Lauren on the Left Bank

July 23, 2010 |  6:00 am

St_Germain Restaurant
Since returning from the European menswear shows, I've been so busy, I forgot to tell you about one of the off-runway excursions I managed to squeeze in -- a tour of the new Ralph Lauren Paris flagship store that opened at 173 Blvd. Saint Germain in April.

Though it's not the brand's first foray into the French capital (the first store, at Place de la Madeliene opened in 1986, the second, on Avenue Montaigne, bowed last year), it's certainly the most ambitious; at nearly 13,000 square feet on five floors, it's the largest Ralph Lauren store in Europe and second-largest on the planet (the brand's recently opened Tokyo flagship is bigger). It's also home to the first European outpost of the designer's eponymous restaurant Ralph's (it's also just the second one ever -- the first is in Chicago).

The building is a hôtel particulier  -- an original Parisian townhouse that dates to 1683 and was at one time the home of the Dutch Embassy. (The company hired historical advisors to help keep the remodel true to the original style of the space.)

No description I could offer is as detailed as the actual press notes (which read like something out of PL changing room Architectural Digest) so I've taken the liberty of including some of them here verbatim:

The façade features classical French architecture in limestone with rich carving and ornamentation, accented with wrought-iron balcony railings and a traditional zinc-and-slate roof. Many areas of the interior, finished in the French rococo style, have been restored, with finishes ranging from rough limestone pavers and aged French white-oak paneling in the restaurant, to "Versailles" style parquet flooring and plaster molding and carvings in the more formal rooms.

The store feels like a Ralph Lauren retail layer cake, five stacked floors, offering a rabbit warren of rooms stuffed to the gills with a full selection from each of the company's collections.  For women that means the runway collection, Black Label and Blue Label. Men's offerings include Purple Label, Black Label and the classic preppy Polo line.

In addition, the attic is home to the rough-and-tumble RRL line, the ground floor houses men’s and women’s accessories and a dedicated watch salon, with pieces from the Ralph Lauren Home collection sprinkled liberally throughout the building.

Though most U.S. citizens visiting Paris probably won't find the need to darken the doorstep of what might possibly be the most American-focused label in the world today, it'd be worth visiting even if it's just to tuck your feet under a restaurant table alone -- especially if you suddenly find yourself homesick for good, old, back-home comfort cuisine.

Ralph's menu is exactly what you would expect from the description of "an American version of American food": imported Maine lobster, Maryland crabcakes, and organic hot dogs and Black Angus beef from the good old U S of A (some of the beef comes from the designer's personal RRL Ranch in Colorado).

RRL_St Germain At the table of jaded American journalists I dined with -- all starting their second week on the continent -- they all gravitated toward the exact same thing: the Ralph's burger -- a quintessentially American hamburger topped with cheddar cheese and bacon.

The kitchen was still working out the kinks, so it took awhile for our food to make its way to our table, but it was worth the wait. It's not going to move me any closer to my goal of fitting into any of Ralph's fashion finery, but as I sat on the patio of the restaurant on Paris' famed Left Bank, around the corner from my hotel, nine time zones and thousands of miles from home, sinking my teeth into that burger, I suddenly knew exactly what Jimmy Buffett was singing about -- it was that rare moment where I had the best of both worlds.

Which way should you steer for that cheeseburger in paradise? Right toward 173 Blvd. Saint Germain -- and tell 'em Ralph sent you.

-- Adam Tschorn

Photos: At top, the 48-seat main dining room at Ralph's, designer Ralph Lauren's new restaurant on the ground floor of the Ralph Lauren flagship store that opened at 173 Blvd. Saint Germain in Paris this year. Center, one of the changing rooms in the former Dutch Embassy building that dates to 1683. Bottom, the rough-and-tumble RRL collection is housed in the attic of the renovated Parisian townhouse. Credit: Polo Ralph Lauren.

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