Saddle Up

The new stirrup-inspired eyewear collection continues Ralph Lauren’s long love affair with the equestrian life

To note that Ralph Lauren has been influenced by the equestrian life is to dabble in almost comical understatement. Yes, of course, any sentient being might respond. I am familiar with a certain iconic shirt, the one with the (ahem) polo player astride his horse sewn at the chest.

And yet, this assertion is more insightful than it might seem at first. In fact, you could say that equestrianism has been one of the most defining influences in the World of Ralph Lauren, almost since the beginning—not the beginning of Polo, either, but the beginning of Mr. Lauren’s life, when he spent his boyhood at the local movie house, identifying with those rugged on-screen heroes who lived a world away from his home in the Bronx. “If it was a Western, I wasn’t just watching John Wayne on the screen,” he once said. “I was the cowboy, I was the man on the horse.”

He has been revisiting that idea—the beauty and the freedom of being the man (or woman) on the horse, whether out West, inspired by British riding culture, or on the polo fields—ever since famously naming his brand. Indeed, an early Polo tie featured a prominent stirrup motif. That motif has been a mainstay ever since, and is renewed this spring with the launch of the Stirrup eyewear collection, a new line of frames that call to mind the luxury and vigor of riding via the subtly stylish silhouette of a stirrup, an icon that harkens back to the earliest days of Polo. The collection includes three styles: the rounded, ’60s-inspired Antibes; the classic Ricky; and the Shield, a sporty oversize style. Each one features a stirrup at the temples and brings to mind the timeless glamour of travel, and the relaxed vitality of a day spent in the sun.

Devotees of Ralph Lauren timepieces should already be familiar with the stirrup silhouette, as that shape comprises both the dials and the clasps of watches from the Stirrup collection. You can also find that same curved shape on the buckle of belts for men and women, even on the clasp of a high-heeled shoe. So why the stirrup? It has to do, no doubt, with Mr. Lauren’s longtime affection for the beauty of objects designed with purpose and functionality. Whether it’s the military clothing he once bought from an Army-Navy store in the Bronx, or his choice of automobiles to acquire for his collection (or the way he incorporates elements from those cars into, say, a piece of furniture), he has long shown an interest not in aesthetic pleasure for its own sake, but for the usefulness it brings to the world. Even his decision to go into womenswear in the early ’70s owes something to equestrianism—he was inspired to do so after buying a boys’ tweed hacking jacket for Ricky at an old riding apparel store.

Always aspiring to what he calls “simpler beauty based on utility”—Mr. Lauren’s favorite examples of the motto include a white-washed barn, a dented and faded pickup truck, and his patched-up and well-loved workshirts. Both a simple place to hold your feet and so much more, you can add the stirrup to design elements that embody this ideal.

Paul L. Underwood is a writer based in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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