By Marika Garland
Kenyon will soon begin legal proceedings with the Ralph Lauren clothing company in response to its alleged use of the Kenyon seal on its “Eating Club University Tie,” according to Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman. “It seems fairly evident to me that it’s the same shield,” he said.
The College learned about the ties from alumna Abigail Esman ’82, and Kohlman found out last Wednesday, Sept. 14. “The College contracts with a company called LRG [Licensing Resource Group],” he said. “Anybody who wants to sell anything that has the Kenyon name on it has to be licensed to do so.”
When Kohlman heard about this issue, he contacted LRG to see if Ralph Lauren had licensed Kenyon’s shield for use on its ties. LRG informed him that Ralph Lauren did not have this license.
“We’re going to have the College attorney send Ralph Lauren a letter basically asking them to do one of two things: either stop making the tie using our shield or go through the process with LRG to be licensed to use the College’s images or name,” Kohlman said.
The College plans to call an attorney from the Columbus law firm Bricker & Eckler and send the letter in the next week or so.
If Ralph Lauren opts to license Kenyon’s shield, then the College will collect royalties for the sale of the ties, according to Kohlman. “We get so little royalties that it really goes mostly to cover the fee of paying LRG,” he said.
If Ralph Lauren instead decides to simply stop producing and selling the ties, then the College will likely not attempt to collect punitive damages for the company’s alleged unlicensed use of the shield. “You’ve got to weigh how much it would cost us to do that against what the return would be,” Kohlman said.
On the other hand, if Ralph Lauren chooses neither option, the College will likely take action. “If Ralph Lauren denies that they’re using the Kenyon shield, then the College is going to have to make a decision about whether or not they want to sue Ralph Lauren to stop them from using the College shield,” Kohlman said.
Esman was the first of the alumni to notify the College, but she was not the first to notice the ties.
“I learned about it from a blog post by another Kenyon graduate, April Yvonne Garrett [’92],” she said. “I did what I thought was right – alerted the school directly.” Esman contacted Lisa Schott, the managing director of the Philander Chase Corporation, and Pamela Hollie, senior philanthropic advisor.
Garrett posted pictures of the tie and the Kenyon shield on her blog, The AYG List, on Sept. 5. “Lords and ladies, what do you think?” she wrote. “I think we need to have a chat with Ralph Lauren that ends with the College receiving a check for our endowment and scholarship fund!”
Garrett, in turn, learned of the ties after Bunny Elder ’84 posted a comment about it on a Kenyon ’80s Facebook page.
Elder, who works as a salesman for Brooks Brothers, first saw the ties in a Ralph Lauren Rugby store near his home in Washington, D.C.
“I’m often in and out of competitors’ shops looking and seeing what they’re doing,” he said. “I saw this tie with the crest on it – it was instantly recognizable to me. … It’s distinctive enough to be recognized. If it wasn’t me, it was bound to be somebody else.”
Elder said the several ties and other items he owns with the Kenyon shield helped him to notice the image on Ralph Lauren’s “Eating Club University Tie,” which sells for $69.50 on the Ralph Lauren website. “I asked the people in the shop about it, and they said, ‘No, it’s just some sort of dining society tie.’ I said, ‘Well, actually, it’s not – it has my college’s logo on it,'” he said. He said he posted a comment on the Ralph Lauren website asking about the origin of the image on the tie but never received a response.
Elder said he found the name of the tie amusing because, as students, he and some of his fellow alumni used to wear Kenyon ties to Peirce Hall for dinner on Saturdays.
Their attire was an attempt to bring back the policy that once required all students to wear coats and ties to dinner on Saturdays. He added that these ties are similar to the Ralph Lauren ties in question.
Several Kenyon alumni have been outspoken about Ralph Lauren’s allegedly Kenyon-inspired ties, which has included many comments on Elder’s initial Facebook post. “Everybody was caught off-guard,” Garrett said. “It’s so egregious.”
“While it’s flattering that Kenyon’s insignia has been adopted by the king of American fashion … it would be just and proper if he would donate any proceeds from those designs to the school, ” Esman said. “I doubt that he will, but he should. More likely, he will simply stop using it.”
Cheryl Cole, the wife of alumnus Chris Cole ’82, even sent an email to Ralph Lauren’s customer assistance department. “I am hoping that since so many [students] cannot afford a college like Kenyon (mine included) [that] a percentage of your sales goes to help those kids who have earned a place but cannot go,” she wrote.
Cole received a response from CustomerAssisstance@RalphLauren.com that failed to address Ralph Lauren’s “Eating Club University Tie” and instead mentioned a different tie.
“We have verified and confirmed that although our Purple Label Academy Clubs Silk Tie has a logo similar to the Kenyon College logo, [it] does not have the actual Kenyon College logo on it,” the email, which was signed “Tarsha G.,” said.
Her husband heard about the ties from the Kenyon ’80s Facebook page.
“My reaction was the same as everyone else who is an alum, ‘That is one ugly copy, and we want you to cease the use of it on your tie,'” he said.
“On some level, it’s kind of a cool thing because the alumni are rightfully protective of the honor of our brand,” Garrett said.