The bear was introduced in 1991 after Ralph Lauren employees gifted their boss and his brother Jerry teddy bears dressed in their likeness made by famous German toymaker Steiff. Lauren was taken with the gift and thought the brand should start selling the plush toys in stores. The first run of 200, dressed in clothes made in the same factory that produced Ralph’s clothes for humans, sold out in a single weekend at the Madison Avenue flagship store.
The bear was so popular the team at Ralph Lauren started putting him on everything: sweaters, tees, hats, ties, and denim jackets. The unnamed bear was similar to Barbie in the ability to master any profession or skill: skiing the slopes, sporting one of Ralph Lauren’s American flag sweaters, and even posing as a golfer. The bear became a way for Lauren to express the full range of its brand, from the ultra-fancy Purple Label to sporty RLX to RRL, which indulged fantasies a wide generation of fashionistas.
Maybe those who are deeply entrenched in the world of hip-hop understand how major of a role the bear plays in streetwear, but for those who are not, here is a quick history lesson. The Lo-Lifes were a hip-hop group formed in 1988 by Rack-Lo. The creation of the 100-member crew made up of groups from Brownville and Crown Heights embodied the hip-hop lifestyle with only one criterion; To live and breathe Polo Ralph Lauren.
Over a decade later, Kanye West sported a dapper suit-clad Polo bear knit on the cover of his debut album “College Dropout” and was seen wearing the Polo bear regularly ushering in a new wave of popularity. Chance the Rapper, Wale, and other renown hip-hop artist frequently rock the Polo bear during performances across the world.