David Lauren Speaks on The 50th Anniversary of Ralph Lauren’s Polo Shirt

Ralph Lauren's Polo Shirt turns 50 this year. David Lauren speaks to Complex about the milestone anniversary and Rizzoli's 'Ralph Lauren's Polo Shirt' book.

Ralph Lauren The Polo Shirt Rizzoli Book Interview
Ralph Lauren

Image via Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren The Polo Shirt Rizzoli Book Interview

When Ralph Lauren released its first Polo Shirt in 1972, the Polo label was only five years old and he was looking to release a garment that would distinguish itself in a crowded market. Instead of just making a plain polyester polo shirt for sport, Lauren decided to release his in an array of different colors. He crafted it out of lightweight cotton so that its colors would gracefully age over time. He ensured that his shirt’s rib-knit collar would sit up high on the neck and be stiff enough to pop it up for style or shade the back of their neck. Even the shirt’s placket, with its two distinctive cross-stitched buttons, was meticulously designed to always lay perfectly flat on the wearer. Lastly, Lauren embroidered a small Polo pony logo to not just make his shirt fashionable but also call back to the very sport his label was named after. Lauren has built a brand that’s defined American fashion for the past 50 years, and his Polo Shirt has remained one of his most iconic creations.

To properly celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Polo Shirt, Ralph Lauren released a 496-page coffee table book with Rizzoli earlier this year titled Ralph Lauren’s Polo Shirt. For Lauren’s son David Lauren, creating a book was the perfect way to celebrate the Polo Shirt’s 50th anniversary. 

“The Polo Shirt has always been an important part of Ralph Lauren’s DNA, and maintaining its popularity and timelessness for 50 years is an impressive feat that we are deeply proud of,” says David, who is also Ralph Lauren’s Chief Brand and Innovation Officer. “It only felt natural to chronicle the history of how the shirt has evolved over the years and look at it through the eyes of those who know it best—the celebrities, notables and real people who have brought it along with them throughout every stage of their life”.

Ralph Lauren’s Polo Shirt delivers a broad overview on the Polo Shirt’s impact not just on fashion but pop culture at large. The book includes quotes from celebs like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kanye West, and Jerry Seinfeld describing what wearing Lauren’s Polo Shirt meant to them. It features an extensive photo archive of the most popular Polo Shirts the label’s released over the last 50 years, and breaks down the unique logos, themes, and prints that make them highly sought after by collectors today. Speaking about collectors, the Lo Lifes, Thirstin Howl III, and other figures familiar to any “Lo Head’’ are featured prominently throughout the book. Simply put, the book captures pretty much everything you’ll ever need to know about one of Ralph Lauren’s staples. 

We got the opportunity to chat with David about the making of the book, the significance of Polo’s 1992 Stadium collection, the reason why Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bear embroideries have rarely changed, and more.

Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt Rizzoli Interview

Why did it feel right to chronicle the 50-year history of the Polo Shirt through a book? Why was this the best vehicle to tell the story of one of Ralph Lauren’s most iconic items? 

For over 50 years now, Ralph Lauren’s Polo Shirt is a fashion icon that has transcended trends and cultures. We wanted to celebrate and recognize the milestone of our most iconic product because what began as a simple cotton shirt with an embroidered polo player on it, has really grown and evolved into something bigger. As Ken Burns writes in the book’s foreword, “It’s never, of course, about the thing itself; it’s always the metamorphosis of the materials that have gone into making it.”

There’s a good reason why Ralph Lauren’s Polo Shirt has become the most popular iteration of a classic piece of menswear. I love the “Anatomy” section of the book, which meticulously breaks down every element of Lauren’s design. What do you think was the most important attribute that distinguishes Ralph Lauren’s Polo Shirt in a league of its own?

The Pony of course! It’s an iconic symbol that resonates across the globe. We also now include QR codes in all labels on our clothes that help to authenticate the product because we want our consumers to trust they are purchasing what they think they are.

Personally, what’s your favorite Polo Shirt fit and why?  

I am a fan of the Classic fit–it’s timeless and can be dressed up or dressed down for any and all occasions.

The Polo Bear embroidery spread is one of my favorite pages in the book. Obviously, these bears were inspired by the work of Ralph Lauren artists such as Dick Tahsin. But while the look of Polo Bear illustrations and knits have evolved over the years, the Polo Bear embroidery seen on Polo shirts has remained relatively consistent over time. I’m curious to know why that is? 

We like to stick with our classic Polo Bear emblem. Although we’ve worked with different artists through the years to interpret our Polo Bear, we think it’s important to stay consistent with what we place on our shirts.

Polo Bear Embroidery Polo Shirt Rizzoli Interview
Ralph Lauren Thirstin Howl III Polo Shirt Interview

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