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The CEO of Ralph Lauren is surprisingly excited about people not owning their clothes

The CEO of Ralph Lauren is surprisingly excited about people not owning their clothes
From left to right: Stephanie Mehta, Bertrand Bodson, Melanie Kalmar, and Patrice Louvet [Photo credit: Salvatore Vinci and Michael Calabro]

Take a look inside your closet right now. How many sections do you see? If the answer is “just one,” don’t worry—you’re probably about average. But Patrice Louvet, the CEO of Ralph Lauren, would like you to know that you might need to rethink your use of closet space in the very near future.

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“If you fast-forward five years from now, 10 years from now, it’s very likely that your closet is going to look like it has three distinct sections,” Louvet said this morning at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

What does he mean by that? Louvet said the wardrobe of a typical consumer will consist of three categories: rented clothes, pre-owned clothes, and new clothes. And despite running a massive fashion brand that made $6.3 billion in revenue last year, Louvet is surprisingly bullish on the idea that not everyone these days wants to buy new clothes, or even own them.

“Consumers today are not necessarily excited about owning, particularly the younger population,” Louvet said. “We see that across categories—whether that’s cars or real estate—and it’s true also in clothes.”

He cites the emergence of rental platforms like Rent the Runway and Nuuly, and he’s especially keen on the former. He said clothes from across Ralph Lauren’s portfolio are available to rent on the service, and he’s found it a great way to get consumers to sample the brand without necessarily having to commit.

“This thing is actually gaining momentum,” Louvet says of Rent the Runway. “It’s amazing to me, as I meet people, how many people are actually leveraging that platform.”

As for category number two—pre-owned or vintage clothes—Louvet cites the popularity of online marketplaces such as The RealReal. He says Ralph Lauren benefits from the secondhand trend because the marketplace relies on fashion brands that are both timeless and have a long history, although he admits he’s personally skeptical of the concept.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m not too excited about wearing someone else’s clothes, but just characterize me as an old guy,” he said. “We are seeing many consumers, particularly the younger generation, saying, ‘You know what? I actually don’t want to buy new, and actually buying pre-owned is cool.'”

Louvet, a former beauty executive for Procter & Gamble who took the reins at Ralph Lauren in 2017, discussed these fashion trends at a panel discussion about the rapid rise of digital transformation in business, and what legacy companies need to do keep up. The panel also included Bertrand Bodson, chief digital officer of Novartis; and Melanie Kalmar, corporate vice president, chief information officer, and chief digital officer for The Dow Chemical Company.

Louvet said Ralph Lauren, which was founded by the eponymous fashion icon more than 50 years ago, is working to use technology to transform all areas of its business, whether it’s using data on consumer trends to reimagine parts of the website or sharing performance metrics with designers to help them make better design decisions.

That said, Louvet admits there are limits to what can be achieved with data and artificial intelligence, particularly in a creative industry. The trick, he said, is finding the right balance between logic and magic. As an example, Louvet described one particularly splashy outfit that Lauren himself wore to the CFDA Fashion Awards.

“He basically went with a pair of cowboy boots, ripped jeans, a tuxedo jacket, and a bow tie,” Louvet said. “There’s no way in hell that a computer will ever generate that. That’s why if you’re a designer—job security, you’re good.”

Davos Dialogues, a series of editorial panels, videos, and news coverage, is produced in partnership with HCL Technologies.

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