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Following Louis Vuitton’s crossovers with Supreme and fragment design, Dior enlisting KAWS for Kim Jones’ debut collection, and Burberry working with Gosha Rubchinskiy, Palace’s collaboration with Ralph Lauren is the latest in a trend of big-name fashion houses collaborating with younger, edgier contemporaries in a bid to ingratiate themselves with those younger consumers less likely to rock a tailored suit.
But why Palace? A more logical partner for Ralph Lauren would surely have been Supreme, whose founder James Jebbia’s fanaticism for classic Polo Ralph Lauren is well documented. Countless pieces from Supreme collections over the past two decades have taken cues from Polo and Polo Sport, and when you factor in the two labels’ New York roots, you in theory have a match made in heaven.
That said, the closeness in style and sensibility would possibly make a Supreme x Ralph Lauren collaboration too easy or too obvious. With so many Supreme designs rooted in the language of Ralph Lauren, what would a collaboration offer that's different? Plus, the type of brand fanatic who'd usually be drawn to a Supreme collab — for example, Ralph Lauren obsessives the Lo Life crew — might not be into a contemporary reinterpretation of their favorite label.
So how exactly does Ralph Lauren fit with Palace? Ralph Lauren is rooted in notions of the American gentry: new money, country clubs, the Ivy League, and so on — a far cry from a London skate brand started by a bunch of guys living in a Waterloo squat. Despite the brand’s auxiliary connections to NYC hip-hop, skateboarding, and street culture, those are arguably tangential to the distinctly British take on skateboarding and streetwear offered by Palace.
Still, like Supreme, Palace’s collaborations are often intriguing, highlighting unexpected connections between labels and cultures, connecting the dots between disparate identities where none had previously been apparent.
Since its earliest collaborations, such as the retro England football jersey made with Umbro in 2012 and multiple footwear releases with Reebok Classics, Palace has presented streetwear from a strictly British perspective. Even its penchant for more lofty menswear pieces, such as chinos and Italian-made penny loafers, can be traced back to British club culture and UK garage.
If Supreme’s heritage leads to Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, Palace’s leads to the Italian brands that outfitted clubbers and the descendants of football's casuals at the turn of the millennium: Stone Island, Iceberg, Moschino, Versace, Armani, and so on.
The UK’s relationship with Ralph Lauren has tended to be different from the United States’. Less acquainted with the label’s “fashion proper” offerings as its ready-to-wear polos, Oxfords, and light outerwear, for the British, Ralph Lauren is a brand for anyone.
Unlike the top-down dissemination of Ralph Lauren from Ivy League colleges and country clubs, UK club culture came from regular people. Those Italian labels were brands of choice for people out to look expensive on the weekend. And while British labels such as Burberry worked to keep their products away from the working class in the early ’00s, Ralph Lauren’s affordability and ease of style made it a go-to for skaters, football fans, and even car modders.
Watching a group of guys do donuts around a horse in a classic VW Golf and a BMW 3 Series is pretty funny by anyone’s standards, but for Brits, that connection between Ralph Lauren and the guys pulling in to a local car park on Friday nights is unmissable.
Like the recreation of the 1990 England football shirt with Umbro or teaming up with Reebok on Palace editions of trainers you’d find for £40 in any JD Sports, this is about streetwear and fashion in a British context.
Palace has always taken pride in confusing, possibly even alienating, its foreign audience — check out the over-the-top product descriptions on its webstore and Instagram posts for examples. Working with the quintessential all-American fashion label and presenting it with an unapologetically British slant is kind of the ultimate prize.
This collaboration is part of a realization that just because you own the trademarks, design the clothes, run the stores, and sell the products, it doesn’t mean the brand is yours. The people who wear the clothes and locate them within a culture are what shape a brand’s identity around the world.
Growing up, British people probably knew Louis Vuitton more for the fake handbags carried by every girl at high school. Anyone who remembers seeing YSL polos selling on market stalls would have been shocked by Hedi Slimane’s revival of Saint Laurent. Likewise, Polo Ralph Lauren has always been a brand of choice for football lads, Vauxhall Nova drivers, club kids, skaters, and that guy at the pub who everyone says once killed a guy.
So this partnership between WASP-y Ralph Lauren and a brand started by a bunch of tracksuit-wearing skaters living in a dilapidated flat in South London isn’t all that strange. In many ways, it’s exactly where Polo Ralph Lauren has always been in the UK. James Jebbia might have preferred his brand to be doing this collaboration, but as a fellow Brit, he would probably admit that this is a much more meaningful pairing.