When universes collide: Ralph Lauren x The Rake Polo Bear Snow Beach
What if two legends of Ralph Lauren could be merged to create a unique and collectable new icon? Introducing our latest collaboration with the poet laureate of American style: the Ralph Lauren x Revolution and The Rake Snow Beach Bear watch.
In a downtown Brooklyn street in 1994, Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan rocked up to the set of the video shoot for the group’s single Can It Be All So Simple wearing a unique and distinctive yellow-and-blue windbreaker emblazoned with the hot-pink words ‘Snow Beach’, and one of the most seminal moments in hip-hop style was born. The jacket had been created in 1993 by America’s poet laureate of style, Ralph Lauren, as the central piece of his new vision for urban sportswear inspired by the loose-fitting windbreakers worn by snowboarders.
The collection was a riotous explosion of primary colours that brought to mind the colour field work of artists Barnett Newman and Frank Stella, and it was a revelation. For the first time, athletic wear had descended from the slopes to take centre stage on the streets of New York. The Rake’s Editor-in-Chief, Tom Chamberlin, says: “Snow Beach brought a new generation and demographic to Ralph Lauren with its freshness and youthful energy. It was a wonderful example of how Lauren constantly invented all-new modes of dress. Without Snow Beach, we would not have the popularisation of athletic wear and streetwear or their dominance of runway styles today.”
Snow Beach exploded in popularity and gained such a cult following that even today vintage windbreakers from the 1993 collection or the re-edition version of these jackets launched in 2018 sell for secondary prices five times their original cost — if you are lucky enough to find one. But more than that, Snow Beach showed the world there were no limits to style, that what you wore at play or during sport could be equally relevant at a work event or even a sophisticated dinner, as long as you carried it off with that signature brand of Ralph Lauren nonchalant cool.
To say I have a slight obsession with Snow Beach, and for the seismic moment in modern style that it represents, would be an understatement. So when an opportunity to team up with Ralph Lauren on our third timepiece collaboration arose, I knew exactly what I wanted: a Snow Beach watch. But while the idea of emblazoning a timepiece with the Snow Beach logo and colours was highly appealing, Ralph Lauren had an even cooler idea in mind: to celebrate more than 30 years of Snow Beach, what if it were to merge universes with another Ralph Lauren icon, the Polo Bear.
The roots of the Polo Bear go back to the late 1980s, when Lauren’s team presented him and his wonderfully effusive and elegant brother Jerry with Steiff teddy bears modelled on them and dressed in outfits made by the Ralph Lauren factories that created their menswear.
Lauren was so charmed by these bears that he decided to offer them in a limited series of 200 in 1991. Even before the age of the internet, buzz about the bears spread through New York like wildfire, with every Ralph Lauren devotee making a beeline to the Rhinelander mansion flagship in Manhattan, where they sold out in a weekend. Because the bears were made by Steiff, and, like his personal bear, wore clothing (specifically, grey flannel pleated trousers, a woven leather belt, and a blue Oxford button-down), they were limited in supply. Foreseeing the popularity of this new symbol of his brand, Lauren also emblazoned the Bear’s likeness on clothing, including the iconic Polo Bear sweater, which depicted the Bear wearing an American flag sweater. This sweater is to this day known as the ‘Iconic Polo Bear Sweater’. From 1991 to 2001 the Polo Bear enjoyed a decade of sartorial dominance, and everything he graced became the object of cult collectability. The holy grail was the so-called ‘Never-Ending Bear’ sweater, which featured the Polo Bear wearing a Polo Bear sweater of the Bear wearing the Polo Bear sweater, and so on. You get it.
The Polo Bear was depicted in everything from a western fringe jacket to a beret and striped T-shirt and espadrilles, collegiate preppy clothing under a camel Polo coat, RLX ski gear, and (my favourite) a magnificent evening suit replete with monogrammed evening slippers and a martini. To be correct, I should note that the Polo Bear has three black-tie ensembles: a classic black, a white dinner jacket with black trousers, and a jaunty Black Watch tartan jacket that he pairs with louche red socks for extra panache. To borrow from Walt Whitman, the Polo Bear was large; he contained multitudes. Indeed, his incredible style, which became a catalogue of Ralph Lauren’s most iconic looks, demonstrated how infinitely varied yet appealing the Ralph Lauren world was. In each instance the Bear looked cool, beatific, successful and friendly. Most importantly, regardless of your age, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic demographic, he made you smile.
In 2001 the partnership with Steiff came to an end, and with it the use of the Polo Bear on Ralph Lauren clothing. But by that time Polo Bear clothing had taken on a life of its own, particularly in the hip-hop community and most notably with Kanye West, who almost exclusively wore the clothing throughout the launch of his seminal College Dropout album in 2004. (The cover even featured West depicted as a preppy bear.) By 2013 the demand for all things Polo Bear had inspired his return to the Ralph Lauren visual lexicon, where he has remained more popular than ever. Indeed, the Polo Bear collaborations, with brands such as Palace skateboards, have become some of the most sought-after and desirable objects around. The Polo x Palace sweater (I had two of these, and gave one to the editor of this magazine and the other to our C.E.O.) almost caused the internet to explode upon launch, and now commands a massive premium on the secondary market if you can find one.
Snow Beach Bear
With a love of both the Snow Beach collection and the Polo Bear, it seemed only natural that the conversation steered towards the ultimate ‘what if?’ Meaning: what if we were to make a Snow Beach Bear watch, with the legendary Polo Bear, in his triumphant sartorial style, wearing the iconic Snow Beach windbreaker while catching air (yes, that’s a little wink to the Palace Polo Bear sweater) on the dial of our watch? To complement the electric-blue background, we even created a Snow Beach NATO-style strap! The result is one of the coolest collaborations Revolution magazine and The Rake have ever created, and we would like to thank Ralph Lauren for the honour of working on this project. It is the third Polo Bear timepiece we have created together – see the Negroni Bear and the Bearfoot Negroni Bear – and it is certainly the most adventurous. As you might know, The Rake recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, and we could think of no better way to celebrate than with this watch.
But that’s not all. During our conversations we began to discuss another ‘what if’. What if we could package the watch with the ultimate sports accessory, a pair of wraparound blue-mirrored high-performance sunglasses that had just the right elements to make them elegant enough to be worn on the street as well? We selected one of Ralph Lauren’s signature frame shapes, in tortoiseshell, and added high-performance nose pieces so they would always stay in place even when worn jogging or bicycling. Says Chamberlin: “These small but important details make these glasses incredibly adaptable.” We then added the signature Snow Beach arms and even threw in a super-cool double-sided Snow Beach sports strap, so you can wear the glasses around your neck. The watch and glasses will come together in a special Snow Beach presentation box, replete with stickers for you to decorate your snowboard, luggage or laptop.
Models: Corey Baptiste at Storm Models, Yasmin Morais at Select Model London