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Ralph Lauren Unveils Collection for HBCUs Morehouse and Spelman

The brand aims to honour the contributions of Black students to American collegiate style by drawing inspiration from fashion worn at historically Black colleges from 1920 to 1950.
The Polo Ralph Lauren Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges Collection references styles worn by HBCU students from the 1920s to 1950s.
The Polo Ralph Lauren Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges Collection references styles worn by HBCU students from the 1920s to 1950s. (Courtesy)

Key insights

  • Ralph Lauren is releasing a first-of-its-kind collection conceived, designed and inspired by Black creatives and students at HBCUs.
  • The full range includes outerwear, dresses, suits, footwear and accessories priced between $20 and $2500.
  • A film and commemorative yearbook accompany the release meant to help expand the meaning and influence behind American luxury.

Ralph Lauren will release a collegiate-inspired collection, featuring outerwear, tailored suits, dresses and footwear, designed by Morehouse and Spelman alumni who currently work at the company.

The pieces, priced between $20 to $2500, were inspired by the outfits worn by students at the historically Black colleges between the 1920s and 1950s, like tweed blazers and vintage varsity knitted sweaters. The reference images could be found in decades-old college yearbooks that James Jeter, Ralph Lauren’s director of concept design and special projects and a 2013 graduate of Morehouse College, shared with Ralph Lauren’s eponymous founder following the social justice uprisings of summer 2020.

The collection marks the first time Ralph Lauren has produced a campaign with an all-Black cast including its photographer, creative directors, cinematographer and talent.

“I began creating these visual presentations and had conversations with Ralph around ideas that I thought could expand the narrative around … how [the company] has shaped collegiate style,” said Jeter.

Following the social justice protests of summer 2020, hundreds of companies across fashion and beauty vowed to help level the playing field for Black people in the US via financial, educational and other commitments. Some companies have since released annual impact reports and joined organisations such as the Fifteen Percent Pledge aimed at fostering accountability and transparency about their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and corresponding results.

Ralph Lauren has long used Ivy League schools — a group of predominantly white colleges and universities in the US known for their academic rigour and social prestige — as the inspiration for the brand’s collegiate designs. But as it sought to make good on a 2020 pledge to take action on racial equity and re-examine how it “portrays the American dream,” Jeter convinced Lauren that a collection that demonstrated that Black colleges are just as “aspirational and inspirational” as their Ivy League peers could serve as a powerful step.

The campaign was shot by internationally fashion photographer Nadine Ijewere.

“He didn’t realise that this history existed and … it really kind of opened up this entire world to be inspired by,” Jeter said. “Right now, we’re just talking about HBCUs and collegiate style, but the same could be true of Americana and quilting or the American West … this is only the beginning.”

Ralph Lauren will release an accompanying film, “A Portrait of the American Dream,” on March 28, and a commemorative yearbook, on March 29, featuring archival imagery from Morehouse and Spelman juxtaposed against collection imagery on the campuses. The campaign utilised an all-Black cast and crew, including fashion photographer Nadine Ijewere and students, faculty and alumni from both schools.

The white patchwork eyelet and silk wrap dresses anchor the Spelman collection and symbolize the white attire ceremony that marks students’ induction into the college.

“Just like all of our Ralph Lauren clothes, these clothes are for everyone; everyone should see themselves reflected in these clothes,” said Dara Douglas, director of inspirational content at the Ralph Lauren Library and a 2003 graduate of Spelman, who worked with Jeter on the collection. “It’s a dream that we’re inviting you into, if you see yourself reflected in these clothes, please please wear them.”

The collection is available on March 29 on the brand’s website, apps and in select stores, including at Morehouse and Spelman campus bookstores.

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