“With the collections we have, the opportunities for licensing are infinite,” explains Lauren Sizeland, head of licensing for V&A.
The opportunities available to the V&A’s licensing partners have allowed the programme to expand and evolve into a number of sectors since its formation in the early 1990s. Licensees benefit from access to more than five million objects and some of the world’s finest collections of decorative art and design.
Collections that can be drawn upon include textiles and costume, jewellery and metalwork, furniture and books and photography and sculpture, giving companies a wide range of designs, patterns and art to work with.
Furthermore, the museum’s activities, including exhibitions on Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Vivienne Westwood and The Golden Age, are promoted internationally through extensive touring exhibitions and publishing programmes. This marketing increases the awareness of V&A’s cultural wealth and in turn, the products of its licensees.
With around 40 licensees in the UK and Europe and a further 12 in Japan and the US, the firm is now looking to expand the territories and the product sectors in which it is present. Sizeland comments: “We constantly review and assess how our licensees are performing and consider whether there are other opportunities that we should explore.
The museum’s licensing business started out, as maybe expected, mainly in the interiors and homewares sectors, including furnishing, fabric, wallpaper, paint and carpet lines. The ranges were introduced at relatively high price points and therefore had a niche audience.
More recently, the brand has expanded and has focused on recruiting new licensees in the gift sector. Companies now on board are offering a broad range of products from toiletries to ceramics and jewellery to stationery. The licensing team are now looking to bring the designs of the products more up-to-date and in turn, the ranges are beginning to appeal to a much wider audience.
Sizeland explains how more contemporary designs are being put in place: “Although the traditional application of patterns from our archives may have worked ten years ago, it is becoming less appealing for today’s ever-changing market place.
“Therefore, we are steering the design direction to a much more progressive design style using thee archives to inspire and adapt rather than to replicate.”
The team of three in the licensing department are also very careful to sign up the right licensing partners to push the brand forward in the right direction. V&A works closely with the design teams, discussing direction and agreeing the overall concept before delving into the archives for the relevant imagery.
Sizeland comments: “It is important that any new prospect can provide us with what we’re looking for. That may vary depending upon the product category and market sector. The V&A is a prestigious brand and the brand values of our licensees must match our own.
“Generally we prefer a fairly well-established business with good distribution and good reputation,” Sizeland continues. “We look for companies that are capable of producing well made, well designed products.”
Over recent years, the V&A has also begun to work more closely with retailers. This enables them to have a greater understanding of the changes in consumer behaviour and emerging trends and has helped them to develop exclusive arrangements with John Lewis for Wild & Woolf’s range of decorated garden tools and with Debenhams for Duffer of St George’s menswear range and Peers Hardy’s ladies gift ranges.
Sizeland explains: “The endless design resource we have here allows us to offer bespoke product ranges, which are increasingly appealing to retailers as it allows them to offer something their competitors don’t have.”
Following its first foray into menswear with the recent Duffer of St George menswear range, the V&A is also keen to expand into the female fashion sector. Sizeland comments: “The most popular and most visited galleries at the V&A are the costume and textiles. We also have 2D archives eg textiles and wallpaper dating from the 16th to 20th century in abundance.
“These lend themselves perfectly for inspiration with clothing and accessories. The V&A is recognised internationally for collaborating with famous fashion designers, through exhibitions and catwalk shows. The combination of those key points tell me that ladies apparel should be our next major product sector - provided we can find a partner with the right brand fit.”