ARTiSTORY launches artist collaborations programme

Art and cultural IP specialist ARTiSTORY has taken the next step in its licensing model by launching its artist collaborations programme.

The partnerships with living artists will see three-way co-branding between brands, artists and museums and gives established and emerging artists the chance to draw inspiration from the rich cultural and artistic treasures of the archives of ARTiSTORY’s museum partners, and create fresh, contemporary artwork in their own unique personal style.

By bringing together cultural IP, international artists and global brands, ARTiSTORY will further expand museums’ licensing programmes and service the rapid increase in demand for art and cultural IP through its “Artefacts to Merchandise” and digital storytelling model.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” says Alicia Chen, Country Manager of ARTiSTORY’s Singapore Office, who is managing the artists programme. “Artists get the opportunity to be associated with the world’s top museums, brands can provide consumers with access to their favourite artists via uniquely designed products endorsed by museums, and museums can engage new audiences, particularly a younger demographic who follow and support their favourite designers on social media.”

Two famous international artists, Ukrainian artist Sveta Dorosheva and British artist Laura Greenan, are working on new artwork inspired by ARTiSTORY’s museum partner Dunhuang. Dunhuang was an essential meeting point on the Silk Road for travellers passing between East and West one thousand years ago and this gathering of diverse people and cultures led to the creation of great legacies such as the world-famous stucco sculptures and the murals of Mogao Caves, which are now providing rich inspiration for artists to continue the cultural creativity of Dunhuang for a new era.

Originally from Ukraine and currently based in Israel, Sveta’s narrative art and detailed illustration reveals her fascination with myth and fairytales. Sveta has published best-selling books and has been shortlisted twice for the World Illustration Awards. For ARTiSTORY’s artist programme, Sveta is creating canopies, murals and flying images of Dunhuang, taking inspiration from the murals of the Mogao Caves.

Laura Greenan’s style has been described as “Jelly Candy Pop Art”. Her vibrant, joyful illustrations include elements of psychedelia, Art Deco and fantasy, and she takes influences from the 1960s as well as current popular culture including computer games and films. Laura has previously worked with Vogue Japan, Francis Wren Candle and The Wall Street Journal. She is currently working on creations inspired by Dunhuang’s architecture, canopies and Mojing patterns which will be licensed by ARTiSTORY for co-branded products.

ARTiSTORY strengthens UK sales team with the appointment of Caroline High

ARTiSTORY secures exclusive partnership with Dunhuang Culture and Tourism Group

ARTiSTORY has entered into an exclusive partnership with Dunhuang Culture and Tourism Group that will enable the pair to work to establish a new licensing programme for key markets such as North America, the EMEA, and Asia.

This historical, multi-year partnership is one of the firsts of its kind for a Chinese cultural IP to be licensed to global retailers and consumer brands outside China.

Dunhuang Inspiration, an art and cultural brand established by Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group will be operating this licensing programme with ARTiSTORY. Based upon the city of Dunhuang’s abundant cultural and tourist resources, DCTG holds the exclusive operation rights to the city’s well treasured cultural heritage sites. 

The city of Dunhuang sits at a unique position along the historical Silk Road. Lying by the Gobi Desert and north of the Mingsha Sand Dunes, Dunhuang was an essential resting point for travellers passing between East and West one thousand years ago. The gathering of diverse people and cultures led to Dunhuang’s prosperity with great legacies such as the world-famous stucco sculptures and murals of Mogao Caves.

Dunhuang Inspiration is a brand designed with cultural creativity and vitality. It embodies DCTG’s commitment to preserve, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for the art of Dunhuang.

Through the partnership, Dunhuang and ARTiSTORY’s global creative team will collaboratively develop original design assets under annually refreshed themes such as “Voyage of Discovery” and “The Rhythm of Dunhuang” inspired by the world-class beauty of Dunhuang. Together, Dunhuang and ARTiSTORY will create a full spectrum of IP design assets such as illustrations, prints and patterns, badges, icons, colour palettes with narratives for licensees to use via merchandising, content marketing, online and offline retailing, and immersive experiences.

This will also help global retailers and consumer brands to engage more successfully with a global audience and speed up their market penetration in China, Japan, Korea, SE Asia, and beyond. 

Sun Xiaoqiang, chairman of Dunhuang Culture and Tourism Group, said: “Dunhuang culture is so profound that it requires our lifelong time to research and pass it on to our future generations. The Group, together with ARTiSTORY, will bring refreshed narratives of Dunhuang culture to a broader range of industries, blooming more brilliant light.”

Yizan He, founder and managing director of ARTiSTORY, added: “ARTiSTORY is delighted to partner with Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group. We look forward to enabling global retailers and consumer brands to engage shoppers more effectively with art and cultural IP and storytelling.”

ARTiSTORY adds Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to its growing art and culture portfolio

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has become the latest cultural tourism hot spot to join the ARTiSTORY portfolio, offering the art and culture licensing specialist access to nearly 500,000 works of art to inspire designs to be licensed globally.

Founded in 1870, the MFA is recognised as one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world. Having first opened its doors to the public on July 4th, 1876, the Museum’s collection spans Egyptian, Greek, and Roman masterpieces, renowned works of art from the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa, and significant holdings of photography, prints and drawings, textiles, fashion, and musical instruments.

Meanwhile, launched in January 2021, ARTiSTORY’s vision is to extend the reach of its cultural partners to engage a wider global audience via comprehensive licensing programmes with global retailers, manufacturers, direct to consumer brands, and online retailers.

The programme reflects ARTiSTORY’s core capability of turning “Artefacts to Merchandise” and extends beyond with storytelling content through hybrid / digital exhibitions and immersive experiences, each supported by narratives that resonate with their targeted audience.

Katsushika Hokusai, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Alphonse Maria Mucha, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne’s masterpieces will be some of the sources of design inspiration for ARTiSTORY’s annually refreshed themes of design assets, including patterns, prints, icons, stories and immersive experiences.

“We at ARTiSTORY are very pleased to have signed this iconic American institution. Having worked with Debra at the MFA previously I know first-hand what incredible artworks we will gain access to, and the beautiful designs our in-house creative team can produce,” said Yizan He, Co-founder and CEO at ARTiSTORY.

Debra LaKind, senior director, intellectual property and business development at the MFA, said: “At the MFA, we believe in the power of art to bring people together and foster cross-cultural understanding. Our mission includes reaching beyond the walls of the Museum, by pursuing collaborative opportunities to share our diverse collections with world-wide audiences.

“ARTiSTORY is uniquely positioned to help expand the MFA’s global presence in creative and engaging ways through storytelling and merchandise, bringing art into the everyday life of the consumer. We are thrilled to be working with the team at ARTiSTORY.”

Fashion statements | WildBrain CPLG explores how the post-pandemic world of licensed fashion has shifted gear

With the world beginning to reawaken and emerge from its pandemic slumber, so too is the world of fashion switching gear, slipping out of its comfy bagging clothing and back into a wardrobe designed for life outside, once again. However, notes Pau Pascual, VP Southern Europe and MD of Iberia and MENA, at WildBrain CPLG, the ever-moving fashion scene hasn’t emerged untouched by the shift in consumer sensibilities. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Here, WildBrain CPLG’s Pascual talks us through the key trends to be hitting the post-pandemic licensed fashion space.

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Last year, as with many changes brought about by the pandemic, we saw significant shifts in the world of fashion, particularly in purchasing choices. With much of the world working from home, consumers were prioritising clothing that was comfortable because this became the new daily wardrobe for many, and so there was a swing from retailers to embrace this trend and offer more in the way of casual and sportswear.

However, now with the world starting to open up again, many consumers are looking to inject freshness into their wardrobes and retailers are looking to keep their offering engaging, relevant and fun. Below are five key trends that we’re seeing in the fashion space at WildBrain CPLG, exploring how these are being adopted by brand owners: 

Varsity Back in the Spotlight 

We’ve seen varsity and US college-inspired products, both in the mass market and high-end fashion space, for many years now, but in 2021, the presence of styles that take inspiration from iconic US institutions and their merchandise – such as the baseball ‘letterman’ jackets – has really accelerated. 

There was certainly a large halo effort from Hedi Slimane’s spring ‘21 menswear collection for Celine, which included varsity jackets, along with other varsity-inspired trends, from baseball caps and high-top sneakers to sweatsuits and track shorts, that we’ve seen trickle down to the high street. This trend has also been fuelled by TV shows, such as the Gossip Girl reboot and Riverdale, that have played a key part in bringing varsity style fashion back into focus. Also, the portrayal of Princess Diana in the latest season of The Crown has drawn renewed attention to her fashion looks, including her iconic Philadelphia Eagles varsity jacket. 

Many licensed properties are leaning into this trend and providing their own fresh takes, such as with the beloved Peanuts brand we represent and its many ranges with Inditex. We also represent several iconic institutions themselves, including Harvard and Yale universities, and are seeing great interest in these brands.

Retro Gaming 

Another fashion trend that has been around for a little while but is now stepping up a level, is the use of retro gaming brands, such as Nintendo, and our very own Tetris, Space Invaders and Sonic. As platforms have evolved over the years, these games have been played by multiple generations in many different ways – from the original arcade and console games, and now on tablets and mobile devices – and so they bring wide brand recognition across multiple demographics. 

These properties also offer a real sense of fun and playfulness, as well as tapping into the spirit of nostalgia and evoking the spirit of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which is proving to be really appealing to the millennial generation. More generally, the distinctive graphics are a hit with fans of strong visual styling. 

In particular, we’re seeing these brands enjoy great success with footwear collaborations, such as the deal we recently secured with premium Dutch footwear brand Floris Van Bommel for a Spring/Summer capsule collection inspired by Space Invaders. We often see a ‘30-year-cycle’ where kids who grew up with the IP are now in a position to buy something special that reminds them of their childhood and we see this as a real driver of the trend.

Vintage Brands Applied to Lifestyle 

Also in the vein of millennial and Gen Z nostalgia, we’re increasingly seeing the use of vintage brands applied to lifestyle products within fashion, for example, the new capsule collection inspired by the iconic Fruit of the Loom apparel brand that’s recently launched at Zara. There’s also a lot of interest in brands such as Technics and Kodak, as well as heritage sports brands like Prince and Kappa. 

The fashion industry often aims for the surprise factor by reviving brands that used to be the ‘coolest ones around’ and using them to create a flashback moment during which consumers are reminded of something they’d perhaps long forgotten. This type of licensed collaboration really gives consumers a chance to relive their memories of a certain brand and, although the product may now appear in a different form, it offers them a chance to once again buy something from a brand they loved when they were younger.

Care for the Planet, Ourselves and One Another 

Across all stages of fashion, there is an increased commitment to more environmentally friendly practices and choices – starting right with the manufacturing processes and the raw materials that are being used. The industry is striving to embrace the ‘circular’ economy with reusing and recycling being the top priorities, and this is already happening across many of the big fashion retailers. Many new fashion companies are also solely working with recycled materials and within this type of circular economy. 

Environmental sustainability is also being applied directly to the messaging of products, such as Ecolaf with its ‘There’s No Planet B’ campaign. We also recently worked on a fantastic collaboration for Peanuts Worldwide with the luxury eco-sustainable apparel brand, Vayyu. To mark Earth Day, Vayyu launched its first licensed collection, which featured Charles M. Schulz’s classic Peanuts characters and included garments designed by students from Nottingham Trent University. This was all part of Peanuts Worldwide’s “Take Care with Peanuts” initiative, a global multi-year enterprise encouraging everyone to take care of themselves, each other and the Earth.

As well as embracing the growing interest in caring for the planet, licensing trends are also capturing the zeitgeist within the fashion space for care and kindness – as we emerge from the pandemic with a renewed respect for one another and our world. This is coming across in apparel that brings in messages of acceptance and inclusivity, as well as encouraging individuals to express themselves freely. A great example of this is WildBrain’s recently launched Teletubbies adult fashion collection for 2021 Pride Month, which incorporates a theme of ‘Big Hugs, Big Love’ and celebrates the importance of self-expression in an uplifting way. The collection’s proceeds will also benefit GLAAD to support its culture-changing work to accelerate acceptance for the LGBTQ community. 

In a more visual sense, we’re seeing many floral and colourful patterns as consumers embrace fun, playful prints to counteract the difficult period we’ve been living in.

Art, Graphics and Museums 

Finally, there’s been a continuing trend for many years for fashion partnerships inspired by art brands, particularly when there’s an anniversary from artists and museums to be celebrated with supporting merchandise. 

This trend has ramped up recently, with many well-respected artists and museums being a key focus for licensed collaborations. Some recent examples include Zara launching a menswear collection inspired by the “El Prado” Museum in Spain as well as a range for the Sistine Chapel, and Pull & Bear collaborating with Tate Modern. Licensed collaborations offer consumers another – often more affordable – avenue to own a ‘piece of art’ from their favourite creators and build this into their daily lives. 

ARTiSTORY appoints Liz Bowers as head of business development for the UK

ARTiSTORY has appointed a new head of business development for the UK in the shape of Liz Bowers, the former head of publishing and brand licensing for Imperial War Museums and senior commercial manager at Royal Museums Greenwhich.

With a wealth of experience in building commercial growth for the cultural heritage sector, Bowers has also supported brand extension as a licensing consultant for the Ashmolean Museum and the V&A.

She joins a growing team of licensing experts at ARTiSTORT and will focus on securing licensing partners across a range of categories for the group’s growing client list, which includes some of the world’s most prestigious museums and cultural institutions.

ARTiSTORY brings art and cultural IP licensing to the retailers and consumer brands around the world. The team creates original illustrations and assets, all inspired by art and culture for use on product and packaging, as well as  developing unique shopping experiences with storytelling at its core.

“I’m thrilled to have joined ARTiSTORY at such an exciting time,” said Bowers, head of business development. “I was immediately excited by ARTiSTORY’s business model which is a game-changer for the cultural sector. Our global museums have such a wealth of assets and ARTiSTORY will help to bring these incredible collections and stories to life for new audiences.”

Natasha Dyson, co-founder and licensing director, added: “I’m very happy to welcome Liz to the team. From the outset I was very impressed with Liz’s experience in the museum sector and the results she’s achieved. Not only does Liz have a commercial background but she also brings a wealth of knowledge on how heritage organisations operate, which will benefit the business in many ways.”

ARTiSTORY expands global reach with new US office and development in Southeast Asia and Oceania

ARTiSTORY is expanding its global reach with the opening of its US office where it will serve its portfolio of IP clients in the North American market. At the same time, the business’ Singapore office has officially welcomes a new force to lead development of the Southeast Asia and Oceania markets.

Co-founded by Yizan He and Natasha Dyson, ARTiSTORY is a specialist in cultural IP licensing with capabilities in transforming “Artifacts to Merchandise” and creative contents. The outfit reaches a global audience with merchandise and promotional licensing inspired by art and culture.

The addition of the US and Singapore operation grows ARTiSTORY’s global presence, now covering markets across Asia and Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa as well as America. Co-Founder Yizan He is also serving as a General Partner of Sinofaith IP Investment Company (SIPIC), an entity that embarks on a unique “IP+Investment” business mode by injecting premium IP rights and working capital to empower startups in the art and culture sector.

Supported by SIPIC, ARTiSTORY has made clear its determination to ‘build a genuinely global powerhouse of art, cultural and science related IP and a full ecosystem of IP licensing business.’

Anna Stein has now joined the firm as country manager and business development director for North America and will work closely with Yizan He and Natasha Dyson. Stein has a background in art history and brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to the role after having worked in global licensing for over 15 years.

Previously, she has worked for major studios such as Nickelodeon and Twentieth Century Fox, as well as working on the manufacturing and the agency side of licensing.

“I am really impressed by the licensing model that ARTiSTORY has created and excited to work with new partners with this innovative company,” said Stein.

With Alicia Chen joining our Singapore office as country manager and business development director, she will work closely with Yizan He, UK and US office to develop Southeast Asia and Oceania markets. Having over 12 years of solid business development experience in B2B and B2C environment with C-level decision makers and national consulates across Asia markets; enhanced with Master of Science qualification in Marketing, Alicia has been focusing on lifestyle, and FMCG related sectors.

“I am delighted to be joining the team and looking forward to working together with the international team closely,” said Alicia Chen.

Yizan He, co-founder and CEO of ARTiSTORY, concluded: “We are thrilled to see both Anna and Alicia bring a vast array of resources to the international team. Together with these talents, we are ambitious to become a strong voice in the cultural enterprising scene across the globe.”

Heritage Month | Modern history: The Cartoon Museum and the role of museums in a post-pandemic world

There’s no question that the pandemic had a huge and still reverberating impact on the country’s cultural and heritage sector, forcing shut the doors of establishments across the UK, and applying a financial squeeze on an industry largely dependent on footfall and wallets of the nation’s leisure and tourism market.

According to the latest research from Art Fund – having drawn together some 400 responses from museum directors and museum professionals, the most pressing concern for almost all organisations across the country is safe reopening and attracting audiences back. In fact, 85 per cent of directors have expressed concern over the ability to attract visitors upon the continued easing of restrictions.

Among the many to be hit by the pandemic was London’s Cartoon Museum, an institution that shares strong ties not only with the cultural and heritage sector, but the licensing space, too – housing some of the most iconic comics and cartoons to have populated popular culture of the modern era.

Last year, the museum found itself the focus of a fundraising campaign to help keep its doors open – when doors were allowed to reopen, of course – that had ignited the passions of the comic book and cartoon fan communities across the country. The museum is now happy to report that those doors have firmly swung back open, and the museum is already welcoming back visitors from schools and pre-booked groups looking to get their cultural fix this year.

But from the pandemic, suggests the team, a new era for museums, and the cultural and heritage sector overall, could be arising, as organisations are forced to look towards local communities and audiences and less on the tourist trade. 

Here, continues its look into the heritage sector and catches up with The Cartoon Museum’s Director, Joe Sullivan, to uncover the museum’s learnings through Covid-19 and what the future role of the museum could like in a post-pandemic world.

Hello Joe, it’s good to catch up with you again, and under happier circumstances with the museum now reopened! What has reopening the museum been like for you? What has reaction been like from visitors and public?

It has been wonderful to finally reopen to the public after another enforced lengthy closure during the Winter. During the downtime we worked hard on enhancing the museum to make it even better for our visitors – painting floors and walls, boxing noisy pipes off, hanging comic art in our learning space, revitalizing the shop, and putting up two new exhibitions. Visitors have enjoyed coming back to the site over the past month, with half term particularly busy, and it has been great to chat with people about cartoons again in person.

A really encouraging thing for us is that we have had a lot of first-time visitors. We hope that this continues as we bed into our new home properly (we still haven’t had a complete year open at the new site), and as people start to feel more comfortable leaving the house. Reopening has also been tinged with sadness however – we lost our Front of House Manager, Alison Brown, to COVID-19 in January. She was the heart and soul of the museum for 14 years and we all miss her terribly.

Can you talk us through some of the latest developments for the museum? You’ve mentioned some new exhibitions – can you talk us through these and what reception has been like so far?

 The two new exhibitions have been received fantastically, and I feel like our visitors can see the direction of travel we are taking and are enthused by it. By taking a larger theme – such as protest in the case of V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask – we can connect with visitors in a more personal way. 

The V exhibition not only displays incredible high-quality original art and rarely-seen film designs, it also encourages visitors to reflect on the world of V, how it relates to the world now, and what a subject like protest means to them individually.

We are very lucky with V as David Lloyd, the artist, is a close friend of the museum (he very kindly auctioned an original V page as a fundraising donation to our survival appeal last year). His support through the exhibition has been invaluable, allowing us to really dig into how V was made, and why certain design choices were made.

This focus on people stories and more universal themes crosses over to our In-Focus exhibition, Natasha Natarajan: FML Comics, a display of the work of British-Indian web cartoonist and animator Natasha Natarjan. The first two people through the door on the day we reopened were two older visitors who had travelled all the way from Scotland, one of whom went away grasping a copy of Natasha Natarajan’s FML Comics book. I was delighted to see this!

The book – which is linked to our current In-Focus display – is full of frank, funny, very personal cartoons about Natasha’s experience as a young millennial woman in modern London. The fact that people from a different demographic and part of the UK related so strongly to Natasha’s work really showed the strength of the stories and art we are sharing, and how it can connect to people’s experiences universally.

 You’ve also mentioned the return to learning and engagement work with young people. What does this look like for the museum? What spurred the decision to return to this kind of work through the museum, and is this indicative of a new ‘post-pandemic’ role of museums and their position in the community?

Engagement work is my personal passion, and has been very high on the agenda since I came to the museum. The great thing about cartooning is it has a very easy ‘in’ – anyone can pick up a pencil, and our collection ranges from the finely engraved detail work of Hogarth to the comedic minimum-line doodles of Times cartoonist (and Museum founder) Mel Calman. The point this makes to me is that anyone can pick up a pencil and draw a cartoon.

Alongside restarting our cartooning workshops in an online form (we hope to return to physical workshops in the summer), we have spent the last few months building local partnerships in our local London borough, Westminster. Westminster has one of the highest indices of deprivation in London (the gap between richest and poorest areas) and it is essential that the museum serves and represents all of our local audiences.

We recently started a project with local youth centres called Life Under Lockdown, which works with local young people to draw comic strips telling their personal stories of their lockdown experiences. We will collect these for the future but will also compile them into a comic book to give to participants and libraries, and will hopefully display some of the work either on the museum site or on our website. 

Our team attended a street festival during the May bank holiday, taking cartoon and drawing resources with them for local families to take part in, and we are currently planning a really exciting local offer for the summer.

So, the big question: What does running a museum post-pandemic look like today? How do you think the public’s method of engaging with heritage and history has changed over the course of the pandemic, and what are you guys doing to tap into the new ‘lay of the land’?

Running a museum right now is based on balancing hope against financial pragmatism! The reality is that it will be a slow road back for visitor numbers, especially as foreign tourism will be absent for a while longer, and it isn’t certain that there will not be further lockdowns.

It is important that we are careful with our spending as 70 per cent of our income is through the door, and we have no idea when fluctuations and growth on that front will happen. On the other side is the hope – we want to be open so people can come in, and we have to move forward hoping that all of the doom and gloom lifts!

During the pandemic a lot more audiences went online, and at the times where there haven’t been lockdowns, people are not travelling far to go on outings. We need to ensure local audiences can find us and enjoy themselves, and we need to keep our online offer in mind.

We have had good success with our free downloadable drawing resources and our online workshops have reached a wider audience than we have done in the past, so we will be keeping a part-online approach to our engagement work in the future.

What is the role of a museum in today’s culture?

I believe a museum should form the hub of its community, both in terms of topic (in our case cartoon and comic artists) and locality (for us Westminster, and London). For a long time museums have been unique in that they are considered a trusted source of information. The work by academics over the past few years that has led into the so-called ‘culture war’ have started to challenge that, both for good and bad, as questions are being asked of the truth presented and how truly representative they are of Western Europe in the 21st Century.

I personally think that museums need to continue to be upheld as arbiters of truth, but to do that they need to take that responsibility seriously and ensure they are fully representative of the people, audiences, objects and stories that they champion.

 What’s the next big move for you guys? What does the future have in store for the Cartoon Museum?

Excitingly, we are currently pulling together our exhibitions programme for the second half of 2022, and getting ready to announce our next In-Focus exhibition that starts in August. We are also looking forward to getting schools and events back in the building!

With a slightly wider lens, we are beginning a period of collections work that will audit our current collection to understand exactly what we have, and the stories that it tells. This will feed into new collection policies that inform what we will collect and display, to ensure we can tell as full and representative a story of the cartoon art form in Britain as possible in the future.

Oxford’s finest | Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on exploring The Ashmolean through licensing

Founded in 1683, The Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, with world famous collections spanning Egyptian mummies to contemporary art. Recognised as the first museum to open its doors to the general public, The Ashmolean holds its ability to tell human stories ‘across cultures and across time’ at the centre of its narrative strain.

And that’s a narrative that the museum has seen vast success in translating into the licensing space, too. Now, with Start Licensing’s own Ian Downes leading the Great British – and one of Oxfordshire’s finest – establishment’s deeper dive into the licensing sector, and with the promise of life springing back into the country’s museum and heritage sector itself, The Ashmolean appears more ready than ever to explore the depths at which its licensing story can be told.

We catch up with Start Licensing’s Ian Downes to learn more about the potential.

With such a wealth of heritage and history not just surrounding the Ashmolean but within it, where do you begin with addressing its potential in the licensing space? Perhaps at the very beginning would make sense, how did the Ashmolean take its first steps into the licensing space?

Like many Museums the Ashmolean has looked at licensing as a way of creating a new revenue stream and a platform for promoting its collection to the public. They have been active in licensing for a number of years and have also had a very active publishing programme. The licensing team at the Ashmolean felt they would benefit from some additional support from a third party agency and ran a tendering process to recruit an agency which I am pleased to say Start Licensing won.

One motivation for the Ashmolean to work with an agency was to extend its reach into new parts of the licensing market and to access new ideas. They had a good foundation of licensees already including well known names such as Surface View, Flametree Publishing, Woodmansterne and Fox & Chave. This has given them exposure in the market and insight into the workings of licensing. Part of our role is to build on this and identify new ways of working.

A key part of this has been to identify core areas for developments such as home decor coupled with identifying design resources. The team at the Ashmolean has been sourcing reference material from the collection on a theme by theme basis to help with business development – for example, we have reference for parts of the collection like ceramic tiles and also design themes like Christmas. This makes it easier to target licensees with ideas. In addition the Ashmolean is working very closely with certain licensees to develop opportunities. For example it’s now working with an apparel company to support it designwise as it responds to retailer briefs and design requests. This hands on approach appeals to licensees and reflects the way that licensees have to pitch to retailers these days.

What has this all taught you about the relationship that the museum could have with the licensing space, and the potential for what the Ashmolean could bring to the ‘heritage licensing’ space?

Given there are some very successful heritage brands in the market already, I think we have to work harder to create a point of difference. I think part of this is being design lead and making it easier for licensees to access the collection in a thematic way.

We need to also be tuned into trends and retailer requests. It is good to know that the Ashmolean is prepared to put time into development work in this way. The fact that licensees can work directly with the Ashmolean team is a good thing and an attractive attribute. Licensees can benefit from the Ashmolean’s detailed knowledge of the collection and its suitability for licensing. We are also working on opportunities that are driven by the Ashmolean’s exhibition programme.

Exhibitions create a real focus on specific parts of the collection and are in a sense, design refreshes. Recently the Ashmolean has had a Pre-Raphaelites exhibition featuring work from John Ruskin. On the back of this we have developed a licensing deal with the Isle of Man Post office and also Conway Stewart for a high end Limited edition pen featuring Ruskin. Both licensees were able to leverage their launches off the publicity the exhibition received.

We are also keen to develop mini programmes fired up by parts of the Ashmolean collections which are particularly strong, such as their coin collection. They have a specific coin gallery that tells the story of money. They have some fabulous coins such as the Oxford Crown minted in Oxford during the English Civil War – we think this sort of thing should interest direct marketing companies who produce collectible coins.

I read that the Ashmolean was the first museum to open its doors to the public, which gives it a rich history in making art and cultural exploration accessible to everyone. Is this an ethos that carries strong within your approach to licensing? What story are you telling through your licensing partnerships and plans? 

Where possible, licensed products are set in the context of the collection. For example the Conway Stewart pen includes a booklet that tells the story of the Museum plus focusses on John Ruskin. The Ashmolean is able to support licensees in this way to add colour and depth to products.

As mentioned earlier, licensing can also create a window for the Ashmolean to shine a light on its collection, helping to bring it to a new audience and to inspire people to visit the Museum. The Museum is a fantastic source and resource. We think licensing can help celebrate the collection and give fresh impetus to it. Seeing designs from the collection feature on licensed products is great and a way of celebrating the original work and creators.

Done well, licensing of a heritage brand can help demystify things and can bring things alive for a new audience. It is also a great chance for licensees to access a wonderful resource that will give them a really authentic story to sell to consumers and retailers.

How is the Ashmolean using licensing to unlock history, art, and different cultures for new generations? What role does the licensing strategy play in preserving the legacy of the museum, and how is this reflected in the partnerships you embark on?

One aspect of this is that licensing is a source of income which helps support the Museum’s work. So there is a direct practical benefit. Licensing can help in bringing parts of the collection to the fore that were maybe overlooked before and it can help draw attention to particular parts of the collection.

Flametree has had great success with Dutch Still Life artwork from the collection. Its calendars have been a great showcase for artwork and may well have encouraged people to come to the museum to see the art in situ.  We are trying to take a product sector and thematic approach to licensing backed up with appropriate materials sourced from the collection. As well as design elements this includes the back story and context for artefacts. This puts the licensing into a context and in some cases helps inspire a direction of travel. For example knowing the story behind the Ashmolean’s ceramic tile collection will help licensees in their product development and also to build a marketing story. In turn this will help consumers gain a better understanding of the collection and the influences behind it.

“I think it is important to innovate in product development terms whilst protecting the legacy of the collection. Innovation can be married with elements of the collection well.”

How has ‘heritage licensing’ changed over recent years? What do consumers expect in terms of brand narrative and storytelling in ‘heritage licensing’ today, and how is this reflected in your approach?

I would say it is a category of licensing that is much more established now and it has moved more into the mainstream. It is less the domain of specialist licensees and a wider cross section of licensees are engaged with it. There is, of course, still a bedrock of licensees that are experts in the category and have built great distribution for heritage brands.

I think consumers are more interested in the authenticity of products these days and products using heritage licenses can provide a very authentic backstory. I think consumers are interested in things like design themes and influences. Heritage licensing by definition has history behind it and that creates a point of difference in a licensing context. Telling the story of objects in conjunction with licensing is a good selling point for licensing and licensees. They can add value to their products and create products that engage with consumers because of the context around them.

The licensing and storytelling potential the Ashmolean boasts must be hugely exciting to explore. What level of creativity does the depth of the portfolio afford you with your licensing plans? 

It has been really enjoyable exploring the museum and its collections with an eye on licensing and design. Pre Lockdown this was something we could do on site, but in recent times this has moved to a more online or virtual process. The Ashmolean has a great website which is a useful reference point for design inspiration.

The licensing team at the Ashmolean has also been very proactive in their support of the licensing programme. They have researched the collections on our behalf to respond to licensing briefs and ideas. This has helped give us a great tool kit to share with licensees. In addition we have created some product concepts and visuals to show licensees how the collection can be translated to licensed products. There is a fair degree of creative freedom for licensees and they can access a whole spectrum of source material to build designs from. We are also exploring specific themes to fit into product opportunities like Male Gifting and Grooming. Here we are accessing specific assets such as art prints and illustrations that fit that category.

We have also created a Curated by design style to allow us to use the Ashmolean name and branding in a different way and to open up the potential for different parts of the collection.

How do you strike the balance in innovating and retaining the heritage and legacy of the museum? 

 I think it is important to innovate in product development terms whilst protecting the legacy of the collection. Innovation can be married with elements of the collection well. We are open to new ideas and new opportunities but would always want to make sure that the Ashmolean’s assets are used in an appropriate way. They work in new categories for licensing such as spirits – there is an Ashmolean Gin, for example. I think part of the skill set is matching products with assets in an appropriate way.

How has the consumer’s relationship with ‘heritage licensing’ changed in the last 12 months? Has lockdown and the pandemic changed the way in which people want to experience art and culture? How does this influence your licensing strategy?

 I think museums, galleries and other institutions worked hard to provide opportunities for the public to remain engaged with them. This ranged from virtual tours to online talks and in other cases collaborating with third parties to develop easy to access content. For example, the Ashmolean worked with the BBC in the early days of Lockdown to produce a programme that was a tour of their Young Rembrandt exhibition. People couldn’t visit the Museum but by filming the exhibition in situ people could still see it and get a sense of it.

The Ashmolean also has a strong following of members and supporters. It has stayed in touch with them throughout the lockdown and has still published the members’ magazine. The magazine has featured licensed products such as the John Ruskin pen. My sense is that people are keen to get back into museums and early indications are that visitors are coming back to the Ashmolean.

The Ashmolean normally has a significant percentage of visitors from outside the UK most notably from the US, China and Japan. We would expect these visitors to return in due course. From a licensing point of view, I think we are keen to showcase and represent all aspects of the Museum’s collection. My sense is that Ashmolean visitors enjoy the rich mixture of the collection and enjoy strolling around the whole Museum. It is important we allow licensees and licensing to reflect this.

What categories or licensing partners will be key to you as you continue to build on the Ashmolean portfolio? Are there any categories you’d like to take the brand into, or boundaries you’d like to push to the next level in art and heritage licensing?

There are a number of categories already in place including Woodmansterne for greetings cards, Surface View for print on demand wall art and coverings, Fox & Chave for ties, The Oxford Artisan Distillery for gin, Flametree for calendars and PJ Studio Accessories for scarves.

In addition, there art good relationships with companies like King & McGaw who work with the museum on print on demand art prints. We have added in the Isle of Man Post Office and Conway Stewart recently. There is also a new deal with start up business Blu Goblin for special edition postcard prints.

We are in active conversations with an apparel company, home decor companies and soft furnishing companies. We are keen to develop these further and also to broker partnerships with brand owners to develop collections in tandem with the Ashmolean.

Beyond the collection, the Ashmolean can support licensees in areas like PR , photo shoots, displays and sponsorship. There is scope for partners to create very rounded partnerships that feature licensing but go beyond a straight product relationship – for example, a paint company could sponsor an exhibition, have their paints used on the gallery walls and sell a licensed range. We are also keen to engage with companies from the arts and crafts area – the Ashmolean has been inspiring people for years. It seems sensible to think that companies who manufacture art kits, craft kits and accessories might see a value in partnering with the Museum to build new collections which can be linked to content from the Museum and featuring well known artists.

We also think it would be great to work with companies based in and around Oxford. One idea is to try to persuade Mini to develop a Limited Edition Mini featuring design elements sourced from the Museum and then feature the Mini at the Museum. The Mini is manufactured roughly three miles from the Ashmolean. Would be great to see two of Oxfordshire’s best known names work together.

What can we expect from the Ashmoelan in the licensing space in the coming year and beyond? What’s the next step for you guys in the sector?

We are keen to keep the momentum going – we have new partners and a number of the existing partners are adding to their ranges. It has also been great see how partners like Woodmansterne have embraced the opportunity and partnership. at the last Spring Fair Woodmansterne used an Ashmolean artwork to theme their stand featuring a large scale artwork as the centrepiece.

It is great to see an experienced licensee like Woodmansterne recognise the quality of the Ashmolean’s collection and to celebrate it in such grand style. We hope to develop some more partnerships that work across different levels and allow both partners to build the partnership beyond a product relationship.

We are always opening up the archive to inspire fresh thinking and ideas. We hope to invite more licensees and retailers to visit the Ashmolean and see the collection for themselves. It won’t fail to inspire and impress.

Van Gogh Museum secured fragrance partner in Floral Street through Licensing Link Europe deal

Licensing Link Europe has secured a new partnership between the independent, clean and sustainable fragrance brand, Floral Street, and the internationally revered Van Gogh Museum. The four year deal will see a line of fragrances and scented home products celebrate the works of Vincent Van Gogh.

A first of its kind collaboration, the partnership will explore how the artist’s passion for the natural world has inspired sustainable scent creations.

“I’m honoured that Floral Street has been chosen as the first fragrance brand to partner with the Van Gogh Museum. Drawing inspiration from Vincent van Gogh’s timeless masterpieces, we discovered a shared love of nature and finding beauty in the everyday. Through this collaboration, we are able to tell our story in a new way, in which the beauty of art and fragrance meet,”  said Michelle Feeney, founder of Floral Street

The partnership will see the first global launch in August 2021, and it will bring to life the beauty and optimism of one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous masterworks. 

Floral Street and the Van Gogh Museum share a mission to inspire a diverse audience for future generations. Our collaboration offers a fresh and different way to experience the art of Van Gogh,”  said Emilie Gordenker, General Director, Van Gogh Museum.

ARTiSTORY teams with Brand Licensing Studios to build retail and partner base across Italy

Brand Licensing Studio is the latest sales agent to join ARTiSTORY’s growing European team in a partnership that will see the European outfit focus on securing retail and brand partners in Italy.

Brand Licensing Studio will look for partnerships to feature designs from ARTiSTORYs’ biannually refreshed creative themes across its growing portfolio of art and cultural IP.

Italy is home to the largest number of luxury brands in the world, many of which are looking to expand their presence internationally and appeal to new audiences.  ARTiSTORY is creating designs to appeal to these consumers and content to engage them.

Established in 2018, Brand licensing Studio is a boutique licensing agency specialising in creating brand extensions and merchandising programmes for artists, design brands and iconic retro characters (like Astro Boy). 

Natasha Dyson, co-founder and licensing director, at ARTiSTORY, said: “Having spent 13 years working as a brand and licensing consultant, working for well know companies in Italy, Ambra is well connected and experienced in the key categories we will be developing in Italy across both retail and brands. We’re very happy to have Ambra join the team and excited to work togther to develop long-term partnerships in Italy.” 

Ambra Farioli, managing director at Brand Licensing Studio, said: “When Natasha invited me to join the amazing team of ARTiSTORY, I really felt honored.

“I have been working with several art IPs and I can say it is a growing trend, especially for the luxury industry. However, there are some difficulties in working with art pieces which ARTiSTORY overcomes as they have been able to perfectly translate artefacts for licensing. I am really looking forward to starting work with these IPs across multiple categories.”