Heritage Brands: Jenny Smyth of Historic Royal Palaces talks the brand’s history

Can you tell us about the strength of the Historic Royal Palaces brand, what has demand been like from consumers and retailers?

Our palaces cover over 1000 years of history, from the White Tower built shortly after William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, Henry VIII’s development of Hampton Court Palace in 1529, Kensington Palace, which was Queen Victoria’s childhood home, until the recent guardianship of Hillsborough Castle by Historic Royal Palaces.

These magnificent buildings and gardens have been home to some of the most famous historical figures, the lives and stories of which are still taught in schools today, and feature on our TV screens, well known and loved by adults and children alike. The Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) licensing programme covers fashion, jewellery, homewares, toys and games and heritage drink.

Licensees and consumers are drawn to product development themes relating to the Crown Jewels, Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, The Maze, The Great Vine, Ravens at the Tower, Beefeaters and stories from renowned monarchs in history including – William the Conqueror, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, George III and Queen Victoria to name but a few!

The strength of the programme has very much stemmed from the collaborative approach that our dynamic and experienced licensing team have adopted, working with select partners chosen for their brand synergy and excellence in design. We provide support from the research phase, working with a team of curatorial experts and an archive of over 100,000 images to continued inspiration for ongoing development. Themes and inspiration are also provided which tie into the palaces’ exhibitions, key themes and overarching marketing campaigns so licensees can leverage the wider awareness that will provide.

Who is the biggest audience for the property and how is this reflected in the partnerships you secure for the brand?

We work with partners considered the ‘best in their field’, that share the same brand values which we feel our consumers identify with:

Some hold royal warrants, such as Halcyon Days and GP & J Baker, many have a rich British history for example Cole & Son who have been decorating stately homes, palaces, and castles with their printed wallpapers for 150 years.

We also work with newer companies that demonstrate excellence in craftsmanship, such as Brink Nordic, whose enchanting hand blown, hand painted glass baubles adorn many Christmas trees across Europe.

We also work with licensees and retailers that target the demographic audiences that visit our palaces and shops. For example, the Hobbs customer profile and our palaces both attract a high percentage of married females, ABC1, aged between 40 – 60 years, whose interests include museums, galleries and heritage buildings and who enjoy active and cultural activities.

What is the strength of the Heritage Brands sector of the market in general? Particularly in an era where a lot of emphasis is placed upon big entertainment franchises?

The heritage brands sector is quite niche but very collaborative. Museums and historic institutions work closely together with other partners from the industry sharing knowledge and expertise.

The increasing awareness of the sector can be seen by the growth of the ‘lifestyle brands’ presence at Brand Licensing Europe, and dedicated award events such as the Brand & Lifestyle awards, plus more exposure and interest from trade publishing partners.

Retailers are also recognising heritage partnerships as can be seen by recent heritage sector collaborations with high-street fashion retailers.

There is definitely room for both heritage brands and the large entertainment brands in the retail market as the USP is completely different.

How has the Historic Royal Palaces brand been received at retail, who are your key retailers?

UK retail distribution includes department stores such as Fortnum & Mason, Fenwicks and Selfridges as well as Amazon and The British Shop and Museum Selection are key online and direct mail channels. Historic Royal Palaces licensed collections are also sold in independent gift stores and heritage shops. The US has become a successful market with Harney & Sons tea sold in its own stores, online as well as via Barnes & Noble bookstores. Hobbs’ spring 2017 Palace Collection rolled-out to the largest number of Bloomingdales stores to date and has been the primary range for the launch of their first stand-alone US store.

Asia is a growing market with Spey’s Royal Choice whiskey distributed in China and Taiwan.

In terms of retail relations we work directly with Hobbs and have had a very successful partnership over the last four years. This begins at the product development phase, determining the inspiration for a collection which will tie into fashion market trends and colours, and enhanced from our Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection – 12,000 items of court dress dating from the 17th century – and also across our palaces.

This close partnership follows through into the marketing and promotional support at launch with cross promotional activities rolling out in-store and across web and social media platforms.

In 2017/18 we are not only looking to grow our licensing programme and potentially embark on more direct to retail partnerships.

What are some of the most exciting partnerships you have secured for the property?

In their fourth year with Historic Royal Palaces, Hobbs had their most successful collection with 98% sell through. The designs were inspired by the Hampton Court Palace gardens, to tie into the palace’s overarching marketing campaign. This is the first collection that they had a photo-shoot onsite, ran a cross-promotional competition with HRP and created a video from filming in the palace gardens which ran across all media platforms and in-store.

Hobbs continue to be a key partner for Historic Royal Palaces, their award winning designs fully embrace the scope of inspiration on offer from the Tudor chimneys and richly decorated tapestries at Hampton Court Palace, a debutant’s blue ostrich feather fan in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, to the hand decorated interiors of Queen Charlotte’s Cottage and equestrian passions of Queen Victoria. Hobbs’ upcoming collections further explore the palaces architecture and tie into high-profile key conservation projects being undertaken by the charity.

In 2016 interiors specialists GP & J Baker produced, in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, an award-winning luxury interior fabrics collection. Inspiration was taken from aspects of the palaces history, gardens, architecture and interiors.

At launch in the UK the collection received two awards from prestigious consumer magazine, Homes & Gardens for Best Collection 2016 and Best Design. Distributed in high-end stores including Liberty London and Harrods, mid-range high-street store John Lewis and via key clients and interior designers, the HRP collection has become GP & J Bakers fastest selling to date. It has also just been well received in the US and is shortly due to roll-out to Australia and New Zealand.

One of our longer term licensees, high-end jewellery specialists Clogau have a very strong regal connection which they exploit through their HRP collection. Royalty and Welsh cultural heritage are at the heart of the company’s past, present and future. Welsh gold was first used by the Royal Family in the investiture regalia for Edward, Prince of Wales in 1911 and has since been used in the wedding rings for many members of the royal family to this day.

Finally, Halcyon Days have been producing high-end English luxury gifts since 1950; they strive for excellence in craftsmanship and are one of only fourteen companies to hold three Royal Warrants.

Historic Royal Palaces aims to work with licensing partners who are considered ‘the best in their field’, just as our palaces were built by the best designers, craftsmen and architects of the day.

What’s next for Historic Royal Palaces in the licensing space, how are you keeping up with current trends?

The achievements and investment made into the licensing programme over the last two years will enable HRP to grow its portfolio in 2017/18 and sign new licensees to compliment current product categories such as homewares and tabletop, as well as venture into new categories including Toiletries, and heritage food and drink.

HRP will continue to support current licensees with plans to grow the licensing team and product development initiatives, utilising expert curators, conservationists, specialist teams, a growing image library and expanding marketing and promotional capabilities

Further plans are in place to support licensees current and new in interpreting our assets. With this continuous investment HRP is a growing but grounded business which always seeks to keep the inspired interpretation of our historic stories and magnificent palaces onto product relevant for today’s market.

Historic Royal Palaces works with licensees to keep abreast of current trends, the team also attends relevant trend presentations, tutorials, trade shows and events.

What is Historic Royal Palaces bringing to the licensing space, how is the brand placed to ignite excitement and evolve the licensing space?

The Historic Royal Palaces licensing programme enables licensees to be inspired by the past to create products relevant for today’s market.

Exciting product development plans are in place for 2018/19 with inspiration taken from the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens being cared for by Historic Royal Palaces and which is currently under restoration by our conservation team. The Pagoda is due to reopen to the public in spring 2018 and licensees on-board with new product will benefit from the wider awareness generated by the palaces’ promotional campaign.

Historic Royal Palaces will be attending the Brand Licensing Show at Olympia in October.

You can find us at Stand L30 – Brand and Lifestyle Section.

This is an opportunity for potential partners to find out how they can work with us, view our latest collections and get a taste of the inspiration our magnificent palaces have to offer. 

You can contact HRP on 0203 166 6844 or email

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