How an Insurgent Skate Squad Wound Up in a Polo Campaign

Fashion
Filmmaker Mikey Alfred explains.

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Courtesy of Ralph Lauren

According to Ralph Lauren’s marketing materials, Polo Active Club isn’t a collab, so much as a capsule collection for the pre-fall and fall seasons. As Team Ralph puts it: “Inspired by American athletics and infused with archival graphics, this championship-level gear is ready for the podium or the sidewalk.”

Upon closer inspection, Polo Active Club calls to mind a blend of deadstock team gear and classic Upper East Coast khaki/blazer attire, all shot through with an echo of Rugby, the Yale-on-‘shrooms Ralph subline that shuttered in 2013.

I don’t mention Rugby idly: the line mixed RL’s best tweeds, shoes, and ties with vivid colors and fuzzy patches, and also skulls. First aimed at college kids, it briefly served as a platform for aspiring writers, then got embraced by the hip-hop community. Today scraps from the line might be just as coveted as anything else from the brand’s 60-year, $7 billion history.

Rugby’s long tail of influence might help explain why the models for this new Active Club collection are four LA guys, and not exactly your prototypical Polo models: three sponsored skateboarders, and their boss. The latter would be 27-year-old Mikey Alfred: artist, writer, director, and CEO of Illegal Civilization.

Illegal Civ, or IC, is a collective Mikey started in middle school; it makes art, merch, music, and, so far, three iconic skateboarding videos. So iconic, in fact, that at 21 their leader was asked to produce the skate-themed directorial debut by Jonah Hill, another LA native. Once Mid90s wrapped, Mikey went to work on his own feature film: North Hollywood aka NoHo, starring some IC guys (and Angus Cloud, Miranda Cosgove, and Vince Vaughn.)

Mikey in Polo.

Courtesy of Ralph Lauren

It was in this context, Mikey explains, that RL reached out, asking if he’d like to direct a video for the launch of Polo Active Club. He said no, so they asked him instead to model in the campaign. He said yes to that, but countered the brand’s casting suggestions with his own thought: Call IC. Three skaters were soon headed to New York to be the new faces of Polo Active Club.

“That’s cool. That skateboarding’s the new way to look at being active,” says Mikey. “And Illegal Civ is a good lens. You’re gonna get art, athleticism, story-telling, and fun.”

If you don’t know IC or somehow even Mikey, two of the guys might still look familiar: Sunny Suljic played the leading young man in Mid 90s—and is the first person to do a kickflip on The Tonight Show. And Aramis Hudson acted in NoHo, playing the protagonist’s less-able but most-supportive best friend, a wrenchingly conscientious role that made him the stand-out in a film full of stars.

The new guy, meanwhile, is Santino Guzman, 20—skater, LA couch-surfer, and aspiring model. He met the boss the way everyone meets the boss: he skated well. Mikey had in fact flowed an IC deck to Tino’s brother, who gifted it to Tino, who skated it, then posted on Instagram. That clip found Mikey.

“Sometimes I see people’s clips and I don’t give a fuck,” said the boss. “But I saw Tino and was like damn!”

“It’s a blessing. Really,” says Tino, on the phone, en route to film at a schoolyard, since it was Sunday.

(He’ll also appear in the long-awaited fourth IC video, tantalizingly titled “Hell Week.”)

And how was this, his first modeling job, for Ralph Lauren?

“Unreal, honestly,” he says. “I didn’t know what to expect. But it felt good. It motivated me.” He either cut-out or trailed off, then concluded: “I’m . . . speechless.”

This isn’t Polo’s first go-round with this most physical street art (see the collab with Palace Skateboards released in 2018—the same year Mid 90s came out). But it felt special for Mikey, who has testified for years that RL is his favorite big brand.

He first visited RL HQ, the one on 5th Avenue in 2014—so he was 19—flying out for the day while a homie named Tyshawn waited in the lobby. And, of course, he explains, somehow he met not HR or PR but with an executive named Maura Manning. They talked for three hours, while Mikey took notes and laid out his ideas on world-domination.

So should anyone be surprised, since this was the plan all along? Or part of it?

“They styled us,” says Mikey. “But I look classically Ralph. So next time, I wanna style myself.”

Next time?

“My dream would be to get paid by Ralph Lauren to send me boxes of clothes, which I’ll put on the coolest people—whether that’s skaters, celebrities, whoever…”

“And then I’ll make the videos.”

Cole Louison is a skateboarding and streetwear historian, and the author of a forthcoming collection on American DIY cultures.

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