What Polo Ralph Lauren Can Tell Us About the Nature of Fashion
In 1967, Ralph Lauren launched a tie company called Polo.
Starting from one drawer, Ralph Lauren’s eponymous brand has transformed into an international powerhouse, instantly recognisable from its polo player and horse logo. Although the sport is the very foundation of Lauren’s house, he had never set foot on a polo field in 1967. Born to Ashkenazi Jewish post-WWII immigrants, living in poverty in the Bronx, Lauren chose polo because it ‘had a stylishness to it’. This ‘stylishness’ stems from its cultural currency; Lauren wanted to design for, and subsequently be assimilated into, those elite classes who did populate the polo fields. He imagined himself in the glamour of the Ivy League, old Hollywood and the American West. In short, he faked it - and he made it.
Complex’s documentary, 'Horse Power: Hip-Hop’s Impact on Polo Ralph Lauren', transports us back to the 1980s and 1990s. Hip-hop was blossoming, and (at least partly) thanks to it, so was Polo Ralph Lauren. Perhaps the most iconic example is Raekwon’s ‘Snow Beach’ jacket worn in the music video ‘Can It Be All So Simple’ (1994). The February 2018 ‘Snow Beach’ capsule revived the legendary jacket - a direct nod to the continuing relevance of the Wu-Tang Clan member’s statement. What is particularly significant is that this generation of hip-hop artists, and those they influenced, wore Polo for the same reasons Ralph Lauren chose the sport in the first place. In the words of music producer, Just Blaze: ‘It was aspirational. It was something meant for people who had more than us. It was a status symbol in the hood - the same way you’d drive a BMW’.
He imagined himself in the glamour of the Ivy League, old Hollywood and the American West. In short, he faked it - and he made it.
Fashion has a cultural power that cannot be denied. Dressing in certain brands or designs of a certain significance can almost reshape your socioeconomic identity. That is largely why the red bottoms of Louboutins or the ‘LV’ monogram derive their cachet. What’s more, it constitutes a form of appropriation. ‘It’s dope when we take it. It’s dope because we take it’, says Michaela Angela Davis, former Fashion Director at Vibe. Without a doubt, there was and still is a sense of empowerment in being able to participate in what the sporting elite can. The most accessible way to do this is through fashion. In this way, the ability to transgress all sorts of boundaries through clothes, to metaphorically reconstitute your identity, speaks volumes for the power of fashion.
This brings us to November 9th 2018, and the drop of Palace x Ralph Lauren. Suede loafers stand next to skateboards; chinos stand next to down puffer jackets. This collection is just one of many intersections between streetwear and iconic high-end brands which populate today’s industry. Louis Vuitton x Supreme, Gosha Rubchinskiy x Burberry and Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang spring to mind. The marrying of brands’ aesthetics and histories is a nod towards the cultural fluidity of fashion. There is no longer a need to forcibly ‘take’ what Polo Ralph Lauren signifies. The floodgates have opened: brands are recognising how fashion and its consumers cannot be contained into categories such as skateboarders and polo players, rich and poor. Fashion breaks boundaries and makes its own creative space, giving its wearers the power to ‘aspire’ with a ski jacket or to achieve the American Dream from one drawer of ties.