Polo Ralph Lauren
When you think of Polo Ralph Lauren, do you think of Wall St and white collor workers?
Words: Sebastian Nicu
Let me broaden your horizon. Because the brand has also played a huge role in hip-hop culture for decades. But let’s start with the beginnings… Born in 1939 to two Russian immigrants in the Bronx, Ralph Lifshitz decided to have his last name changed to Lauren when he was 16, along with his siblings.
While still in school, he earned his money by selling ties to his classmates. After his time in the Army, he worked for the legendary men’s outfitter Brooks Brothers and made his first contacts in the industry. In 1967, that would come in handy when he used a loan from fashion retailer Norman Hilton to design his first tie collection under the Polo name. Just a few months later, he acquired the naming rights from Brooks Brothers and set up his own business. In the years that followed, various men’s and women’s collections were released. Among them were his iconic polo shirt with the horseman and other designs which were especially popular among Ivy League students and white collar workers.
For example, the Polo Bear, which was inspired by the Steiff Teddy from Germany. Shirts, caps and sweaters with the cuddly buddy have been popular among collectors for decades. As skateboarding and hip hop grew bigger in New York during the 1980s and 1990s, the streets began to reinterpret the designer’s pieces. As a result, sublabels like Polo Sport, Polo Jeans and CHAPS made an immense impact on the cityscape.
But wait: why did members of these rough subcultures want to dress like their nemesis? It’s simple: Ralph Lauren succeeded in selling a lifestyle. His motifs symbolized the American Dream. USA flags, nautical symbols, cute little bears and vacation motifs as far as the eye can see. And on top of that, his collections were already loud enough to appeal to the great rappers from New York. Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Brand Pubian’s Grand Puba stood out for their appearances in the most stylish polo pieces of all time, helping them achieve worldwide fame in hip hop and streetwear circles. The Snow Beach jacket Raekwon wears in the video for the Wu banger »Can it be all so Simple« costs up to $4,000 today – if you’re able to source it.
Back then, the hype in Brooklyn was so huge that entire gangs dedicated their lives to Polo. The so-called Lo Lifes spent their free time looting big boutiques like Bloomingdales. Anything that fits on two arms is grabbed and quickly out of the store. Big logos, low quantities and high prices are the most important things, because anyone can sport a polo shirt with a horseman. In addition to the Polo Bear pieces and the Snow Beach jacket, the Suicide Ski collection was highly sought after. This bears its nickname, by the way, because wear the pieces in public was considered suicide. If you ran into the wrong people, you would lose your clothes and, in the worst case, your life. To this day, the Lo Lifes meet regularly in New York and flex their latest finds to each other. Anyone who shows up Lo Down, i.e. wearing polo from head to toe, earns the respect of his peers.
Polo Ralph Lauren has recently recognized the brand’s potential beyond the golf courses and elite universities of this world. Not only has the Polo Sport line, popular among skaters and rappers, been brought back to life. The Snow Beach collection also celebrated its comeback a few years ago. Here and there Ralph Lauren surprises even die-hard fans with collaborations. The Capsule Collection with Palace Skateboards in 2018 managed to perfectly capture the essence of the two brands without being artificial. The result was something many have tried before – the perfect mix of prep and street without being corny. And a Polo Bear that does kickflips. Talking about kickflips. Even the then-loathed skaters of the pre-THPS era rolled down the Lower East Side in Polo to breathe in some air from the nearby Wall Street: the late great Harold Hunter, the Supreme Team, and the kids from KIDS can tell you a thing or two about it. So it’s no surprise that brands like Stussy, Supreme, Noah – and actually all the other streetwear brands as well – are inspired by Ralph Lauren here and there and launch one homage after the other.
Because everything that comes from New York is automatically cool, Ralph Lauren has long since ceased to be reserved for rich kids in Berlin and the rest of Germany. Okay, gang fights and raids have fortunately not yet established themselves here. But you also can’t walk many meters through your neighborhood without seeing at least one cap with a horse on it. Polo also plays a big role in the German rap scene. Be it a young Yung Hurn, who triggered a real hype around the classic Polo Caps, Prinz Porno who raps about the Ralph Lauren Polo Boys, or Flizzy, whose line Ghetto Sport is also a tribute to the legendary brand from New York: Ralph Lauren is here to stay.
So don’t be like Raekwon, who once rapped »my life got no better / same damn ‘lo sweater«, but rather buy a new one and improve your life immediately.
From now on you can do so at HHV. We proudly announce that we have added the current Polo Ralph Lauren collection to our assortment in our Berlin store and online.