Foto: ProFreshionalismRalphies Kids and Polo USA. Two boostin crews from two different sections in Brooklyn. With an obsessive affinity for the classic styles of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, they joined forces to become one of the most notorious problems the streets of NYC would ever deal with. They named the new unit, The Lo-Lifes. Even with other crews like A-Team, Face Heads, G (Guess) Force, Fila Mob, and the Steam Team, The Lo Lifes garnered respect from them all. And do you think Ralph Lauren and his Polo brand blew up during the nineties because of well planned ad campaigns? We’ve been researching the Lo-Life story on and off for the last couple of weeks with the intention of a full feature. Eventually. But we can rest easy for a second as somebody has already started telling the story. And as someone stated else where on the innanets, “The young kids of the hypebeast era need to know about the LO era – Real Streetwear history.” Can’t say we disagree.
LIVING THE LO-LIFE
BY DOUGLAS BRUNDAGE
Polo by Ralph Lauren was originally intended for the preppy yacht-and-tennis set. In the 80s and 90s, however, it was discovered by fashion-forward folks in the projects of Brooklyn who began obsessing over it and boosting it from stores in mass quantities, creating one of the most incongruous subcultures of the last three decades. They called themselves the Lo-Lifes, and Brayden Olson recently shot some of them for our Photo Issue.
We talked to two of the Lo-Lifes—one of whom likes Ralph Lauren so much he raps under the name Meyhem Lauren—to learn what it was like to rock and rack Lo. We also spoke with Brayden about his experience with the Lo-Lifes.
Foto: Brayden Olson
VICE: How old were you when you got involved with the Lo-Life crew?
Meyhem Lauren: I was always into fashion and paying attention to clothes, but I’d say I was about 12 or 13 when I got into the whole scene and started racking Polos. There’s a difference between wearing Polo and rocking Lo. It was about coming through with the graphic shit, y’know, big crests, the wings, everything. It was about putting things together in a certain way.
Everything I’ve heard about this era makes it sounds like how you got the Polo gear was just as important as having it, like you wouldn’t get respect if you bought it.
Meyhem Lauren: It was more about the pieces for me. I didn’t care about buying, I didn’t care about racking, I just wanted it. There was a time in my life when I was racking Polo, pulling schemes for Polo, and spending checks from my day job on Polo. At the end of the day, it was about coming through fresh.
How many pieces did you have at your peak?
Meyhem Lauren: Over 1,000.
Wow, do you still have that many?
Meyhem Lauren: Not hard pieces with big symbols and graphics, but I probably have 1,000 items.
Chris Lo: I don’t have as many. Throughout the years I’ve kind of fallen off the bandwagon. Most of the stuff I’ve kept from back then are items with battle scars on them that I won’t get rid of because of sentimental value. But I probably have a good couple of hundred pieces left.
What would you say is the most valuable piece you own?
Meyhem: You know, it all depends on the person. There’s a lot of 80s pieces that older Heads value more, because that’s what they wore coming up, and kids from the 90s, like me, might drop their money on something more graphic than the 80s pieces. It all depends on what type of Lo-Head you are and where you’re from. Different pieces held different weight in different neighborhoods.
What’s the most expensive piece that’s been sold?
Chris Lo: The most expensive piece right now is the Martini turtleneck. It’s probably like seven or eight grand.
Lo-Lifes circa 1988 / Foto credit unknown
What about really rare pieces? Were there certain ones that you couldn’t find anywhere?
Chris Lo: There are pieces that are like, mythological.
Meyhem: The Never-Ending Bear.
The Never-Ending Bear?
Meyhem: Well, supposedly there’s a knit out there with a bear rockin’ a knit with himself on it, and he’s rocking a bear, and it just goes on and on forever [laughs]. Guys will swear they have three of those but they never bring it out, never rock it for flicks, but supposedly it’s there.
Ralph Lauren must have a bunch of rare items in storage somewhere, right?
Meyhem: One of my friends works for Ralph Lauren, and he told me that they have a warehouse with a bunch of old pieces: collector’s items, valuable things, items that would go for a lot of cash. But they test them before they release them. So he’s like, “Yo, I’ve seen them take Indian Heads and cut them, just to test the fabric, slice them all up, take a square out of the middle of a sweatshirt.” And this shit is crazy to me, it’s like telling me they put a baby in a cheese grater [laughs].
Meyhem Lauren – ‘Got The Fever’ NYC Graffiti New York City
When you were racking Lo, what were some of your techniques?
Chris: We weren’t petty thieves, that’s one thing I want to make clear.
Meyhem: When it went down, it was a lot bigger than just Los. We wore Los, but we were boosting all types of shit. We had more money as kids than a lot of adults do right now.
Chris: We used to take book bags and put tinfoil in them or use Café Bustelo cans so the sensors wouldn’t go off. Later on they started coming out with those ink alarms—
Meyhem: But with those, you just throw a balloon on top of them so the ink would go in the balloon.
Chris: There are people who had tools to take the alarms off, too.
Meyhem: I didn’t really boost that crazy in New York City, we were hitting like Woodbury or Frankie Mills, the outlets upstate—they weren’t ready for us.
Chris: There’s people I know who used to go to Puerto Rico to the outlets and Lo rack. They’d buy a plane ticket, go out to PR and rack, and come back with mad gear.
Read the rest at Vice Magazine: LIVING THE LO-LIFE – Viceland Today
If your’re in the market to weight up on some of those classic RL POLO styles checkout KEY CITY VINTAGE. Staying constantly stocked, they’ve got you more than covered.