Ralph Lauren, a storied brand known for its preppy, traditionally East Coast designs, is not exactly the first retailer that might come to mind when one thinks of tech or the metaverse. Perhaps then, that is why the company decided to shake things up and foray into the virtual world, announcing yesterday a partnership with one of the world's most popular video games, Fortnite.
It's a big step for the brand, which is redesigning its iconic Polo logo for the first time in history to commemorate the new collection, including apparel and accessories. And it comes at an inflection point for the web3 space, which has seen a significant pullback in investment as companies wonder whether the vision of a blockchain-based metaverse is tenable in the long term or was just a pandemic-era trend.
Ralph Lauren's redesigned Polo logo for its collection with Fortnite. Image Credits: Ralph Lauren
Still, gaming has been a relative bright spot for blockchain companies and tech startups, more generally building virtual worlds amid a market downturn, which might explain Ralph Lauren's enthusiasm to launch the new collection this month.
The collection, which takes inspiration from the aesthetics of game design, will launch in the Fortnite Item Shop on November 5, with a physical apparel collection available for real-world purchase on November 2. More products are set to launch globally in December.
Although Fortnite's metaverse isn't actually built on the blockchain, this news marks a symbolically important step in fashion's ongoing embrace of web3 and its embrace of a growing customer base that is reported to spend at least $60 billion a year on games. It's also intriguing, perhaps promising, that the staid fashion world is expanding beyond what often feels like a tight-knit clique of people who gatekeep and reap the social advantages of fashion for themselves. Brands realize there is much potential in furthering access and growing their customer base through technology.
Lauren now follows in the footsteps of Gucci and Balenciaga in blazing a couture path in the digital realm. In a statement given to TechCrunch, David Lauren, the chief branding and innovation officer at Ralph Lauren, said the latest collection was designed with the metaverse in mind first and that it represents a "completely fresh take on the Ralph Lauren brand."
"Ralph Lauren has always designed dreams and created new worlds, and today, our collection with Fortnite will deliver a first-of-its-kind experience to a new community of next-generation players and consumers," David Lauren said, adding that the company is looking forward to "continue to lead digital exploration."
Ralph Lauren will also host activations for the partnership, including an interactive Twitch livestream on November 3 at 1 PM EST, which Kelly Link and SypherPK will host, and see a musical performance by Polo G. It is also set to be the first luxury brand to co-host a player tournament on Fortnite, another smart marketing strategy to meet customers where they already are.
"Authentically expressing yourself is core to the player experience inside Fortnite," Adam Sussman, president at Epic Games, said. He added that the two companies together "have resulted in an inspired campaign and timeless look that Fornite players worldwide are sure to love."
"I'm so happy to see Ralph Lauren's outfits in Fortnite," gamer Sommerset, who will also participate in the livestream, told TechCrunch. "Not only do I love their Polo looks, but being able to use them in the game I love is extremely exciting."
This is the first time Ralph Lauren designed a collection digitally first, before creating physical apparel based on those designs. It also plans to sell physical replicas of the Boot from the digital in-game design in real life.
Elsewhere, Ralph Lauren has received praise for its latest collections, including a partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and its spring/summer 2023 collection, which saw the brand present in California for the first time. What's next for the brand? Perhaps we'll see a crypto-inspired capsule debut in Miami or a runway collection presented at Disrupt 2023, inspired by startups, and us, naturally.
Okay, just kidding. Maybe. After all, the tech world could use a little couture.