The iconic American brand is finally ready to embrace streetwear.
Ralph Lauren started his empire hawking neckties, created and sold a vision of Americans in crisp white polos who use summer as a verb, and has spent decades putting red carpet-bound A-listers in tuxedos and suits. But there’s another parallel version of Ralph Lauren’s history: the one dominated by the Lo Lifes crew or rappers like Raekwon, Ludacris, Jadakiss, and Kanye West, folks who took the image that Ralph Lauren projected—the yacht-owning, send-your-kids-off-to-boarding-school life—and filtered it through hip-hop. For much of its history, Ralph Lauren’s been much more interested in telling the first part of that story, but it’s slowly warming up to the second half. Over the past year, Ralph Lauren re-released Stadium, Snow Beach, and Hi Tech collections—all Lo Life favorites—and now it’s embracing streetwear by collaborating with London-based skate brand Palace.
Last Thursday, images of billboards in Tokyo’s Shibuya district—towering navy blue posters with the Polo logo in the center above the Palace logo—started making the rounds on social media. Lev Tanju, Palace’s founder, confirmed to Business of Fashion that there’s more to the collaboration beyond a handful of advertisements. Tanju told BoF that a collection of tops, bottoms, outerwear, and a version of Ralph Lauren’s classic button-down will drop “imminently.” Tanju and co-owner Gareth Skewis said that the collection is centered around pieces they grew up wearing, and they talk reverently of their new partner. “It’s the only brand that you can wear to a board meeting, a funeral and go to the football in—and all in the same day,“ Skewis told BoF.
“For me and Lev, this is a massive moment for us and a real pinnacle,” Skewis said. Skewis’s quote applies in more ways than one. For Palace, collaborating with a massive international company like Ralph Lauren is clearly a way for a brand to find a wider audience. But the impact might be even greater for the other party: Ralph Lauren finally has a way to capitalize on fashion’s current streetwear-obsessed moment. Streetwear can no longer be ignored, even by companies like Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren. Especially by companies like Ralph Lauren, which has been tinkering with its business to adapt to the new retail environment (the brand shuttered its flagship Fifth Avenue store last year) and give customers what they want most desperately (streetwear).
But this also feels like a watershed moment for the blurring lines between streetwear and prep styles. Earlier this summer, Palace released a pair of funky loafers that looked like they went through the Ralph Lauren design studio before being exposed to lethal amounts of radiation. The brand Noah plays with boat shoes and double-breasted houndstooth jackets. A direct collaboration with Ralph Lauren, though, suggests that this is more than a passing trend.
In a video, Palace debuted some items from the upcoming collection. Highlights include a plaid jacket, a pair of color-blocked loafers, a colorful button-up and trouser set with a large framed portrait of a horse, and a sweater with Ralph Lauren’s polo bear performing a kickflip.
Ralph Lauren is worshipped in the streetwear community—Supreme founder James Jebbia frequently cites it as a crucial piece of his brand’s history—and lines formed outside its stores when the Snow Beach collection was re-released earlier this year. Instantly selling out of inventory and queues of people waiting for drops are regular occurrences for a brand like Palace, and that’s the sort of juice that Ralph Lauren is most likely after with this collection. But there’s something more long-term about the partnership, too. With Palace, Ralph Lauren is finding a way forward where it acknowledges that streetwear is, and always has been, an important piece of its brand.
10/29/18: This story has been updated to include the video released by Palace.
GQ Editors on Their Menswear Addictions
MORE STORIES LIKE THIS ONE