The Polo Bear has taken on a life of his own in pop culture over the last 25 years—specifically in hip-hop—where Ralph Lauren has been embraced for decades, despite it not always being reciprocated. Producer (and famous Polo collector) Just Blaze summed it up best in a 2012 interview with
: “Well, it’s aspirational clothing. A lot of his designs were based on things that he wished he had, things that he aspired to, a certain lifestyle he aspired to live. So I think as time progressed into our generation, it’s kind of the same thing. It wasn’t made for us, and hip-hop has always been at its heart about taking things that weren’t necessarily made for us and us appropriating it and making it our own.” Complex
The Polo Bear made somewhat of a comeback in the mid-2000s thanks to Kanye West, who wore a red Bear sweater on the
marketing rollout for his debut album . West has been seen on more than one occasion wearing Polo Bear apparel during that era, and at a time where throwback jerseys and streetwear labels dominated hip-hop fashion, West carried the flag for Polo and its preppy brand of cool. Everyone from Drake to John Mayer has followed suit, embracing the Polo Bear over the years. Despite a lack of new Polo Bear apparel in production over the ensuing decade, the Bear was more sought after than ever. College Dropout
One could write an entire book (or produce a
documentary) about rap’s embrace of Polo and its lasting influence within the culture. But the fact remains: Kanye West’s obsession with Polo, particularly the Polo Bear, was a seminal moment in the brand’s history.
In 2013, the Polo Bear sweater returned as a part of it’s vintage “Bring it Back” campaign. The Polo Bear picked up where it left off, and in more recent years, while Ralph Lauren’s stock prices slip and sales plummet, the company has decided to lean into its more popular nostalgic collections. Most notably, the ones—like the Polo Bear—which are embraced by a booming streetwear culture.
Snow Beach (or Cold Wave) collection re-release (which is forever immortalized in Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It Be All So Simple” video thanks to Raekwon) sold out immediately in back January. The same applies to the 1992 Polo Stadium collection, re-released a few months prior. In addition to the traditional Snow Beach clothing, the company re-imagined some of the pieces and swapped out the yellow, red and blue color palette for a more minimalistic black-and-white rendition. Those pieces sold out on their release day as well.
For the Snow Beach release, Polo has, at the very least, acknowledged hip-hop’s influence on the mystique behind this 25 year old collection.
and hints at the infamous ‘Lo Lifes (the Brooklyn collective who started a Polo craze in late-1980s New York City) when it comes to diagnosing the now-decades-long relevance of Polo apparel. Both are uniquely responsible for Polo Ralph Lauren’s place in hip-hop’s closets even as they were ignored by the company. RL Mag name-drops Raekwon
Ralph Lauren, like many of his fellow titans of fashion, doesn’t have the best relationship with the hip-hop culture that delivered his company loads of street cred. The Snow Wave drop and subtle Raekwon hat tip are welcome changes to the company’s historical modus operandi. According to Raekwon himself, Ralph still has a ways to go. “You know, Ralph needs to call me anyway and thank me,”
he told . “I'm still waiting for him to call me.” Considering it took fellow luxury label Gucci 30 years to properly recognize GQ Dapper Dan’s influence, this is clearly a major break from the once-status quo. Polo’s connection with the street may be unintentional, but it’s definitely part of its 21st century successes.
When Polo Ralph Lauren originally released its Stadium line in 1992, they were never an “official sponsor” of the United States Olympic team, according to
. They used the modern American sportsman aesthetic the Olympics represented and jumped at the opportunity to adopt it. Hip-hop has done the same thing over the years. Despite not being intended for them, rappers and those associated with the culture have given Polo—and its charismatic Polo Bear designs—another legacy beyond country clubs and tennis courts, which the company has, and should, capitalize on moving forward. The New Yorker