The Patron

Money can't buy love. But it can buy polo.

Just before the first issue, the lawyers sent POLO Magazine a cease-and-desist letter. When POLO declined to desist, Polo Ralph Lauren filed a trademark infringement suit.

News of it traveled everywhere. Ralph took a beating protecting his image. His people had no comment to the press but in depositions, referred to POLO as a "novice fashion magazine." Goodman's side was more aggressive. In an editor's column Connatser presented polo fans as underdogs for perhaps the first time ever. "Back Off, Goliath," the headline read. Connatser went on to reveal the Lifshitz origins of Ralph Lauren. The dispute was framed best in the headline of a letter in Players' Edition: "Ralph Lauren: Peasant Upstart?"

Each side considered the other a pretender, but Goodman's lawyer, Tom Godbold, said he had Ralph's shoes in his closet, and Goodman himself said, "Everyone has a Ralph Lauren shirt. Don't you?"

And if Ralph was a pretender, what were they?
Polo Ralph Lauren had never found reason to confront Polo Magazine when the magazine wrote about polo and horses and how to get the best rig to carry your polo horses. But the use of the word "polo" in a lifestyle magazine, they argued, could mislead people into thinking Ralph Lauren was involved. In fact, that seemed the magazine's purpose. In Magistrate Mary Milloy's court, Lauren lawyer Leslie Fagen huffed:

"They are, intentionally or not -- and may I say, Your Honor, I believe intentionally -- ripping off my client's property."

Godbold, his curly locks suggesting the wig of a barrister, said that polo's affluent image has been "inexplicably interwoven into the fabric of the sport." But it wasn't Ralph's fabric, and it wasn't Ralph's design. Ralph does not have a trademark on lifestyle.

"What we're talking about here is that Mr. Goodman is the real deal," said Godbold. "POLO Magazine's focus is on the real polo lifestyle, not one dreamed up on Madison Avenue by people who don't play the sport and don't live the lifestyle."

Magistrate Milloy listened to all this. She read Shinitzky's letter, and she pored over the magazines, and she did not agree at all that John Goodman, or at least his product, was "the real deal." In advertising, content and layout, the magazine "appears to be targeting PRL's customer base," she ruled. The trial would determine whether POLO Magazine kept its name, but for now, POLO would have to run a disclaimer on every issue, declaring its independence from Ralph Lauren.

It was a way of saying that Lauren had come first.

The match was over. In the shadows on the field, the players stood congratulating one another. The sun had fallen behind the trees, and if you turned away from the field and looked through the woods, you could just see the shape of an old brick mansion.

People said you had to be born into the Bayou Club. It was the polo club's landlord, but few of its members have ever appeared in the box seats. No one from the polo club has ever ascended into the Bayou Club. Not even the patrón.

His team lost the Del Carroll Memorial Cup that day by a single goal. He was the only player on the field who didn't score.

Someone passed out the cigars and someone shook the bottle of champagne. People laughed. The patrón stood with his hands in his pockets, looking pleased when someone thought to pour champagne on him.

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