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Ralph Lauren launches Make Your Own Rugby app

During the existence of the iPhone, shopping has always been the domain of Safari. Browsing web-based stores could be extremely awkward, thanks to bitty drop-down menus and inadvertent "quick views" of garments that you can't seem to click out of. No longer, my fellow clotheshorses. Today, Ralph Lauren launched a unique iPhone application integrating social media with fashion design and online shopping, called Make Your Own Rugby [iTunes link].

The app centers around Ralph Lauren's Rugby line, launched in 2004, that is inspired by the Ivy League atmosphere circa 1940 and that targets preppy college students. The company describes Rugby as "preppy meets urban," though you will only qualify for street cred through a few light touches such as embroidered skulls. The fact that the skull is embroidered on a varsity sweater probably won't do you much good in the back alleys, but you can hope.

The MYO Rugby app allows the user to select a blank rugby shirt, polo, sweater, or jacket from a set of stock designs and customize it with as many distinguished crests, football-themed patches and letters as they want. You can use it to design and purchase clothing for yourself, or you can be a little more creative (and financially devil-may-care) and make designs to be displayed for browsing in the application or to share with friends.
The social media side of the app begins by asking which gender you want to design for, and then letting you decide on who will be the model of your rugby shirt. You can take a picture of yourself, select one of your headshots that you keep in your photo gallery for just such an occasion, or you can use a pre-loaded model picture. Once that's settled, you pick the shirt by swiping through various designs (or by shaking the phone), and then you can start dragging and dropping patches from the arsenal at your disposal.

The patches can be placed wherever you choose on the garment, with the exception of being placed on the sleeves. The patches and letters can be rotated, and a set of letters -- say, your name across the back -- can also be rotated en masse through 360 degrees. You only get one line of seven letters. Sadly, you cannot alter the color of the varsity letters to fit your school, and the designs don't hew as closely to the old-school Ivy League ethos as they might -- for example, their varsity "C" is neither Cornell red or Columbia blue. Nonetheless, according to one of the brand representatives, the possible combinations of shirts and patches total over a million.

Once your garment is ready, you have the option of submitting it to Rugby's gallery, where it may be viewed or purchased by all users. Rugby will be displaying user-created designs submitted to the gallery in the front windows of their Rugby stores and they select one design each day for the "Today's Best" section of the application. Don't try to sneak any four-letter words or risqué images through -- all the designs are screened and may be excluded for any reason. But hey, if you cobble together the right combination of patches and use your own photo with your trademark facial expression (Blue Steel?), you might (technically) become a face of a Ralph Lauren line.

After the gallery, there are a few places your shirt can go. You can buy your design straight from the application, add it to Facebook, email it to a friend, or save it to your phone for later. There is also another side of the app that lets you skip all the social media stuff if you just want to buy a shirt, and takes you directly through the design/purchase process. If you aren't feeling creative, you can use the Browse tool yourself to see and rate others' submitted designs on a one to five star scale.

The app does have some drawbacks. The cost of each shirt or design is not displayed until the very end, and there is no explicit pricing scheme for all the patches. The clothes themselves are about $130 before any accoutrements and the designs charge a flat cost between $5 and $20 for each patch. The cost of a design can add up pretty quickly, and if it turns out to be beyond your rugby shirt budget, there is an "edit" button that allows you to go back and change or remove patches as needed.

The application does not have all of the patch options that can be found in the brick-and-mortar stores, and lacks some of the embroidery options available through the MYO Rugby website. The process of buying the shirt does not begin and end with the application either. Once your design is received, the company calls you within a few business days to get your shipping and billing information. There's a Yelp review saying that the physical Rugby stores offer a 15% discount to college students, but there was no sign of that in the application. For all the spontaneity offered by shopping through an iPhone application, the purchase takes about two weeks to get to you once it's paid for, since it's a custom design, and the shirt cannot be returned. There is also a skin tone matcher step added when you use one of your own pictures in a design -- it's not very good, as I couldn't find a good shade to match my skin.

This is not one of those applications that is dead useful or necessary. On the other hand, it is free, works well, and is stylistic. The designs are rich-looking and fun, and it gives budding fashion designers and preps a way to exert some creativity on some nice clothes. In the end, this is probably something Zack Morris would have had on his iPhone, and if Zack Morris is your moral compass (as he is mine) you'll do the right thing.

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