Two summers ago, when companies across the country were urged to reexamine their approaches to race, representation, and inclusivity at every level of operation, Ralph Lauren made a series of commitments. Many related to the brand’s recruitment process and the makeup of its leadership teams, to fostering dialogue and facilitating understanding — but one particular action step had more philosophical underpinnings. “We will examine how we portray the American Dream—in the stories we tell, the creators we champion, the faces we elevate, the families we hero, and the media partners we support,” wrote Lauren and Patrice Louvet, the president and CEO of the Ralph Lauren Corporation, in an open letter to their staff. In 2020, WASP-ish whiteness was no longer a suitable shorthand for American achievement.
In keeping with those ideas, last year the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation made a $2 million pledge to support scholarships for students at 12 historically Black colleges and universities across the country — and now, in an unprecedented creative collaboration, the brand presents the Polo Ralph Lauren Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges Collection, due to arrive in stores and online later this month. Comprising suiting, knitwear, outerwear, dresses, footwear, and accessories, the capsule filters Ralph Lauren’s long association with campus-inspired apparel (or so-called “Ivy style”) through a refreshing new lens.
“This collection expresses the spirited history, deep sense of community, and legacy of timeless dressing at historically Black colleges and universities,” Lauren says. “It’s so much more than a portrayal of a collegiate design sensibility. It’s about sharing a more complete and authentic portrait of American style and of the American dream—ensuring stories of Black life and experiences are embedded in the inspiration and aspiration of our brand.” (Numbered among Morehouse’s esteemed alumni are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Spike Lee; while Alice Walker and Stacey Abrams both attended Spelman.)
Imagery from the 1920s to 1950s informed the silhouettes — all rooted in Ralph Lauren’s classic tailoring—as did certain key pieces from both Atlanta schools: white patchwork eyelet and silk wrap dresses nod to Spelman’s annual white dress ceremony, while a wool flannel blazer riffs on the one that Morehouse men traditionally get as freshmen. “Historically Black colleges and universities have uniquely been centers of both intellectual discourse and cultural influence for more than 150 years,” says David A. Thomas, Ph.D., the president of Morehouse College. “The Morehouse partnership with Ralph Lauren intelligently, creatively, and boldly puts this intersection on full display.”