Ralph Lauren creates an HBCU collection with Morehouse and Spelman College
The collection has sparked mixed reactions on social media.
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Ralph Lauren has collaborated with two Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), Morehouse and Spelman, to create a limited-edition collection inspired by the HBCUs and their histories.
The collection was thought up and designed by James Jeter, a Morehouse alumnus and director of concept design & special projects at Ralph Lauren. He collaborated with Dara Douglas, a Spelman alumna and the director of inspirational content for Ralph Lauren.
This is the first time that the brand has made a campaign featuring an all-Black cast and crew. Many people on both sides of the camera were also alumni or current students of the colleges. The photos were taken by Nadine Ijewere, a Nigerian-Jamaican photographer and 2020 International Center of Photography winner.
The designs are inspired by the schools’ fashion from the 1920s through the 1950s. Two of the pieces were inspired by what students traditionally wear at the beginning of their college careers. There are ‘patchwork eyelet and silk dresses’ for Spelman’s white attire ceremony and ‘wool flannel blazers’ like those given to Morehouse students when they join.
In 2020, the brand released a list of actions it would take to archive racial equity within the company and in the community. When this list was updated in December 2021, it included $2 million in scholarships for students at Morehouse, Spelman, and ten other HBCUs.
The collection hasn’t come without critique, however. Many on Twitter have referred to the line as “Jim Crow” or “civil rights” fashion. Others like Shelby Ivey Christie, a fashion historian, suggested going with a different era. Her suggestion was the 2000s when Ralph Lauren became the unofficial uniform for HBCU homecomings. The 80s/90s were also suggested, a period that saw an uptick in HBCU enrollment due to the television show A Different World.
Lord knows HBCU Homecomings + yards from 07 — ‘12 students were Polo rugby, cargo shorts, polo hat, polo socks, polo shoes downnnnnn lol now that’s a story to tell/moment to highlight at HBCUs— Shelby Ivey Christie (@bronze_bombSHEL) March 15, 2022
Other people think that the $2 million for scholarships to be split among 12 schools isn’t enough, especially when the founder’s net worth is over $7 billion.
There have been counters to these arguments, as well. Twitter users oddeyepiper and jaescho13 have both pointed out that even though these are clothes that are associated with times of struggle in the Black community, the Black people who wore them were more than that struggle. Others have pointed out that vintage/collegiate-inspired looks are Ralph Lauren's whole brand.
i think 2 things can be true at once. like on another hand this isnt "civil rights clothing" its 60s clothing in which the civil rights movement took place. wed react diff. if the models were yt n usually they always are. as black ppl we dont have the luxury to separate the (1/2)— Kurosaki Roronoa Ai (@oddeyepiper) March 16, 2022
I think people should explore why when they see black people in a vintage aesthetic from the 1960s, they feel the need to reduce our elders to their Jim Crow suffering (which lasted 100 years and not just that decade) or the CRM which not all black people participated in— Ju Don Dada (@jaescho13) March 16, 2022
In addition to the clothing line, the brand will release a 27-minute long video that features interviews and archival footage on March 28. The collection opens to the general public the next day on March 29.