By Madeline Thigpen
This is the first time Ralph Lauren has partnered with an institution of higher education and the first time they have produced a campaign with an entirely-Black cast and team.
The concept and design was created by Ralph Lauren’s Director of Concept Design & Special Projects James Jeter (Morehouse ‘13) with Dara Douglas (Spelman ‘03), the company’s Director of Inspirational Content.
Spelman College President Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell told The Atlanta Voice how glad she was to see the entire project executed by an all-Black creative team, including acclaimed British fashion photographer Nadine Ijewere.
The reference to Spelman’s White Attire tradition is something Campbell said struck her as an important inclusion because of its significance as an aesthetic representation of the solidarity between students.
“Something we say here often is, ‘look to your left, look to your right, make sure both students are with you when you graduate,” Campbell said.
Similarly, the wool blazers models are seen wearing in front the historic Graves Hall references the Morehouse blazer. A traditional maroon jacket given to each Morehouse man on his first day at school.
In addition to the cultural significance of the collaboration, there is the financial. Campbell said the schools also have arrangements with Ralph Lauren for licensing and the number of products sold. The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation also made a $2 million donation to the United Negro College Fund for scholarships at 10 HBCUs, including Spelman and Morehouse.
“What is important to us is to keep Spelman College affordable to our students,” Campbell said. One way the college does this is from revenue from corporate partnerships, she added.
The clothes in the Morehouse and Spelman Collections are reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s, an era where many of the schools’ students participated in the Atlanta Student Movement. When style, Campbell said, was a way of showing cultural assertiveness.
Campbell said seeing the photos of the new collections and the archives used to inspire them reminded her of a different era when Black Americans were gaining their freedom.
At the 1900 Paris Exposition there were over 350 photographs displayed for the ‘American Negro’ exhibit.
W.E.B. Du Bois presented the collection in two albums called “Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A.” and “Negro Life in Georgia, U.S.A.”
“W.E.B DuBois took these photographs to the Paris Exposition and showed the world that in less than 50 years Black Americans had become a nation,” Campbell said.
The photographs were taken throughout 1899 and 1900, less than 40 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 or Juneteenth in 1865.
Accompanying the collection is a film that will premiere on Ralph Lauren social media channels on March 28 at 7:30 p.m.
“Our portrait of American style and our vision of the American dream would be incomplete without Black experiences like these,” said Ralph Lauren, the company’s Executive Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, in the film’s trailer.
A full digital yearbook will be available on the Ralph Lauren website March 29, the same day as the collection drops online and at the Spelman and Morehouse bookstores.
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