East Hampton is a town of dichotomies. Although it’s probably thought of by most as a summer resort for the rich and famous—who come for the white sandy beaches, unspoiled bay and the other rich and famous—this sleepy enclave is actually a year-round home to many and has a history that pre-dates that of the United States. Elm-covered Main Street, East Hampton, is a sort of microcosm of the town. Lined with the same high-end shops you’d find on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue (think Coach, James Perse, Ralph Lauren), it also has a quaint town green with a small cemetery, an even smaller Episcopal church and several historic buildings that look like they a could be on a Hollywood set. Abutting the cemetery and adjacent to the church is one of the oldest still-standing structures in the whole nation: Mulford Farms. The fact that it’s still there seems to symbolize the yin and yang of this Long Island village.
"Mulford Farms is a pretty amazing property for many reasons," explains Richard Barons, director of the East Hampton Historical Society (EHHS). "First off, how many resort communities can boast such a historic property right on the town square? The question everybody seems to ask, really, is ‘who didn’t sell when they should have’." As it turns out, it was the Mulford family who refused to cash in when the property value around them began to explode. The farm was in the very same family for almost 300 years, since the time they settled in East Hampton in the mid-1600s and the time the township bought the property in the 1920s. In between, East Hampton grew from a sleepy fishing village to Revolutionary War hotbed to farming community to its present incarnation as bucolic escape for stylish city dwellers. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, it is one of the most stylish New Yorkers who has come to the rescue of this little farmhouse that has fallen into disrepair in recent years.
The Ralph Lauren Country Store first opened on East Hampton Main Street twenty years ago, in 1988. Back then, the town was still more local than resort; as the audience has expanded over the years so has the Ralph Lauren presence. It was the opening of the children’s store in the summer of 2007 that brought Polo’s interest in history into focus for Barons. "The structure that houses the children’s store is actually the oldest surviving building in East Hampton. It still contains the framework of a 1550s settler’s home. When Polo bought the store and began renovations, we noticed that some old beams and bricks were being discarded. This was not at all in keeping with the Ralph Lauren that we knew, the company that fits so well into our community. So, we made some calls and, sure enough, the beams were replaced, intact, and made an integral part of the store experience. We knew then that the historical society and Polo were a perfect match."
When it became evident that Mulford Farms was in need of a benefactor, Barons knew exactly where to look. "It all seemed like such a perfect fit, as long as the tailor would measure us up," he says. So, The Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation has made a four-year commitment to the preservation of the Mulford Farms homestead and land, with the plan of a much longer partnership with the East Hampton Historical Society. "The donation allows us to finally revamp the place and complete our project goal of restoring the Farms to the era of the Revolutionary War—the time when many of our residents had to flee the British occupation and live in Connecticut." In addition, Polo is presenting a line of products that speak to the history of the town, with proceeds going towards further community projects. With an ever-increasing presence in East Hampton (summer 2008 sees the opening of new RRL and Rugby stores on Main Street), it is especially important to give back to the community. "The precedent set here is an important one for other businesses who come to our town. We’re hoping for a domino effect and that other corporations will follow Mr. Lauren’s lead and give back to the community as well."
Matt Trainor is the editor in chief of Ralph Lauren Digital