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Polo and Hip-Hop, an Oral History [Pt. 1]

1. 1967 – Birth of An American Dream:
In 1967, Bronx-native and son of Jewish immigrants Ralph Lauren (born Ralph Lifschitz) begins selling neckties he’s designed under the name “Polo.” With no formal fashion training, he spends the 1970’s expanding the Polo brand to include women’s and men’s clothes that emphasize a classic American look marked by upper-class imagery. Polo goes on to become the flagship brand of a multi-billion dollar fashion empire by selling a lifestyle that would captivate hip-hop culture in the coming years.

Just Blaze: It’s more than just a brand… It’s the way you carry yourself. The way you walk, the way you talk, the kind of places you frequent. Ralph is from [New York City], he’s not from the country but he had this whole ideology. I remember he said once, “I designed this line behind the lifestyle I wished I could live. I didn’t have all of this when I was growing up, these are the things that I love.” At the same token, I’m not out riding horses; I’m not out at the country club. But a lot of those same ideologies and those same motifs are the things that I love in terms of a standard of living. The way you present yourself to the outside world. There’s a certain level or certain standard that kind of comes along with that lifestyle.

Dallas Penn: Polo is the most hip-hop brand of all time. The brand embodies aspiration. And hip-hop at its core is about the aspiration of doing better… Polo, Ralph Lauren and hip-hop follow a parallel path of aspiration culturally and economically. Ralph Lifshitz, a working class boy from the Bronx, created a brand of clothing that envisioned the grandest Anglo-Saxon lifestyle— so much so that he had to change his surname to Lauren. Hip-hop grew up from the working class neighborhoods of NYC to become the most prolific artistic movement of the 21st century. Both from the humblest of beginnings to the zenith of culture.

Raekwon: It expressed you had money. It’s like when you think of that horse on your shirt, that horse symbolizes them cats out there playing polo. You know majority of them is well-off— is comfortable. So it kinda made us feel like, if you got anything Polo on, you got money. You got a certain amount of status in the neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, we love camouflage jackets and all that good shit. But at the same time, when it was time to get fresh, if you ain’t have a good Polo shirt on, or some Polo sneakers, or anything like that, we didn’t consider you really that fly when you came out that day.

Young Dro: It’s the apparel that had came out that was for the rich and the poor. Because I’m from the projects, we wasn’t fortunate to have a lot of things. But once we put that outfit on, we could go chill at the gables with the White people, you know what I’m saying? I could go places. I’ma do this through my outfit, nah mean? I’ma go make a living and a life out of what I got through these clothes right here… I could just be standing here and then I could just be going to play golf with a stockbroker or two.

Victor Ving: I think that it was all about taking something that wasn’t meant for you and making it yours. Turntables were not made for scratching originally. It’s about breaking the rules, being rebellious and creating something out of that.

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