What, you mean there's really such a place as Franklin and Marshall? I just bought it because it's American prep, you know? It reminds me of what an American college would be like- but I never thought it was real."When I tell people in Europe that I went to F and M, they ask "The clothing brand?" How did this happen? According to a recent article by Kathy Matheson,
Franklin and Marshall the company was founded by a pair of entrepreneurs in Verona in 1999, more than 200 years after Franklin & Marshall the college was founded in Lancaster by a gift from Benjamin Franklin. Giuseppe Albarelli and Andrea Pensiero were inspired to create their high-end sportswear by an authentically old F&M sweatshirt they found at a secondhand shop in London. They began replicating and improvising on that classic collegiate look, not realizing Franklin & Marshall was an actual U.S. college.Hmm, interesting that these two young entrepreneurs had no access to an internet search. But still, my alma mater will benefit from having its name used for sportswear. A scholarship fund for an actual F and M student is being established by the faux college wear. But what are the broader consequences of becoming the school that is now a brand? Will incredibly hip kids from Rome or Tokyo decide to go to F and M because they love the brand name? The company's website features a variety of pretty and very white young people- blonde hair, tan skin. The men are huge- rugby or American football players; the women are rail thin. There is a nostalgia about it all- a vintage truck, scenes from somewhere vaguely like the American West (NB: the actual Franklin and Marshall is in Lancaster, PA). These young cyphers of American elite educational institutions sport the uber-preppy styles- plaid shorts, polo shirts, dark blue or bright red sweat shirts with Franklin and Marshall in white letters- that the company is now famous for. There is even a faux insignia. The motto of the company is apparently
For Franklin and Marshall the word vintage refers to the continued search for clothing and personalization in order to express one's identity.The dizzying mix of the postmodern search for authenticity through consumption is made more real by a button that allows the consumer to then click on the website for the actual Franklin and Marshall College. What is real and what is not in this mix? There seems to be a real fetishization of whiteness and wealth and privilege on this site. The youth on the website are untroubled by "urban" scenes. America is white and in open spaces. This is interesting since most the youth wearing the sweatshirts in Shoreditch were Black. Like earlier appropriations of privilege by the less privileged- think Tommy Hilfiger- perhaps Franklin and Marshall the brand represents the knowledge that the way to get into the ruling classes is to be born to the ruling classes. To go to schools like F and M and meet "others like you" and then have careers like everyone else in your family: lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. Perhaps also the fact that this is a brand that has taken off everywhere but the United States (Bloomingdales tried selling the brand but no one wanted it here in the US) means that first world young people are yearning for a time when America was still a Superpower and young white college prepsters were preparing for a secure future. Whatever it means, it certainly is a sign that elite educational institutions in the US are now easily branded-something the schools themselves are constantly trying to do anyway. F and M the school can now sell itself as "hip" in the same way that the school I teach at now, Middlebury College, sells itself as "green." It also means that when Ben Franklin started Franklin College a few hundred years ago, to educate what he saw as the highly ignorant local inhabitants of Lancaster, he could not have envisioned a time when higher education and business joined together to sell a product. But perhaps he would have been in favor of such a wise use of resources. As an apologist for both the Protestant ethic of penny pinching and the capitalist spirit of seeking wealth, Franklin might have favored saving a penny in school advertising by letting a clothing brand do it for you. So now when people ask me if I graduated from a clothing brand, I will say, "Yes, yes I did. And now I teach at a lifestyle brand."