Can Embracing Vintage Save Ralph Lauren?
The time has come to open up the vaults
Polo Ralph Lauren, one of hip hop’s, and contemporary fashion’s, most revered clothing brands, has continued to crumble since 2014. Last week, Ralph Lauren Corporation (NYSE:RL) reported a net loss of $204 million. Sales have fallen for nine straight quarters. The current value of its shares has now dived down to levels not seen since the 2008 recession. And placing a former shampoo and beauty product executive as the CEO isn’t going to save Ralph Lifshitz’s timeless American clothing brand.
Yet somehow, the brand still survives. But it’s not living off that preppy Ivy League, small horsie bullshit found in every store from Madison Ave to various shopping malls in America. The only magic word that can open a door bigger than any of its cash-draining flagship stores is “vintage.”
It seems insane that the company has not tapped into the currently re-sparked interest in 1990s fashion. Tommy Hilfiger tapped into it by re-releasing its iconic Tommy Jeans line. The preppy sailing brand Nautica reached out to Lil Yachty for a collaboration with Urban Outfitters; reissuing old school Nautica pieces. This February, even The Gap hopped on board with the release of its ’90s archive collection.
So here’s a message to the suits at Ralph Lauren: As an avid lover of that timeless Ralph, I got to ask where are your heads at right now? As most hip hop fashion lovers know, Ralph Lauren, especially Polo Ralph Lauren, is a brand that holds a high place in our closets. An essential part of staying #FreshDressed. Most people know about Raekwon’s iconic Snow Beach jacket, Kanye’s Polo Bear sweater; and recognize the mega collectors like the original Lo-Life, Thirstin Howl the III and producer Just Blaze. Like other popular streetwear brands, old school Ralph had flavor. The color block jackets, the patches, the incredible graphics found on everything from T-shirts to knitted sweaters. It is something that other brands have tried to imitate but would never be able to replicate.
Yet it seems that for many years Ralph Lauren has never truly taken the culture’s endorsement seriously. Yeah, the company relaunched its coveted “Polo Sport” sportswear line in 2015, but ditched the 1990s aesthetic with a horrendous facelift. In 2012, they launched RL Vintage, a site which focused on Ralph Lauren’s love for vintage Americana clothing, but not the vintage Polo collectors were obsessed with. However, the site did let fans vote to bring back a classic Polo Bear knit. Since then, Ralph has mostly remained silent.
One would think that Ralph would dive headfirst into this trend for vintage. However, the most that the brand has done in recent times was “The Year of the Polo Bear” campaign, which started this March. The company plans to re-release one classic Bear tee every month in its outlet and factory stores. Unsurprisingly, the shirts quickly sell out and end up being resold online.
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Unlike the company, even clothing resellers have noticed a clear demand in vintage. And if that isn’t a wake up call to those up at corporate than what is? Ralph himself, who stepped down as CEO in 2015, even seems to recognize this. Recently, Photographer Tom Gould, who put together that incredible book about vintage Polo and Lo-Lifes, Bury Me With The Lo On, shared this letter on his IG from the man himself.
The hype for vintage Ralph Lauren is nothing new, and some may think that I’m beating a dead horse here. However, it seems that the time to say this is now because the company continues to slowly dig its own grave. Current streetwear brands like Supreme, Palace and BAPE have all been heavily inspired by classic Polo Ralph Lauren pieces. As the Instagram page ‘Supreme Copies’ points out, Supreme has taken their own creative liberties to reissue multiple items from Polo’s golden age.
First and foremost, appreciate the clean pics sent in by @mark_mildenhall of rather hard to find pieces. Some of you may remember this as one of my first posts deleted a while back now. I figured it was time to recover. Supreme released the above Track Jacket in 2005 (if anyone knows official name comment). From my knowledge of Supreme history, this appears to be one of the earliest Ralph Lauren references yet, dating back 12 years ago (while a lot of 90s RL is referenced currently, Supreme would not do this often the decade prior, being how recent the original products were released.) The 'Ralph Lauren,' jacket from 1992 is pictured below, and the resemblance between the two jackets is uncanny. While it is noticeable Polo's version seems to be more windbreaker material (with a collard neck) and Supremes is more Track Suit style, it's clear where every other lick of inspiration occurred. Once again shoutout to @mark_mildenhall and @sean_wotherspoon I'm waiting on that side by side comparison! #supremeforsale #supreme4sale
Tomorrow's release features the 'Split Rugby,' a piece once again, adding on to the list of 'Polo' references from Supreme. I've seen photos of numerous 'Split Rugby' color ways from Ralph Lauren, and it's clear the brand, like Supreme, had various color patterns for this style of Rugby. The greatest indicator of the reference is the logo placement on the back of the piece- both pictured side by side. Shoutout to all those who have sent in the split rugby- I cannot find the specific DM from the right image but feel free to comment and I'll add the tag.
The obsession with vintage Ralph Lauren transcends New York City and hip hop culture. Polo lust has now gone mainstream with fashion enthusiasts hunting for the brand on sites like Grailed, Depop and eBay. Just look at Round Two, a popular vintage clothing store—frequently visited by rappers and even Tommy Hilfiger—that opened in Richmond, Virginia four years ago. It has now expanded to L.A. and is planning to open a third location in New York City this summer. Appreciation for vintage clothing is no longer something confined to niche groups of collectors. Vintage has gone mainstream and it might be the key to saving Ralph Lauren. So I pray those rumors about reissuing the Stadium 1992 series are true, because Ralph is going to truly need it to survive.