Lo Heads, the Ralph Lauren fanatics that comprised a collective named the Lo-Lifes, are often left out of menswear and fashion lore. The crew founded by rapper Thirstin Howl and included rival Brooklyn crews Ralphie’s Kids and Polo U.S.A. obsessed over Polo and The North Face and built a lifestyle of selling and stealing pieces from the brands. Many have spoken at length about Ralph Lauren and The North Face’s most coveted pieces from the 90s, but they typically fail to mention the crew that helped to make these pieces treasures and unintentionally birthed what we call ‘hype’ today.
Before there was hype, there was an even greater lure — owning something that wasn’t ever meant for you to own. By seizing patronage of a brand that was implicitly not intended for them, [The Lo Lifes] not only reversed the traditional balance of power between the majority and minority but also showcased the influence that individuals and communities can have over brands. And as streetwear today continues to dominate the fashion headlines it seems as if things have come full circle.
Public School is giving credit where it’s due with its new exhibit, Lo and Behold: A Case Study in Cultural Re-Appropriation, at its 3 Howard Street space in New York City.
The new exhibit, which opened on October 2, features 100 original Polo Ralph Lauren pieces curated by collector Ezra Wine in three floating bedrooms. Each room consists of coveted Polo sportswear from the years between 1988 and 1994, as well as old records and cassette tapes of rap singles and albums like ”They Reminisce Over You” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth and Nas’ “Illmatic”, respectively. Each bedroom serves as a time capsule of the early 1990s, offering a look at what teenagers, more specifically Lo Heads, from Brooklyn were into.
Lo and Behold is a necessary yet unexpected exhibit when considering that Public School has seemingly very little ties to Ralph Lauren. The intention of Public School founders Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne is to share a piece of an experience with this exhibit, as well as educate attendees and celebrate one of the most pivotal yet unsung subcultures in modern menswear. Lo Lifes’ obsession with Polo subverted convention by ignoring the intention of designs inspired by polo, tennis, skiing, golf and other sports in favor of street credibility, which is a common practice today in fashion.
From the outside, the exhibit looks Dao-Yi and Maxwell’s ode to Polo, but it is much more of an ode to their past lives and collectors. The designers both had their first tastes of men’s fashion and hype through these coveted Ralph Lauren pieces that were very popular in their youth and is still very sought after today.
What’s interesting about Lo and Behold is that it is ultimately one brand celebrating another brand even if it is through spotlighting a past subculture. The point of the exhibit is Ralph Lauren’s significance in American fashion, but attendees should not overlook Public School’s brilliant way to engage with its consumer.
“LO AND BEHOLD: A Case Study in Cultural Re-Appropriation” is on view at the new 3 Howard Public School space until November 1, 2018.