NEW YORK — When people mention the Polo Fashion School, it’s typically in reference to the many designers who passed through the company before launching their own successful careers. For the past five years, however, it’s also been the name of an annual Polo Ralph Lauren program in which company executives work with inner-city youth to offer insights into the fashion business.

This story first appeared in the November 10, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The fruits of the most recent initiative will be on display at tonight’s Emery Awards at Cipriani Wall Street, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of The Hetrick-Martin Institute. In its most recent run, the Polo Fashion School worked with 10 students from Hetrick-Martin’s Harvey Milk School here, and the gala will feature a documentary about the yearlong experience, as well as the four gowns created by the students as part of the program.

Charles Fagan, Polo’s executive vice president of global retail brand development, said the school provides “exposure to the world of fashion to young people in schools that are [for the] motivated and gifted, in the hope that some will pursue careers in the fashion industry.”

For 25 weeks, the students worked with Lauren executives, learning about everything from inspiration to design, fabric sourcing, production, retail, merchandising, advertising, licensing and human resources. The students also created inspiration boards based on the themes of “American West,” “Equestrian,” “Hollywood Glamour” and “Alpine Chic,” and designed the four gowns around those themes. The initiative culminated with a fashion shoot by photographer Carter Berg.

Fagan and Alfredo Paredes, executive vice president of global creative services, Polo store development and home collection design, were instrumental in suggesting Hetrick-Martin Institute as the most recent recipient.

“Our women’s collection design team rallied around the initiative and built a special curriculum for the students,” Fagan said.

In addition to the gowns, the company staged a competition asking the students to design a tote bag. The resulting “Kiss Bag” was a combination of two designs that state “I kiss girls” or “I kiss boys,” and its sales benefitted the Hetrick-Martin Institute. The bags were sold here at Rugby on University Place, the Ralph Lauren stores on Bleecker Street and

“The students made a final presentation to Ralph, which was so moving, because they each found a different part of the program that touched them,” Fagan said.

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