Interview: David Lauren Speaks On Ralph Lauren's New "Smart Shirts" and Stylish Wearable Technology at the U.S. Open

Ralph Lauren debuts Polo Tech, its first foray into wearables, at the U.S. Open. David Lauren gives us the details.

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Complex Original

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Over the weekend, Ruth La Ferla of the New York Times let the cat out of the bag: Ralph Lauren was making its foray in the wild, wild, world of wearable technology, and it was doing it in a big way—putting the prototype gear in action at the U.S. Open. Ralph Lauren officially unveiled Polo Tech today, a compression shirt made with silver sensors that allow it to track data via a small device that plugs into the shirt and sends that data to an app via Bluetooth.

Collaborating with OM, Polo Tech builds on Ralph Lauren's legacy of sportswear and activewear, including lines like RLX and the fondly remembered Polo Sport. Given that the company makes literal sportswear (remember the Olympic outfits?), Polo Tech carries the torch of form and function into the future. You'll see it in action at the U.S. Open, where Ralph Lauren is the official outfitter. Tournament-wise, it'll be easy to spot the ball boys rocking the black shirt with bright yellow branding, while pro player Marcos Giron has been wearing it during practice. 

We stopped by the Ralph Lauren offices today to get a closer look at the groundbreaking gear, where Marcos Giron demonstrated it firsthand. His coach Amir Marandy showed us how Giron uses the data to gauge how a particular training session is going, and how he can track things like Giron's heart rate and breathing. The tennis player claimed the shirt was comfortable to play in, and he forgot the little box was even there after some time. David Lauren, executive vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications, spoke with us about this big step into wearables, implications for the future of the brand, and why fashion brands are better suited than tech companies to make wearables that look as good as they work.

Ralph Lauren has a heritage in activewear and casual sportswear, do you think Polo Tech is a natural way of uniting both categories while taking them to the future?

Sportswear and activewear have been evolving over the years, and what makes it interesting is how you reflect the culture in which we’re living in—whether it’s creating clothing for a certain sport, or creating new materials that we think athletes or people who are physical want to wear. Wearable technology has been buzzed about for a few years now, but no major fashion brand has done it yet—until now. So, our goal is to show you how you can wear the highest level of performance gear, and we’ll have it on the courts at the U.S. Open.

Wearable tech often gets a bad rap because no one has figured out how to make it look good. This shirt, however, is something I feel like plenty of guys would wear. What have people been doing wrong in terms of design?

This is just the beginning. This is the prototype, the actual shirt will come in different fabrics, different fits, and we’re going to evolve it over the next few years. This is just a new way to take the brand where we understand the consumer and how they like to dress—we’ve been doing it for 50 years. It’s different than a tech company trying to design clothes. We already know how to design, so fusing the gear, it’s fiber that you can lace through any kind of fabric, so if we can do that effectively, then we can do anything.

Likewise, Ralph Lauren didn't try to create the tech from scratch, you partnered with OM. What attracted you to that particular company as a tech collaborator?

OM was really sort of at the cutting edge. They have the best quality, the highest performance, the longest list of technology measurements you can gather—so we felt like they were the right partner for us. We’re very excited. They’ve just been testing it, but no one’s done it in a big way yet.

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