On his first trip to the French capital more than 35 years ago, American fashion designer Ralph Lauren made a beeline for the Arc de Triomphe. “I had to touch it to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” he remembers just a few days after opening his third store in the city—this time on the leafy Boulevard St.-Germain. And so he popped out of his car and put his hands on the famous arch that was built in 1836 to honor those who fought for France in the Napoleonic Wars and is now one of the city’s most recognized monuments.
Like that initial sojourn, his latest visit in April was rife with meaning: French President Nicolas Sarkozy awarded Lauren the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in recognition of his work as a designer, businessman, and philanthropist. But perhaps his greatest honor was the warm reception he received from the locals—a notoriously picky lot when it comes to style. “We’d be walking around and people would come right up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for this beautiful store.’”
Housed in a five-story limestone hôtel particulier dating back to the 17th century, the 13,000-square-foot flagship, with its Versailles-style parquet floors, took four years to complete. To ensure that every detail of the restoration was comme il faut, Lauren relied on historical advisers and expert craftsmen—limestone cutters, iron forgers, gilders, even a specialized polisher to wax brass fixtures for just the right patina.
In addition to his mens- and womenswear collections, Black Label, RRL Jeans, Ralph Lauren Home collection, and a jewel-box-like boutique for watches, the new store also houses Lauren’s first restaurant outside of the States (the other is in Chicago). He personally oversaw the menu, which he describes as “Americanesque,” with its imported Maine lobster, Maryland crab, warm garlic potato chips, Southern fried organic chicken, and grass-fed steaks from his own ranch in Telluride, Colorado.
After the festivities, Lauren and his family spent a few extra days soaking up the romance of the city—dining at their favorite restaurants, taking in the latest exhibitions, and visiting Versailles. Hearing the designer better known for tweedy suits and polo shirts rhapsodize about Paris, one can see a whole new source of inspiration bubbling up. “It’s the outdoor cafés, the continuity of all the places—the mood,” he says. “Everything is beautiful and sparkling. You feel like it’s heaven.” 173 Blvd. St.-Germain, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/44-77-76-00; dinner for two $160.