Ralph Lauren, who headed the fashion label Polo for nearly 50 years until his retirement this month, has admitted that he doesn’t know what polo actually is. The designer, who is turning 76 this year, cites “an escalating series of white lies” and “intense social pressure” as the reason why he has pretended for all these years to epitomize polo style and ethos.
“For the last five decades, I’ve been urging adult city dwellers to wear country prep school shirts, navy blazers and leather riding boots, simply because as a child, my parents dressed me in whatever second-hand items the nuns were giving out, and an older classmate I rather admired told me I looked very ‘polo,’” Lauren said. “The truth is, I haven’t the faintest idea what polo is.”
“I’m pretty sure horses play an integral role, and I say that because our logo depicts a man on horseback,” he said. “He’s about to swing — what is that, a battle scythe? — or possibly a very long hammer. Is ‘polo’ a medieval caste of peasant warriors? A Freemason? I really don’t know.”
“In the late 1980s, I did meet a gentleman named Franklin who was introduced as a polo champion,” he added. “But we were at a gala event, so all of us men wore tuxedos. So much for observing how a polo man actually dresses when he’s doing polo, or whatever. And I was too embarrassed to take the young man aside to ask him.”
Lauren’s flagship Polo brand has been so influential over the years, fashion insiders say, that it has spawned generations of young men and women who came to believe that polo was a competitive social sport in which the person who most convincingly dresses up like a 19th century English lord on a foxhunt wins.