The Noble Art of Licensing

Much has been written about the plans of Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, to become financially independent. One step along the way has been a trademark application for the brand Sussex Royal in six categories (including clothing and printed matter), through the couple’s charitable foundation. Applications have been made in both the U.S. and U.K. It is assumed that licensed products are part of the plan.

The effort has faced some bumps along the road, including challenges from third parties. There has also been opposition from within the Royal Family staff about the brand name, now that Harry and Meghan have stepped away from royal duties and have lost their Royal Highness titles. Some licensing observers have also questioned whether the brand will resonate with consumers.

Harry and Meghan are not the only people (or brands) to have considered the licensing potential of their current or former position in, or connections to, the U.K. Royal Family. A few members of the nobility of other countries have done the same. Examples include:

  • Members of the Royal Family. HRH The Prince of Wales (i.e., Prince Charles) and his charity The Prince’s Trust partnered in 2018 with the tailored clothing brand Hawes & Curtis for an exclusive, limited-edition collection of shirts for women and men, as well as accessories such as cufflinks, ties, and pocket squares. The proceeds supported the Trust’s charitable efforts for young people. More broadly, the Prince launched Duchy Originals, a premium organic and natural food line, in 1990; it has been exclusive to grocery chain Waitrose since 2009. The brand was relaunched in 2018 as Waitrose Duchy Organic, with plans to expand into North America and Asia as well. Again, profits go to charity.
  • Former members of the Royal Family. The Daily Mail Online reported this month that Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York—who is divorced from Prince Andrew—will launch a three-pronged lifestyle label through her company Duchess Inc. It includes Ginger & Moss, her brand for premium home goods; The Duchess Collection, which covers more accessibly priced tea, china, candles, fragrances, preserves, and jewelry (the last to be sold through QVC); and Fergie’s Farm, which offers organic convenience foods. This is not the Duchess’s first foray into brand extension. She had a jewelry collection with K&G Creations that launched in 2006, for example, and appeared at Licensing Expo in 2018, at the Little Red Truck Licensing Group booth, to meet with prospective licensees. In the mid-1990s her children’s book character, Budgie the Little Helicopter, was available for licensing, with a toy line among the products that came to market.
  • Former Royal Family staff. Carolyn Robb, former chef to Prince Charles and other family members, paired with Schwartz & Company to launch The Royal Touch as a brand for food and culinary-related products and services. In 2018 she named Ignite Brands as her agent for additional categories, including home goods, gifts, and stationery. The brand’s activities have ranged from promotions with the likes of Abercombie & Kent, PG Tips, and Majestic Wines; a licensing deal with Harry & David, announced in 2018, for a collection of desserts, cakes, and breads; and experiential initiatives such as bakery cafés and shops in Japan and the Philippines. Separately, Paul Burrell, lifestyle expert and author of books on entertaining, former butler to the Royal Family, and former personal assistant to Princess Diana, launched licensed case goods and upholstered furniture with Highland House and a rug collection with Kalaty in the mid-2000s.
  • Royal buildings and artifacts. The Royal Collection Trust is a registered charity that oversees commemorative products tied to the Royal Family, its historic castles and buildings, and a million objects from jewelry to paintings to furniture. The Queen holds these items in trust but does not own them. Proceeds from the Official Royal Collection, which includes china, home goods, gifts, foods, jewelry, books, and souvenirs sold at the Royal venues and online, goes toward the maintenance of the collection. Examples include a Buckingham Palace plush red corgi keyring, a Windsor Castle hand towel, Palace of Holyroodhouse marmalade with Scotch whisky, and a 23.7-carat gold hair clip with Swarovski crystals created by jewelry designer Vicki Sarge.
  • Nobles from other countries. While the U.K. Royal Family is the epicenter of royal and aristocratic licensing, there are a few examples from other countries as well. Jean-Charles, marquis de Castelbajac is a French marquis raised in Morocco; a marquis (or marquess in the U.K.) is a hereditary title one rank below a duke. His licensing activities are driven less by his title than his vocation, however; he is a noted fashion designer who has had many licensing deals over the years, especially in home goods categories from porcelains to paints, as well as fragrances, ready-to-wear clothing, umbrellas, eyewear, jewelry, and ties.

As for Harry and Meghan, the consumer products business in the U.K. and elsewhere will be looking on with interest to see where their licensing activities take them.

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