Polo Ralph Lauren has created some conversation amongst the HBCU Community in their latest release involving Spelman College and Morehouse College.
The well-known HBCUs and famous fashion company announced their partnership to create a limited-edition collection that is inspired by these institutions’ history, culture, and traditions. The partnership is the first-ever creative collaboration that the brand has established with collegiate institutions.
Spelman and Morehouse’s students were photographed with the clothes that were a part of the licensing agreement. The students had their photographs taken at some historic places on campus to try to recreate some of the iconic shots of students from as far back as the 1920s.
James Jeter is the man who is largely responsible for the new collection. As one of the company’s design directors in New York who also graduated from Morehouse in 2013 has spent his full professional career at the brand. He is the one who educated Ralph Lauren on the significance of Morehouse
“I knew nothing about it, the “Divine Nine” Black fraternities and sororities, and the Black collegiate experience, said Lauren in an interview with the Washington Post. “James told me. He brought in these books, because he went to Morehouse, and said, ‘This exists.’ He felt that the world has always thought Ivy League [style] was only White people. This exists; the college exists; the taste levels existed. And we looked through some books and he showed me the school and I said, ‘This is beautiful. I love it.’ ”
Morehouse President David Thomas and Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell also spoke to the Washington Post about this historic collaboration with Ralph Lauren.
“Morehouse is an idea in the same way that America is an idea, which is that in this country, you can create Black male excellence at scale,” Thomas said. “Ralph Lauren is one of our cultural icons. And Morehouse is a cultural and, more importantly, an educational icon of what the country could be.”
“The beauty of what Ralph Lauren did with us: They made us part of this project,” Thomas stated. “They didn’t come in and appropriate culturally inspiring images of Black people and then go off and do something with it.”
Campbell said that she felt the collaboration gave the public a chance to see a part of the school’s history.
“I thought it evoked an aspect of our history and heritage that we don’t talk about and we don’t see very often on the public stage,” said Campbell.
The partnership also comes with a Ralph Lauren film called “A Portrait of the American Dream.”
The film will address the founding and significance of HBCUs specifically through the point of view of Morehouse and Spelman. The production will attempt to capture the use of style as a positive tool for change.
The collaboration comes nearly two years after Ralph Lauren was criticized by many in the Black community for using Greek letters that represent Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated on one of their articles of clothing.
Now, with the partnership in place with these historic institutions, it could open the door to potential collaboration with HBCU students and give them opportunities to put their influence in a major fashion corporation.
Many will argue that this partnership could have been better served at another HBCU that isn’t as well known as Spelman or Morehouse. However, the impact of a major fashion brand highlighting the importance of any HBCU cannot be overstated.
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