While the iconic Polo Bear originally made its debut in 1991, the story of the stuffed ursine collectible really began back in 1901, when President Theodore Roosevelt declined to dispatch a bear for a publicity stunt. The episode prompted a flurry of stuffed bears named after the 26th POTUS, though the most popular ones would be made from Richard Steiff. Ralph’s brother Jerry Lauren, who holds the title of creative director of men’s design, is a collector of Steiff bears, and in 1990, Jerry’s colleagues presented a unique birthday gift — a Steiff bear in a blue oxford shirt, tartan tie and cable-knit sweater, all mimicking Jerry’s personal style. A western-dressed bear was presented to Ralph as well, and an annual tradition was born. The yearly gifts would spawn the creation of the Polo Bear. An origin story from Ralph Lauren Digital discloses the inspiration of the Polo Bear in simple terms:
As with so much in the World of Ralph Lauren, what appealed to Ralph in his own life made its way to the clothes, and in 1991 the Polo Bear appeared in two very different forms. The first was an actual teddy bear (“Preppy Bear”), produced in tandem with Steiff, and massively popular from the start. The teddy bears, in a limited run of 200, sold out of the Madison Avenue flagship in one weekend. The second iteration of the bear was as an icon that eventually appeared on everything from T-shirts and denim jackets to dress shirts and ties.
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