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Ralph Lauren’s message is loud and clear. Championing traditionalism and Old World values, the fashion designer has built an empire on a reinterpretation of classical clothing, restyling it for a modern customer.

Now, with the opening yesterday of Polo/Ralph Lauren, a 20,000 square foot store at 867 Madison Avenue, at the corner of 72d Street, Mr. Lauren who is often quoted as having based his merchandising concepts on ”creating dreams” has built his ultimate ancestral dream home. It is part American palazzo, part exclusive men’s club, part elegant women’s salon. And one need only be a customer to belong.

All the trappings of what one imagines to be the high class and well heeled ways of the very, very rich are here from the baronial hand carved staircase lined with family portraits to the plush sitting rooms focused on working fireplaces.

The store the only free standing Polo shop in Manhattan is in the Rhinelander Mansion, an ornate neo classical 1895 limestone structure. ‘Did It Out of Love’

”I didn’t need it for my business,” Mr. Lauren said. ”But I did it out of love for New York. The store is everything I ever wanted to say in my life, a total fulfillment. It’s not about clothes but about elegance and classicism. The idea was to bring back an Old World quality of living and shopping that doesn’t exist today.”

Although the dazzling store stocks about the same merchandise as the Polo/Ralph Lauren departments in department stores and independent shops, customers receive special pampering, including custom tailoring and monogramming.

The herculean two year renovation, designed by Naomi Leff Associates, included a complete restoration of the facade and rebuilding the interior.

”We learned as we went,” Miss Leff recalled. ”Inspiration came from the archeological dig when we found evidence of mahogany paneling and bits of plaster ceiling.” No Case for Understatement

But instead of a hushed museumlike atmosphere, the interior although based more on fantasy than on fact conveys a sense of freshness and vitality, of well maintained splendor in which off white linen upholstery is mixed with Aubusson pillows and well worn fishing bags and nets become flea market finds as enviable as the antique polished silver frames. This is not a case for understatement.

Battalions of young craftsmen, including sculptors and brass sandcasters, woodcarvers, stone and plaster carvers, worked on the myriad fittings. Antique display cases were restored, refinished and refitted with hardware, then integrated into the interior. ”Now you can’t tell what’s new and what’s old,” said Buffy Birrittella, vice president and director of advertising and communications.

The attention to detail is relentless. Polished floors, fine and slightly worn Persian rugs, leather chairs that look as if they had been sat in by generations, enough fresh flowers to fill a greenhouse from marguerites to orchids, twittering birds in antique cages, fish trophies, model boats, straw hats, vintage flowered hat boxes, antique monogrammed luggage and old photographs all add to the ambiance of a great country house. Although these props are not for sale, many antique knickknacks and personal accessories are.

In this fantasy world, the clothes have never looked better.

”It was always the environment, the people and the real things that were the inspiration for me,” said Mr. Lauren, who is 46 years old and grew up in the Bronx. ”This store fulfills the presentation I have to make. What I wanted to have is a way to illustrate what I’m about in its entire environment.”

One of the tantalizing aspects of the interior is trying to define its particular style. ”The style is what I believe in a clubiness with a sort of Continental feeling,” he said. ”My leanings are more English, but I have never believed in strictness but in eclecticism,” Mr. Lauren said.

”I tried to put together all the worlds that I liked in one place the Connaught Hotel in London and Hermes in Paris among millions of others. It looks nothing like them but they inspired me for quality.”

While the main emphasis of the store is on men’s wear, with the club atmosphere established as soon as one walks through the front doors, the women’s department on the third floor unfolds in a series of sweetly scented genteel spaces.

”Men relate to mahogany and traditional things but the women’s area is softer,” Mr. Lauren explained. ”I think women need air and light, a soothing softness, a dreaminess.”

Home furnishings got what must be one of the most romantic apartments in the city. On the fourth floor, it is arranged as a series of cozy vignettes, accessorized down to the stamps on a small desk overlooking planted terraces and a view of Central Park.

For all of its residential qualities, one is not allowed to forget that after all, this is a store. There are well appointed dressing rooms and customers can be served coffee or lunch. There is merchandise on every surface and in every cupboard. Men’s suits range from $500 to $1,200, the more expensive women’s dresses cost about $350 each; a full size sheet ranges from $30 to $65 and a bath towel is $22. The hundreds of ties are from $20 to $42 apiece.

How much did all this cost? ”I won’t say, but there was a budget that got lost somewhere in the dust,” Mr. Lauren said. Pressed for a figure, Mr. Lauren finally said ”more than $14 million.” He added: ”When I finally thought about the whole huge effort, I thought that maybe I should live there. And if it doesn’t work out I might do that after all.”
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