Who owns American fashion? Ralph Lauren embarks on a mission to shine a light on the black contribution

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Polo Ralph Lauren’s new partnership with Morehouse College and Spelman College strives to provide a more inclusive answer to the question: Who owns American style?

A capsule collection featuring both HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) drops later this month, honoring the history and sartorial traditions of both institutes with an all-black campaign: Ralph Lauren tapped creative directors, photographers , black filmmakers and models (composed largely of Morehouse and Spelman’s students) for the project.

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The line, an ode to the collegiate style of the 1920s to 1950s, draws directly from the pages of school yearbooks and newsletters, archival footage and mottos. And, perhaps most importantly, it draws on the influence of black students in setting style trends.

“It was really important to dip this into the story to show that this isn’t new,” James Jeter, director of design and special projects at Morehouse College alumnus Ralph Lauren (Class of 2013), told WWD. and original idea of ​​the capsule. “A lot of this project was really about changing the ownership of how we think about clothing. So who owns the three-piece suits? Who owns the cable-knit cardigans? Who owns the circle skirt, for example? And although it is generally and historically relegated to Ivy League schools, if you see a lot of this stock footage of [Morehouse and] Spelman, that really helped inform a lot about how we approached not just design, but also how we approached campaigns.

Before mass production and long before collegiate style was assigned to an often non-inclusive elite, HBCU students created their own style, as Spelman College President Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell said. (Both schools worked in tandem with Ralph Lauren designers on the capsule.)

“By sharing Spelman’s early life story, as evidenced by archival research, through the garments, the collection encourages conversations about the creative power of the black experience and how a personal aesthetic of fashion is intersects with the institutional values ​​of solidarity and connection,” she said. noted. “The history of dress and style played a vital role in the late 1950s and 1960s in the civil rights movement. Students who have sat at lunch tables, or demonstrated in front of segregated department stores or marched in protests have always done so with a deliberate and planned awareness of their attire.

Shot by fashion photographer Nadine Ijewere, the campaign looks like a fresh take on 1920s and 30s classics, with pieces from the collection including Italian-designed tweed three-piece suits with fabrics from London, collared sweaters boat sporting an ‘M’, a double-breasted linen blazer with a Spelman crest and a formal look suitable for party favors. Some sportswear models are adorned with the “67” on the back, an ideal synergy since Morehouse was founded in 1867 and Ralph Lauren in 1967. For the first time, the iconic Ralph Lauren Polo bear will be adorned with a scarf with the Spelman logo.

But more than anything, the pieces have meaning.

Looks from the Polo Ralph Lauren Collection Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges.  - Credit: Polo Ralph Lauren

Looks from the Polo Ralph Lauren Collection Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. – Credit: Polo Ralph Lauren

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The “S” on one of the Spelman sweatshirts was inspired by a typeface from a late 1800s/early 1900s version of the Spelman Messenger, a newsletter the college still broadcasts at this day. And the white dresses are inspired by a centuries-old Spelman tradition.

“Since the establishment of the institution in 1881, young women have been instructed to bring a simple white cotton dress so that they have something beautiful to wear on formal occasions and it is a tradition that we let’s continue to respect,” said Dara Douglas, Ralph Lauren Director of Inspirational Content and Ralph Lauren Library – also a Spelman alumnus (Class of 2003). “We wanted to pay homage to this tradition by creating these dresses.”

The capsule collection, which ranges in price from $20 to $2,500, will debut to students and faculty at Morehouse and Spelman for pre-sale before being made available to global consumers on March 29. It will be available through the Ralph Lauren website, the Polo app, at Morehouse College and Spelman College Follett campus bookstores and select stores while supplies last.

The collection, according to Douglas, “shows the depth and breadth of black culture”.

“People conceptualize it as a monolith, so it helps show those other images that…are not that prevalent in American culture and American society,” she said. “I think it shows how much commitment [Ralph Lauren is] to be able to expand the narrative of American style… who owns American style and what does it look like. Everyone should be able to be a part of this and see themselves reflected in this and I hope it’s inspiring.

Without topping it off with the garments alone, Ralph Lauren will launch a commemorative yearbook showcasing the significance, contribution and ethos of Morehouse and Spelman colleges, as well as some of the archival images referenced in the design of the collection. A 27-minute film titled “A Portrait of the American Dream,” bringing some of this sartorial history to life is also part of the campaign. The film will premiere March 28 at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Ralph Lauren’s social media channels and the yearbook will be available for digital viewing the following day.

Beyond the capsule, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation pledged $2 million in December 2021 for scholarships for students at Morehouse College, Spelman College, and 10 other HBCUs through the United Negro College Fund , and the company says it is further expanding internships, recruiting, and partnership mentoring. with these institutions.

As he has invested financially in the community, Jeter said, “Ralph Lauren has invested in this idea and empowered individuals in this community to tell this story. There wasn’t really any micromanagement or it wasn’t Ralph’s version. These are stories of the community, of people who are a product of that community and a product of Ralph Lauren.

As a page in the “Yearbook” collection quotes Lauren, “Our portrait of American style and our vision of the American dream would be incomplete without black experiences like this.”

Looks from the Polo Ralph Lauren Collection Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges.  - Credit: Polo Ralph Lauren

Looks from the Polo Ralph Lauren Collection Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. – Credit: Polo Ralph Lauren

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