Ralph Lauren’s newest collection celebrates the rich heritage of historically Black colleges and universities.
Ralph Lauren partnered with two iconic HBCU institutions, tapping the genius from Black creatives—mostly from Morehouse College and Spelman’s collection—for the campaign. The creative team comprises some of HBCUs finest from directors, photographers, cinematographers, and models.
“This collection expresses the spirited history, deep sense of community, and legacy of timeless dressing at historically Black colleges and universities,” Lauren said. “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.”
According to WWD, The clothing line’s designs and patterns are inspired by the 1920s to 1950s and HBCU collegiate style. The team pulled ideas from the pages of the schools’ yearbooks and newsletters, archival images, and mottos.
“It was really important to steep this in history to show that this is not new,” James Jeter, Ralph Lauren director of concept design and special projects, Morehouse College alum (class of 2013), and brainchild behind the capsule, told WWD. “A lot of this project was really about changing ownership around how we think about clothing. So who owns three-piece suits? Who owns cable cardigans? Who owns the circle skirt, for instance?”
And while it’s typically and historically been relegated to Ivy League schools, if you see a lot of these archival images from [Morehouse and] Spelman, that has really helped to inform a lot of the way that we approached not only the design but the way that we approached the campaigns as well,” Jeter added.
“Before mass production and well before collegiate style was attributed to an often un-inclusive elite, HBCU students were creating their own style,” Spelman College President Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell said.”By sharing the early history of Spelman, as reflected in archival research, through clothing, the collection encourages conversations about the creative power of the Black experience and the ways in which a personal fashion aesthetic intersects with institutional values of solidarity and connection.”
“The history of dress and style played a critical role in the late 1950s and 1960s in the Civil Rights Movement. Students who sat at lunch tables, or who protested in front of segregated department stores or marched in protests always did so with deliberate and planned consciousness of their dress,” she added.
Fashion photographer, Nadine Ijewere, shot the campaign with a fresh and modern angle on the ’20s and ’30s.
Consumers can expect the collection to feature rugby-styled sweaters, tweed three-piece suits, turtleneck sweaters embellished with an “M,” and a double-breasted linen blazer with a Spelman logo. The legendary Ralph Lauren Polo bear will be featured on a Spelman scarf for the first time in the brand’s history.
View this post on Instagram
Repping both HBCUs, some of the lines pieces are logoed with the year “67” on the back, as Morehouse was founded in 1867 and Ralph Lauren in 1967.
The capsule’s other symbolic pieces are the white dress following an old Spelman tradition and the “S” Spelman sweatshirts, inspired from the Spelman Messenger, a late newsletter the college still creates.
Dara Douglas is a Spelman Alum and a part of the Ralph Lauren team who really wanted to pay homage to her school’s traditions.
“Since the inception of the institution in 1881, young women were instructed to bring a dress made of simple white cotton as a way to have something beautiful to wear on formal occasions, and it’s a tradition that we continue to uphold,” Douglass said, Ralph Lauren director of inspirational content and the Ralph Lauren Library.
“We wanted to pay homage to that tradition in creating these dresses.”
The Polo Ralph Lauren Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges Collection is available to the public on Mar. 29. Pieces will range from $20 to $2,500 and will open to Morehouse and Spelman students and faculty first before its global launch.
The collection will be available on the Ralph Lauren website, the Polo App at Morehouse College, and Spelman College Follett campus bookstores.
View this post on Instagram
Consumers can expect the line to “shows the depth and breadth of Black culture,” Douglas said.
“People conceptualize it as a monolith, so this helps to show those other images that… aren’t so prevalent in American culture and American society,” she said. “I think that this just shows how committed [Ralph Lauren is] to being able to expand the narrative of American style…who owns American style and what does that look like. Everybody should be able to be a part of that and see themselves reflected in that, and I hope that it’s inspiring.”
Ralph Lauren will also debut a yearbook on March 29, combining the significance, contribution, and influence of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges.
“Our portrait of American style and our vision of the American dream would be incomplete without Black experiences like this,” Ralph Lauren said on a page in the collections “yearbook.”
To top it all off, A 27-minute film titled A Portrait of the American Dream was also produced to coincide with the collection. Described as a first-of-its-kind piece, the film explores “the use of style as an expression of aspiration, a form of self-empowerment, and a tool of resistance.” It will premiere on all Ralph Lauren social media pages on Mar. 28. at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
To further extend their hand, Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation pledged $2 million in December 2021 for scholarships for students at Morehouse College, Spelman College, and 10 other HBCUs through the United Negro College Fund.