The cult collectors behind Ralph Lauren's iconic 1993 'Snow Beach' collection
Explore the legacy of Polo Ralph Lauren through the eyes of vintage collectors: the Snow Beach line's impact on hip-hop culture through the eyes of artists and enthusiasts who immersed themselves in the history behind it.
In the second part of our series, we turn our focus to a specific, iconic line that has captivated the hearts of Ralph Lauren enthusiasts: the Snow Beach collection. Launched in the early 90s, Snow Beach became an instant classic, known for its vibrant colors, bold graphics, and groundbreaking designs that merged outdoor utility with urban style.
This segment of our journey is dedicated to the collectors of Snow Beach, those who have not only gathered these rare pieces but have also immersed themselves in the culture and history behind them: New York artist and rapper Starker Ltd; Paris Polo Club, a community of hip-hop DJs, rappers, producers, dancers and graffiti artists who share the passion for the Polo brand; vintage Polo Ralph Lauren archivist and seller and Upcycled Fashion Designer Ezra Wine; and Tokyo barber Dak Nishiyama.
Through their eyes, we explore the legacy of Snow Beach, understanding why this collection holds a special place in the pantheon of fashion and in the hearts of those who cherish it.
The Snow Beach collection by Polo Ralph Lauren holds a legendary status among vintage clothing collectors. Can you share the moment you first discovered the Snow Beach line and what drew you to it initially?
Starker Ltd: I first discovered the Snow Beach in the Can It All Be So Simple? music video on Raekwon as a kid. I believe that's the most memorable appearance the parka made in its history aside from the internet and the Polo collectors audience. Raekwon probably didn’t intend to make a permanent statement at the time, he just wore what kids in the street sported in the early 90’s. Polo was the top choice. Hip-hop as a culture recognized Ralph Lauren as a status symbol. New York's inner city youth took it to greater levels decorating themselves in what today is considered some of the most sought after designs Polo ever made available.
Dak: Witnessing the Snow Beach line for the first time was like seeing a correct example of what is now called ‘Urban Fashion’ or ‘Streetwear’, as those words didn’t exist back then. Ralph Lauren just manifested a perfect image of what those terms could mean to us for the rest of our lives. There were no other brands and collections that caught that much of our attention without an intention.
Ezra: I’ve been collecting Polo since I was in high school back in the 90’s. In particular Snow Beach was a capsule collection released in the winter of 1993. This piece was made famous in 1994 when Raekwon the chef from The Wu-Tang Clan wore the Snow Beach jacket in the Can It All be so Simple? music video, directed by Hype Williams. Around that time collectors like myself started referring to the jacket as ‘The Raekwon’, adding to the cultural impact. I then created the website ezrawine.com selling both vintage Ralph Lauren pieces and new upcycled/customized designs as part of my brand: WATER by EZRA WINE.
Paris Polo Club: As anyone else, the first time we discovered this line of clothes was in the Wu-Tang Clan’s Can It All Be So Simple? video clip, where Raekwon wore the infamous Snow Beach vest. At that time, we weren't aware of the real impact of Polo RL, and in particular the Snow Beach collection, on hip-hop culture, but we were totally fascinated.
Many people see the Snow Beach collection as more than just apparel, rather as a cultural symbol, especially in the Hip-Hop community. How do you perceive the impact of this particular line on hip-hop fashion and culture?
Paris Polo Club: When we discovered the lo-life community, talking with friends who introduced us to the Paris Polo Club, it was a revelation, and we decided to only collect and only wear Polo. Polo greatly impacted people in the hip-hop community, especially in the United States. For us, it is a harmony for the hip-hop veterans. When you meet some people in the same clothes as you, you can identify yourself as part of a bigger community, sharing the same passion for fashion and feeling part of a big family.
Dak: Ralph Lauren was a brand that was leading the preppy scene; they probably didn’t know they were creating that type of a recipe for us hip-hop-obsessed. My dad, for example, always loved Ralph Lauren and never had his shirt untucked. I was the opposite, as our generation never tucked in their shirts. I always wished that they had put the care label near the hem inside; it is now. I would always accompany my dad when he went to Rodeo Drive RL in LA, sagging my pants.
Starker Ltd: What is most important about the Snow Beach capsule collection is that it was intended for ski performance and outdoor activities but repurposed by hip-hop to a Grail Status of Fashion. Hip-hop is fueled by turning nothing into something. While rap artists were taking the genre to new heights, they made sure they did it in style, and it just would not be the same today without The Polo SnowBeach.
Collecting vintage Polo Ralph Lauren items, such as the Snow Beach capsule, requires a keen eye and a deep understanding of the brand's history. What advice would you give to new collectors looking to authenticate and acquire genuine vintage pieces?
Dak: To use your feet. Go out and look for them, and then stick to your source. Keep looking; keep it consistent. Back then, this meant touring around countries, towns, and thrifts every chance you got. Nowadays, this is all pretty much done on the internet, but there are still chances out there.
Starker Ltd: I would recommend new collectors converse with older Polo collecting community members to maintain a better understanding of the original history and authenticity of what they want to do, whether collecting or wearing the products.
Paris Polo Club: For collectors who want to start a Polo collection, we recommend taking their time; it's a hunt. But this is the interesting part of the game: doing the hunt on the internet, talking with people, and taking your time to verify the tags, the one you got on the collar and the others you got inside your clothes. It's a way to have some good pieces from a very old collection cause now we are talking about the Snow Beach 30th anniversary, and vintage items are starting to be quite old and priceless.
Each piece in your Snow Beach collection must have a story behind it. Could you share one of your most memorable experiences or challenges in acquiring a piece from this collection?
Dak: In 2008 or 2009, I believe, I ran into Taz Arnold on the street of Omotesando right in front of a Chanel shop, across from the Tokyo RL mansion now. I noticed him wearing a Snow Beach pinwheel hat; he noticed my brother and me wearing Paddles shirts and Flag Mesh hats. I asked him if he would sell me the hat, and he asked us if we’d sell the shirts we had on. We both said no and laughed. A year later, I got the hat from another collector from New York. I own this very Snow Beach hat to this date, still collor-vivid and bright.
Starker: I purchased my first item from the Snow Beach line around 2009-10 from What was once the Clientele skate shop, then converted into a Flight Club that also sold vintage Gear. The Snow Surfing crewneck for $100 at the time was a deal, especially for its excellent condition. You can see me wearing that same one in the photo above.