Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Sport of Kings

Some days, my people can be really exhausting. The day it was announced that Ralph Lauren would be releasing a limited-edition capsule collection of fashion inspired by the HBCU experience, I immediately got tired that morning and stayed lethargic for the rest of the day.

I wrote an abridged initial reaction on the Facebook page that covered the basics--yes, this is a good thing. No, it isn't better than celebrating a collaboration with a Black independent designer. Maybe, it would be great if other schools were featured other than Spelman and Morehouse. Yes, this is a good PR move for the Polo brand and for the young concept designers. No, that does not absolve Ralph Lauren for its decades of contributing to the lack of diversity in the fashion world. No, the scholarships aren't that big. Yes, I plan to mention #HBCUJustGive, again.

I have a lot to say.

No, I do not plan to buy a Polo-inspired Spelman letter sweater or another over-priced canvas bag or a plaid wrap skirt to wear around town with knee high socks and penny loafers at my age. However, I am always on the hunt for a nice white dress. And after two years on lock-down, I will definitely need a new one. Because of this collaboration, I might buy one from the Ralph Lauren section. 

If I see a great white dress from an independent Black designer that I can afford, I will probably buy that one too. The good thing about being a Busy Black Woman is that I have sorority functions that also require white attire. Of course, I am conscious of labels and want to look good when I step out into the world. However, with a soon-to-be 7 year-old whose legs are almost as long as mine, I do not have the luxury of spending her future Spelman tuition on clothes that aren't ready to wear. And that Georgia sun is HOT in May, so I don't want to ruin a one-of-a-kind designer dress with sweat stains.

I have a few indie label frocks from Black designers that I scored thanks to a few good sales at Lord & Taylor and their mass market collaborations with Target. I got particularly excited over those Target collabs, even when I was less than enthusiastic about the actual dresses once I received them. As I write this, I am staring at a very loud and colorful dress I bought last summer that I did not get to wear because we were still on lockdown. I'm guessing I can wear it to brunch at Twelve Oaks and flirt with the Tarleton Twins...

My point is that there are many of us who buy Black whenever we can. Upon learning that the concept designer of this collection is a young Black man means that I will be adding his name to my list of designers to watch in the next installment of #BlackinFashion. It reminds me that many of these indie designers cut their first patterns for the big-name fashion houses, so we may have already been supporting other up-and-coming Black designers without knowing it. For example, the late designer Virgil Abloh, artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear and founder of his own label Off-White, began his meteoric rise as an intern at Fendi just over ten years ago.

It is true that this is not an entirely original concept. I have now been introduced to a few other brands thanks to the reactions to the Ralph Lauren line such as Chicer Collegiate. Alumni with that coin can support everyone. Folks like me will do what I can, when I can. I still want a Sergio Hudson belt to wear with my jeans and tee shirts. I would settle for a buckle, since a floor-length duster to go over all of these custom tees I buy to support your side hustles is out of the question until somebody pays me for my eloquent musings. But for those of you that vacation on the Vineyard annually, I look forward to seeing your pictorials.

James Jeter is a Morehouse alumnus. The story that has been shared is that he worked his way up from the retail floor at the Georgetown store to a corner office at Ralph Lauren HQ in New York City. During the first year of the pandemic and the summer when folks were marching for Black Lives in response to George Floyd's death, Mr. Polo was addressing his staff before heading off to a weekend in the Hamptons and offered the corporate version of Black Lives Matter--let's revive an old campaign with Tyson Beckford, but find a picture where he looks angry, yet sexy. Then Mr. Jeter stood up and gave the kind of speech that would make Dr. Anne W. Watts (retired Professor of Public Speaking) proud. He was passionate, persuasive, and persistent that more was called for in this moment than a billboard. Mr. Polo told Jeter to write up the specifics by Monday morning, and the rest is history.

Here is where I break character and speak directly to the SpelHouse HATERS. Because y'all are the reason why I am so tired of repeating myself when it comes to acknowledging these kinds of accolades. STOP the hate and shut the FUCK up!

I am serious about this point, because some of y'all have been complaining NON-STOP these last couple of years on social media. I have come to this blog on several occasions to make the case that ALL of our institutions need support from alumni and that call has not changed. As some of you gleefully pointed out, there are moldy dorms, old buildings, and disgruntled faculty at every HBCU. And in case you hadn't noticed, some very rich people have heard your pleas and have been blessing our schools with multi-million dollar guilt love offerings. These blessings have been constant from Mackenzie Scott, who has made philanthropic revenge spending a thing, so we are here for it. Not to be outdone several other corporate philanthropists have also been very generous, as have rich HBCU alumni who have quietly amassed FORTUNES without anyone noticing. Hell, even the Department of Education found some money to offer HBCUs more protection in the wake of these fake bomb threats that have disrupted classes throughout this school year.

But some of y'all are on Blue Ivy's internet sulking that whenever Kamala Harris, Phylicia Rashad, and Ta-Nahesi Coates, all Howard University alumni, get mentioned in the press (good and bad), that allegedly sucks up all of the oxygen from: Meharry Medical School receiving $20 million dollars; North Carolina A&T University cutting the ribbon on a $90 million engineering complex; or Shaw University being featured in one of the best Coca-Cola commercials since Mean Joe Green?!?!

Pinky Cole, a Clark Atlanta University alum is out here expanding her empire of plant-based burgers that folks stand on long lines to try because the buzz is just that hype. Coach Neon Deion is out here pissing off the NCAA and the ESPN analysts off with every recruit he snatches away from the Big Name Universities and signs at Jackson State. I'm betting on Norfolk State University to upset Baylor just because that's what we do every year during March Madness whenever an HBCU makes the tourney. We root for everybody Black! 

Nobody and I mean N-O-B-O-D-Y from the HowardSpelHouse community (I saw that on Twitter) ever talks shit when these kinds of announcements and accolades come to other institutions and their alumni. In fact, we applaud and circulate the news. I have never seen a tweet from one of us go out that whines about how we could have used the money that Mackenzie Scott bestowed on some other HBCU. We don't catch feelings that our athletics never become the stuff of national debates over social equity. We know that there are wonderful things happening at every school and that makes us all proud.

It didn't used to feel this personal, but then I see posts on social media that tear us down whenever something positive happens on our campuses. It hurts to know that whenever someone says something disparaging about one of your schools, the HowardSpelHouse community gets ready to rise up and fight, but that energy isn't always reciprocated. I don't like to generalize and say that it is Everybody vs. Us, because many HBCU alumni aren't that petty. But some of y'all...

Therefore, I will repress the urge to clapback because in the grand scheme of things, it accomplishes nothing but to sour feelings in unproductive ways that don't benefit any of us. At the end of the day, and I say this constantly, none of us are as well off as these PWIs that can give each student a laptop, their own bedroom with a private bathroom, and other amenities that would have been off-campus grad school luxuries for most of us. As a recruiter, I have had to tell parents the honest to God truth that most students who need financial aid to matriculate at Spelman will get a loan package because only a few students receive scholarships. And trust, it is painful to watch the gleam go out when a parent counters by telling me how other schools put more on the table than just a prominent brand name.

I never bash when one or more of those other schools are HBCUs. I would never suggest that someone was making a mistake by not choosing to attend Spelman.

Shall we talk about this $2 million that we're getting from Ralph Lauren? Or should I remind you that we did this a few years ago when Beyonce wrote a check for that same amount and after all was said and done, it only paid a year's worth of tuition for one student...

Instead, let's talk about how the real winner here is Ralph Lauren. He'll still be the default designer for First Ladies and the American Olympic team. He will still promote his aesthetic of yacht club leisure and country club brunch as quintessentially Americana. In a few years when this collaboration has been forgotten, his people will quietly call the booking agent at Wilhelmina and tell them to send over their most American looking models for his latest campaign. And no one will call him out because all of the other fashion houses and magazines will claim that diversity on the runway is out and homogeneity is in.

That is my cynical take, but my eternal optimism is that it won't matter what Mr. Polo will be doing in a few years. When I get that coveted invitation to attend the Harlem Fashion Row NYFW show, I will be more concerned about clinking glasses of CAU alum Donae Burston's La FĂȘte du RosĂ© with Ruth Carter (Hampton), Oscar winner Aunjanue Ellis (I'm claiming it Tougaloo), and Will Packer (FAMU). And when Beyonce leans over to inquire where I got my badass ensemble, I will say Target darling, but my hair was styled by a sister from Hampton and my shoes were designed by my Spelman Sister Tori Soudan, with ALL of the confidence and swagger that one expects from a proud HBCU alum.

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