A couple of months ago, Just Blaze went H.A.M. on his Instagram feed with some really dope flicks of his Polo Ralph Lauren Collection. He got word that we were really curious about it, so he came by the offices with some pieces from his massive collection. We talked to him about how he first got put onto the brand, Polo's connection with hip-hop, and why he continues to collect certain pieces.
How long have you been collecting Polo Ralph Lauren?
I started in high school. So maybe 15, 16 years… a little under 20 years.
How were you first introduced to the brand?
My friend Tommy had this one Triple Fat Goose jacket that had a skier on the back. It said “Triple Fat “on one arm, and “Goose” on the other, and the skier on the back was in a circle. I was like 11 or 12 years old, but that was like the freshest jacket I had ever seen. So my mom bought me the wrong jacket. She buys me a Polo jacket that looked exactly like it. Years later, when I got a little older, I found out Triple Fat Goose had actually copied Polo’s design and made a cheap $80 version of Polo’s jacket.
So my earliest memory of Polo is me being upset with my mother for actually buying the real jacket — I wanted the knock off because I didn’t know any better. Around that time I started getting a little older, more conscious of fashion and things like that, then I fell into it. That was ’89. High school, I guess like ’92… I dabbled in it — I had a couple pieces but nothing crazy.
It was when the “Can It All Be So Simple?” video came out and Raekwon had the “Snow Beach” parka on and every kid was like “what IS that? I want that!” And I remember — I ended up getting that at Macy’s. I started working at the mall shortly after that video came out and that was one of the first things I bought. I used to work at Aéropostale, when I got my first check that was like the first thing I bought. Macy’s owns Aéropostale, so I would get a discount at both stores — a lot of people don’t know that. And we would get anywhere from 35-50% off. The standard discount was 35%, and then there were certain times in the year when you would get 50%. So that’s how I used to rack up. I used to work just to buy clothes.
What is it about Polo that makes it so important in the world of hip-hop?
If I sold everything that I have, I could buy a small house.
Well, it’s aspirational clothing. What I mean by that is, you can just look at how Ralph came up. He came up in Queens, he didn’t come from a lot of money. A lot of his designs were based on things that he wished he had, things that he aspired to, a certain lifestyle he aspired to live. So I think as time progressed into our generation, it’s kind of the same thing.
It wasn’t made for us, and hip-hop has always been at its heart about taking things that weren’t necessarily made for us and us appropriating it and making it our own. It was a relatively expensive brand. In hip-hop it’s about expensive things: whether it’s Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, flying on a private jet, expensive jewelry, you know just things of that nature. So once it started to take hold within hip-hop, it trickles down to the fans and obviously the centerpiece of it is the movement that was happening in Brooklyn and uptown New York in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. A lot of people refer to the early ‘90s as the golden era of hip-hop, so I think for some folks its one of those things where the reason why it’s lasted so long in some circles is because its so synonymous with that time period that some people never really let it go. And, I guess you can file me under that to a certain degree.
What makes Polo Ralph Lauren important to you?
The difference with me is that I appreciate more than just the look of the brand or the nostalgia of the pieces, but also the design work and the construction of it. I mean we’re sitting here taking pictures of articles of clothing that are in some cases over 20-25 years old, but are still are physically intact. That says something about how they were made. Not that many brands would put that much workmanship into an article of clothing that would even physically last that long. If you go back and look at a lot of your old clothes from say 20 years ago, most of them are falling apart. So this stuff is made really well.
And going back to aspirational clothing, a lot of it is motif-branded. What I have on right now are actually designs based on Asian military art. A lot of the Modern Explorer line is military-themed, but it’s based on Himalayan imagery and old military uniforms. So it’s one of those things that for some people, you get dressed up you feel like you’re playing a role or a part. Some of the stuff is based on workman’s clothes, or based on old western styles. Some is based on car garage culture, so for some people it’s just a way to get dressed up. Not to the extent of Halloween like you’re pretending to be something, but it’s just that feel.
Was there ever a point when Polo fell off?
I’d say by the late ‘90s it wasn’t necessarily in style. Other things came into play. Iceberg came into play, throwback jerseys came into play… I think Tommy Hilfiger doing what he did, and kind of ripping the look, and then saturating the market helped contribute. There was also Tommy Jeans and there was Polo Jeans… which weren’t actually manufactured by either of those two brands, it was manufactured by another company that just licensed the name.
When you're able to see Tommy Jeans or Polo Jeans in a random store in the hood, it's accessible, and once something is accessible, it’s not cool. I think that was really probably what contributed to the decreasing popularity in the late ‘90s because it was just too oversaturated.
How many pieces would you say you have in your collection?
I have no idea…I could never tell you. There’s a difference, its like some things you have, you may not consider “pieces” — it’s just a cool t-shirt or whatever. Then you have certain things, like the stuff in here that you’d consider more powerful pieces. How many pieces do I own? Probably over a couple thousand.
How much would you say you’ve spent?
I don’t even want to add that up. That would be shameful! I mean, you’re asking me to track back 20 years of purchases. I couldn’t tell you. Some things you buy at retail price, some things you might make a deal with somebody, or trade something that you have. Maybe one of your friends having a tough time, hard up for some cash and sells something super cheap. But, if I sold everything that I have, I could buy a small house.
You could buy a small house?!
Maybe not in the city, but you could buy a small house in jersey.
So maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars?
What are your favorite Ralph Lauren lines of all time?
The Snow Beach collection for obvious nostalgic reasons. It’s probably the line that made me say: “that’s what I wanna wear.” But I would say speaking a little bit more mature, probably that 2006 Laguna Beach line. That line kind of reinvigorated my interest in a lot of the current designs, because there was a point where I was just going back to all the old stuff. There had been some cool pieces over the years, but I think that was the first line in a long time that I just loved the whole one. What’s funny is even to this day, six years later; they’re still referencing the designs from that line in at least 10-15 pieces a year.
What was the piece you just absolutely had to buy?
It’s actually on the website right now. There’s this reversible silk varsity jacket. On one side there’s a giant dragon on the back, and on the other side there’s a map of the Himalayas. It’s fuckin’ sick. It’s from a line called “Modern Explorer,” it’s a Polo line.
That design is actually based on an actual old Japanese jacket from the ‘40s, and they actually had two of the original jackets for sale in SoHo as part of the Ralph Lauren vintage section, and I wanted it so bad, but it was way too small. It was a Japanese small, so there was no way I could wear it. But they ended up taking that design, and it’s not the same exact jacket but it’s clearly inspired by it. So when I walked in and saw that, I realized they just made a new version of that jacket and when I walked in it was just beaming from across the store.
Is there anyone who can go toe-to-toe with your collection, like Dallas Penn?
No Dallas is too fat! He can’t wear anything anymore. Everybody does it differently. I’m the kind of person that I just buy what I like. If there’s a line that I like, I’m not going to buy every piece from it if I don’t like half the pieces, I’m going to buy what I like. I’m not a completist. My whole attitude has always been: if I see something, and I like it, then I get it. It’s not: “oh I have to get this because it’s intended to go with that.” If I’m not going to wear it, I’m not going to buy it.
I think everybody’s attitude about it is different. Some people only collect vintage clothes, the late ‘80s, early ‘90s stuff. There are some people who don’t do RRL and only do Polo. I don’t think it’s about going toe-to-toe. I would say I probably have more individual pieces than anybody I know. I have one of the best collections, but do I have THE best collection? No. I think what I probably have is a good balance between the old and the new. I probably have the best collection of vintage and current.
Here are some of the pieces he brought in to show us, with a little bit of historical context provided by the man himself. Click through to see some of Just Blaze's favorite Polo gear.