Harvard. It’s as easy as that. Just say the word and already you conjure up in your listener a whole set of images, stereotypes, and pre-conceived notions. Associate Harvard with something else and you unleash a whole new flurry of ideas.
Harvard signed a 10-year licensing deal with clothing manufacturer Wearwolf Group to give its name to their line of apparel called Harvard Yard. The name references the famous central quadrangle surrounded by freshman dorms and over which the statue of John Harvard presides. Now, however, the name has been rather thoughtlessly adopted for a preppy/collegiate apparel line. News broke in an article in WWD and has since been picked up by incredulous authors at NY Mag and Perez Hilton, among others. I find it hard to bill the clothes as anything remotely close to fashion or style.
From what I see of the line so far, I’m not impressed. Is this preppy? Is this collegiate? To me it just looks cheap (or at least the styling is seriously distasteful… ugh, my eyes!). Although, actually it isn’t cheap at all: pants are priced around $165 and sports coast sell for $495. I find it hard to believe that the manufacturers drew inspiration from Harvard in the 1960s (so they claim). Rather, I feel like they drew from a very cliché fount of inspiration, their completely timeless conception of Harvard. Since preppy/collegiate seems to be en vogue at the moment, what other name would instantly attract consumers but Harvard’s? It is rather unfortunate that the prepped out clothes that Harvard’s name graces are so bland. Preppy can be classy and respectable and pretty affordable, just look at J. Crew and its reinterpretation of prep and subsequent wide appeal.
But that to me is beside the point; Harvard apparently does this often. Upon speaking with Office of News and Public Affairs at Harvard, I was informed that the University signs licensing deals with apparel lines often (they have dozens of deals worldwide and hundreds domestically). The Harvard name is but common currency. While the proceeds do go towards funding some of Undergraduate Financial Aid, something to me is amiss.
I look at these photos and think, Harvard is so much more than this. Probably some straight white guy in loafers with a private school education. Here I am guilty of slapping on stereotypes but if Harvard has agreed to put its name on this line (albeit only on the inside label and putting its trademark crimson in buttonholes and zipper pulls), it has agreed to be represented by this image. What of Harvard’s diversity, economic, racial, interpersonal and sartorial? It’s not to say that there aren’t students who are loafered and privy to Nantucket reds, but there are plenty of us (I speak as a recent alum) who represent so much more. The Harvard community represents a rich cross-section of individuals from all walks of life with their special brand of intelligence and enthusiasm. It seems trite to just slap on a rather boring and reductive label to the Harvard name. But that’s just it isn’t it? You say Harvard and a whole rush of notions bubble up. As simple as that. Harvard should be more cautious in signing away its name. Because while dropping the H-bomb must be used with caution, selling the Harvard name comes with an even greater amount of responsibility.