Thursday, 17 November 2011

Borrowed Heritage

Last year, while in New York, I noticed this Ralph Lauren Polo advert in a men's magazine:

Does the crest on that tie look at all familiar? I would say it bears an uncanny resemblance to the crest of a British school that is rather older than the USA itself.

If you look closely, you will probably determine that the Ralph crest is infact the mirror image of the Eton one.

This is hardly the only instance of this. When I visited the store, I saw that they had a whole series of ties that, um, 'closely reference' the crests of English Public Schools. None were described as such, presumably no permission was sought (or required?) and it seems unlikely that most purchasers knew or cared. They are simply a seemingly generic crest that gives that vague impression of educational privilege and sporting excellence that is a part of the Ralph Lauren brand.

Does it matter? Several of my friends argued that it doesn't. A wearer of the tie pictured above is not deliberately intending to give the impression that he attended Eton, any more than one of those people who insists on wearing a Guards tunic with his skinny jeans and converse intends to imply that he served in the army. It is simply fashion, and Ralph Lauren are by no means alone in appropriating exclusive symbols to sell to the wider public. New and Lingwood has built a well-respected business out of this very activity without doing any particular harm.

Yet I think a problem remains. Borrowing an old school crest isn't such a big deal, but it's indicative of a pre-packaged approach that bothers me. It's a shame that instead of individual style and heritage, shops offer a facsimile, more costume than anything. It's particularly a shame when this is done by quitly appropriating genuinely ancient symbols.

What do you think? Should anyone care when brands do this sort of thing?


  1. ...except that New & Lingwood are based in Eton and have been supplying the College's pupils with correct/approved clothing and accessories since 1865, I believe.

  2. Ralph Lauren has built his empire doing this. He appropriated the garter (Order of the Garter) to his own use back in the '60s.

    He does this well taking handsome, classic symbols and duplicating or modifying them in his designs.

    I doubt that many people in the US really know or care. It doesn't bother me as far as design integrity goes. Many artists look to history for inspiration.

    In the case of Polo, Ralph Lauren, I do think the look is sometimes a bit pretentious and makes the wearer look like an aspirational poseur with delusions of grandeur.

    The quality of RL's items is usually good, and I give him credit for carrying off the look.

    I hardly think a "problem remains" as you put it.

  3. Regarding New and Lingwood - I'm aware that they have a much better claim to public school symbols than most, but that doesn't change the fact they've done very nicely out of selling them off to the general public in their London store as well.

    As to RL, I like many of the clothes, especially the more traditional lines. The problem that remains, in my view, is more or less the same one that you yourself identified. You put it, reasonably enough, as making the wearer look like an 'aspirational poseur with delusions of grandeur'. This is what I was getting at by highlighting the issues of buying a pre-packaged look, with heritage that you don't understand, and which is only there for fashion reasons.


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