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For the thrilling conclusion of logo week, we’re tackling one of the strangest branding phenomenons we’ve ever encountered.

Somehow one of America’s foremost preppy outfitter ended up lifting their logo from an medieval chivalric order. The icon in question is the Brooks Brothers sheep. It turns out, noblemen have been wearing that lamb around their necks for upwards of half a millennium—and it sounds like the Duke of Burgundy has a pretty legitimate beef…

The story of the golden fleece itself goes back to Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts (remember?) but that particular “droopy sheep” symbol didn’t pop up until 1430, when Philip the Good of Burgundy founded the Order of the Golden Fleece. Anyone noble enough to join the squad got a gold necklace like the one above as part of their oath to protect the glory of the Church. After a few centuries of favor-swapping, the order included noble families from Spain to Poland and there were enough variations on the fleece to fill a museum.

The Brooks Brothers connection comes in some time in the mid-nineteenth century, when the clothier was looking to replace their straight-text logo with something a bit more regal. By then, European clothiers had taken to hanging the icon outside their shops as a symbol of the woolen trades. Brooks was eager to grab a little European cred, so they lifted it quietly and never looked back—even though the original order was still very much around, and continues through to the present day.

Naturally, in the 150 years since they’ve built up quite a name on their own—more American than European; more cotton than wool—and the dangling sheep has come to symbolize true prep more than chivalrous crusading…but we know a few Austrian archdukes who might see it differently.

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom