Editor’s note: It’s Throwback Thursday, so we’re revisiting one of our favorite articles on Lo culture, published last year today on February 11, 2015. We’re still waiting for some of these photos to go viral. Behold, a slice of history about the urban gangs who stole and collected the clothing, and the aspirational yacht living that bridged the hood and the lifestyles of the affluent.
Everybody got their stamp collection. If you were a hard ass from, say, any given Brooklyn project in the late 1980s, there was a slight chance that your stamps were replaced with the finest silks, knits (more often than not, women’s knits) and other refined threads, courtesy of Mr. Ralph Lauren.
Soon, the trend became a rage, with crews starting to go “all Polo” by any means necessary—including, but not limited to, robbing flagship stores dry of any garment that bore the number 1992, a fire truck, a teddy bear, a skier, or a sail boat.
Three decades later, the Polo fever is far from being extinguished. Exhibit A: a book, All For The Love of Lo, recently self-published by notorious LA-based Lo heads Daniel “Skorn” Leef and Roger Ubina.
Can geeking out possibly meet street life, and can old white rich men find common ground with hardened hood folk—one might wonder—thus giving birth to one of these bizarre cults of ultra-consumerism? Oh yes, it can. Let’s take a quick stroll into the belly of the Lo underworld with Skorn Leef, flippin through some of his book’s 60 pages worth of vintage photographic gold, to see what’s up.
SEB CARAYOL: Before writing the book, how long had you been collecting Polo?
DANIEL SKORN LEEF: I started stealing—boosting—clothes in the early ’90s, maybe 1991. It was like all kinds of clothes at that time: Major Damage, Carhartt, Polo, Hilfiger, Nautica, DKNY... I went all Polo later, probably around 1997.
Any good stealing techniques you’d care to educate the youth about?
There’s hundreds, I mean, you’d fold the clothes up and you’d always wear a big jacket or a buttoned-up shirt over your things so you can chicken-wing it—it’s called chicken wing, you put it underneath your arm and you can keep standing and you keep chicken winging a bunch. You can chicken wing 4 or 5 things. Then they started to put sensors—but these you could bend and snap in half. Then I had something to take care of the ink boxes. But I haven’t stolen anything in a long… in a couple years. When I boost now, it’s just for silly things, just to make sure I still got it.
“I STARTED STEALING—BOOSTING—CLOTHES IN THE EARLY ’90s, MAYBE 1991.”
Were ever you part of the notorious Polo-stealing gangs?
No, no. I was in Chicago, and these guys were in New York. In the mid-’80s to late ’80s there were a few crews in Brooklyn that collected and stole only Ralph Lauren: Ralphies Kids, The New Utrecht Boys, there was a crew off Flatbush, another one in Bed-Stuy... A couple of these crews merged and they became the Lo Lifes. And then another one or two of the others crews formed, and The Decepticons were born.
It was just a group of guys that collected Polo, but their influence just in NYC alone was so substantial that everyone at that point started buying Ralph Lauren, and then rappers started wearing it. So now you’d see rap videos, Grand Pubbah, wearing all Polo, you’d see later Wu Tang, you know, Raekwon, Just Blaze, wearing all Polo. Funny, they call the hoodie in that photo “The Raekwon Pullover” because he’s wearing in that [Wu-Tang] video, “Can It All Be So Simple.” That was in 1993, it was real big.
“WHO EVER THOUGHT OF A SNOW BEACH? THERE’S THIS THING WHEN YOU’RE REAL RICH AND YOU’RE WHITE AND YOU GO SKIING…”
Anyway, around 1995-96 I got tired of playing the old catch up. When you’re in the hood, you have to be fresh, so every other day you have to change your fashion, you have to keep up. Around ’95-96, the Polo started phasing completely out, no one was really wearing it, people were moving on to Iceberg, Versace, and then next thing you know it’s the Dolce & Gabbana. I didn’t wanna play catch up anymore. I couldn’t keep stealing either, so I just went back to Polo. I did that for maybe ten years, nothing but Polo. Around 2003, 2004, I started dabbling into other gear, going back to buying Fila, Ellesse, Sergio Tacchini and things like that—collecting old school Dior and the Pierre Cardin and the Ted Lapidus; started getting into real fashion.
“WHO ELSE WAS REALLY MAKING CLOTHES THAT WERE SO OSTENTATIOUS? AND IT WAS ALL ABOUT WEALTH.”
Why tripping on Polo specifically?
See, it was just those graphics and those colors, like I said in the late-’80s he was the only one pumping out... all this. Who else was making that type of stuff in 1988? Every other clothes was normal and plain. This is when it really came big: 1987 was twenty years of Ralph Lauren. He came out with the Ralph Lauren flag knit—we call it The Cross Flags, the Dub Flags, it says the date, 1967, Polo, and then 1987. So, guys started to get into it in maybe ’86, and then in ’87 he made the flags. That’s what made all these dudes go, “Oh man, this is fresh!”
All of a sudden, ’89, he was pumping out sail boats! Who else was really making clothes that were so ostentatious? And it was all about wealth. Who the fuck... Sail boats? What kid in the projects has been on a sail boat? Not one! This is a rich white person’s lifestyle.
So... quite the opposite of these kids in the hood, isn’t it?
When you’re poor, what do you dream of? Being rich. Which means going sail boating, watching a polo match, going to horse races, buying fancy cars, living in big mansions. And this is what Ralph Lauren captured in his clothing. It’s all just… wealth.
Who are some of the OGs in the book?
This guy Fabian, he was one of the original three or four crews before they became Decepticons or Lo Lifes. Other than him, I’d say Jesus Crest Lo is a good one, too. His real name is Omar, he’s from the Gowanus Projects in Brooklyn. Super fresh guy, I met him through Q, who used to be my barber in Brooklyn. I’d go in always wearing Polo, so Q told me that his boy Omar still got some Polo, and that I should come by if I wanted to trade some shit. So me and Omar started trading, and then, when I was doing the book, I called Omar and I asked him if he’d like to be part of the book. He mailed me his actual photo album.
Omar aka Jesus Crest Lo.
What are some of the big pieces and collections that people are after?
Any 1992 line is big. That’s the year Ralph Lauren got his first contracts with the Olympics, and this is where the track athletic foot comes from. Hence the “Stadium” stuff, dudes throwing javelins and so forth. This foot, the P-Wing its called, was only made in 1992—just one season ’cause he got sued by another athletic company who had already used that same foot on a logo. He was so big, they decided to sue him to get money.
Is there a Holy Grail today of Polo gear these days?
Right now, at the prices things go, the most expensive thing you see is hats. I’ve seen baseball hats go for $5,000. A real 7-patch hat from 1992? You can probably get $3,000 for it. Or you got these cycle hats, that’s worth $500-600 right now. It’s almost ridiculous.
What are some photos that have funny stories to them?
These two guys are great, Caesar and Hova, these are some of the biggest collectors, their collection is pretty enormous. They have more Polo than I ever had—their collection was double my size. They’re from Brooklyn and I think Queens or Manhattan. They’re wearing all Snow Beach. Just to let you know they got absolutely everything.
Cesar and Hova.
Snow Beach was a small line of maybe six to ten pieces that Ralph Lauren put out in 1993. Basically, the play of the words is almost genius, who ever thought of a snow beach? There’s this thing when you’re real rich and you’re white and you go skiing, if you ski and you hit certain places, there ARE snow beaches. There really are.
I mean, some other photos are just classic. I always enjoyed this one below because it’s a guy and a girl, in high school—you see the clipboard behind them. And they’re both wearing 1992 Polo boots, both wearing Polo pants, she has the P-Wing sweatshirt with the ’92 jacket on with the big earrings... It’s so, like, classic time period.
There are quite a few photos that seem to come from proper photomats, too.
They all come from actually the same photomat! There used to be an Asian man who used to own a photomat, on Flatbush or Fulton. It had all these different backdrops, leaves backdrop, tropical backdrop, and then on the other side of the black you can see there’s a rainbow with little clouds and shit.
So these guys would get up, meet up, making sure they’re all wearing the same thing, so they’d call each other the night before, and then they’d go home and if they’d all stolen something, they all went to this little Asian photo spot and they’d all sit there and pose for all these photos.
I’ve been told these stories. The photo spot is gone now, but that’s what I love. If you look through the book, there are several different crews of guys, but they all always went to this one photo spot. If you were from Brooklyn, this is where you went with your crew in the early ’90s to get your big picture.
Who is the gentleman with the shotgun on the back cover, if I may?
Oh, this is my best friend [below]—his name is DJ Word, we went to high school together. I used to carry his crates and things like that but when I started to get really big in stealing clothes, I used to sell him and trade him clothes.
He went all Polo a year or two before I did. That’s why I did it too. He was always a fly dude. Even when he’d ask me to go steal things, he had a specific thing he wanted me to take. He wasn’t like, “Oh, go get me North Face gloves,” he’d say “No they gotta be the three-quarter length with the big shield right here.”
‘Cause in Chicago, there was Dem Dare, a crew of guys who rocked Polo already from 1990 to ’94. At first I didn’t wanna be just like those guys, I was like, I’m not copying them. But in 1994 Dem Dare said it’s over, Polo’s not cool anymore. “Too many people wear it, it’s not fresh.” So around ’96 or so, that’s when Word started picking it up, and I followed. Before that, we had one or two pieces in the closet, but it wasn’t the whole closet. Then it became that full cracked blown obsession.
For more info on purchasing All for the Love of “Lo” visit their website.