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While Franklin & Marshall College may not have the cachet of Yale University in the eyes of most Americans, for trendy European teens the Pennsylvania liberal arts school easily trumps the Ivy League icon.
Among the hottest names in Europe these days is Franklin & Marshall, a name emblazoned on sweatshirts and other garb sold by an Italian company with an almost identical name.
While few of those wearing the clothes know about the school, “I don’t think they care,” said Entheo Leung, a salesman at London’s Selfridge’s department store, which sells the clothing line in a display with decades-old pictures of F&M athletic teams. “They just know it’s a brand everyone is wearing, and they want it.”
Italian designers Giuseppe Albarelli and Andrea Pensiero started Franklin and Marshall (the company uses “and” rather than the school’s “&”), after finding an old Franklin & Marshall top at a New York flea market in the late 1990s.
Without getting approval from the school in the former mill town of Lancaster, they started the line, which ranges from $43 t-shirts to $265 track suits, using the name in a bid to stand out in the crowded field of preppy clothiers such as Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF) and Ralph Lauren Corp. (RL)
Many companies have long emblazoned their clothing with imagined school logos like “State University” or “Ivy Rugby Club.” Now, Franklin and Marshall and other European clothiers eager to cash in on the Preppy Handbook revival and lure coveted-yet-fickle 18-24 year-old shoppers are cementing ties to real U.S. colleges.
“This is a move by brands to reinforce some authenticity around what they do,” said Lorna Hall, retail editor at fashion forecaster WGSN in London. “The U.S. preppy college look translates well to Southern Europe. The Italians in particular love the formality and detail of it.”
Britain’s Jack Wills, which calls itself a “University Outfitter,” has relationships with club polo teams at Yale and Harvard University (as well as formal licensing deals with Oxford and Cambridge’s rugby and polo teams in England) to boost its brand.
Gant Co., a Swedish company founded in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1949, has a licensing deal with Yale to sell $115 button-down shirts bearing the university’s name. This year, Gant took the collection to the U.K., Europe, and Japan, and the company is putting as much as 25 percent of its marketing budget behind the Yale shirts, said Chief Executive Officer Dirk-Jan Stoppelenburg in an interview. “For us it was about rediscovering who we originally are,” Stoppelenburg said.
Gant, owned since 2008 by Swiss holding company Maus Freres Holding AG, also opened a store close to Yale’s campus, which carries the largest assortment of the Yale-branded shirts alongside Ivy League pictures and paraphernalia.
Franklin and Marshall, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, signed a licensing deal with the college in 2003 after using the name without permission for several years. The brand’s popularity has spread north from Italy and has taken hold in Britain. In 2011, the company opened a store-within-a-store at Selfridge’s.
“It’s selling really well,” said Leung, the department store clerk. “Christmas time was crazy. The higher prices actually attract [young people], and their parents are usually buying anyway.”
In addition to cash, the school benefits from greater visibility abroad, said Cass Cliatt, who helps oversee F&M’s licensing deals. “We are fortunate to work with a European company that promotes F&M around the world,” Cliatt said. In 2010, the company also donated 100,000 euros to fund a four-year scholarship for one student, and this spring executives from the company met with the college’s president for the first time, Cliatt said. Still, the college’s international applicant rate is largely unchanged over the past five years.
Apparel licensing deals are done country-by-country and typically require the licensee to pay about 10 percent of the wholesale price of each garment to the trademark holder, according to Chris Evans, managing director at Oxford Limited, which manages the University of Oxford’s licensing program. Cliatt declined to discuss the terms of the school’s agreement with Franklin and Marshall.
At Jack Wills, which generates sales of about 150 million pounds ($235 million) annually, the company works with U.S. students to promote the brand, forgoing formal licensing agreements. The company recruits several dozen college students each year to act as brand representatives on their campuses.
The job includes wearing Jack Wills clothing and coordinating promotional activities such as a “Study Your Pants Off” event at Jack Wills’ store in New Haven, where Yalies studying for final exams were given the brand’s yellow “Party Pants” underwear.
The company, which sell items such as $448 Hethering Boating Blazers, plans to open about a dozen U.S. stores over the next eighteen months, U.S. president Jim Hardy said.
One typical group of collegiate consumers might not be shelling out to emulate the academic look any time soon: alumni, normally one of the target markets for such apparel.
“It’s fantastic for the school that this company is marketing F&M as a high-end brand,” said Adam Marcus, an F&M grad now working at a Boston venture-capital firm. “But it’s unfathomable that I would pay $265 for a sweatsuit that I got for free in college as a soccer player.”
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