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The Varieties of Licensing
by Frank Stankus

What would it be like if you could stock your shelves with items that combine the exclusiveness of a name like Jose Hess with the wide-ranging appeal of a name like Mickey Mouse? How about having attractively-priced non-jewelry designer items for those customers who buy everything bearing such names as Stephen Dweck and Lisa Jenks? And if you discovered in conversation that a customer was a rabid Titanic fan, would you have anything to offer them?

You can do all of these things and more if you take advantage of the many licensing deals that are available to retail jewelers. While licensing has not exactly become a trend that is taking the country by storm, it is useful for retailers to be aware of the opportunities that matched high-end pairings like Disney and Jose Hess can bring.

The first thing to know is that licensing can take many forms. The Jose Hess/DIsney linkup is a prime example of a designer putting his name and style on a licensed character and manufacturing it. The obverse occurs when someone else manufactures a designer's product as, for example, when Sasaki produces flatware with Lisa Jenks's name on it. A third variation is when someone who is not a jewelry designer, typically a fashion designer, has a jewelry line made that reflects the "look" of their main product, usually clothing. And there are other varieties of licensing too numerous to list.

No matter the flavor, licensing brings smiles to retailers for many reasons. The first one that seems to pop into everyone's mind is that it enables some outlets to carry an exclusive name that they might not otherwise be able to do. The Jose Hess-Disney pairing, in which the designer makes jewelry featuring traditional Disney characters like Mickey, Minnie and soon Winnie the Pooh at $500 to $3,000 price points, is a prime example. Another is the Peanuts and Garfield lines made by Cornelis Hollander.

These types of items tend to have a very good sell-through, a fact not lost on shop owners. "Snoopy has a very loyal following," says Hollander, "and many of his fans want everything ever made with him on it." Jose Hess echoes the sentiment. "There are a lot of Disney fans out there who collect Mickey, certainly enough to support a high-end line," he reports.

Although the franchisers are extremely particular about how their character should appear, it is more than compensated for by the fact that it can not be copied, even remotely. "If a pose is not exactly the way they want it, it goes back to the drawing board," says Hollander, who immediately adds "But once you have it, you can sell it for years."

Because both Hess and Hollander produce their characters as a separate line completely apart from their usual product, the kinds of outlets that carry these licensed goods are often not the usual place to find their branded goods. "I thought it would be good to have a fun-to-wear display of these items near the cash registers," mused Hollander, "but most retail store outlets didn't go for that. I guess they would rather concentrate on selling a $2,000 item than on a $200 impulse buy." Consequently, he found that the bulk of his clients were independents. His line of Snoopy and Garfield jewelry ranges in price from $80 to $2,000 wholesale with the curious development that the best-selling ring in this line is a $2,000 pave Snoopy ring.

These two designers expanded their reach into the marketplace by licensing someone else's character and making it their way. Others have taken the opposite approach, having someone else produce their designs. One of the early entries still current in this market is Stephen Dweck who has been licensing designs for flatwear and other tabletop products to Lunt and Sasaki since the late '80s.

"It's a continuation of the brand name," explains Edmond Dweck. "The original market benefits from this extra exposure." Jewelry stores get an opportunity to make additional sales by bringing in a product that they may not ordinarily carry, such as a three-piece serving group by Stephen Dweck.

Another of Sasaki's big players in the flatware market, Lisa Jenks, shares these sentiments. Jenks, who designs two patterns for the Japanese company, one of which is the company's best seller, says that her experience with retailers who carry her goods in both jewelry and flatware, is that they have benefitted by developing the brand name in both aspects. "Things translate from one category to another," says the designer who also creates barware and crystal vases for Sasaki. "They sort of feed off each other." Edmond Dweck concurs, pointing out that non-jewelry products often enhance the "credibility of designer jewelry."

While these licensing deals are examples of how well these arangements can work, none approach the pact that Robert Lee Morris has with the Japanese company Vendome Yamada. Even he calls it "very amazing," in part because it is still in effect after 17 years. It is also an example of how licensing arrangements can be good for retailers because it was a retailer, the Isetan department store in Tokyo, that initiated the deal. After Morris won the Coty award for the jewelry he made for Calvin Klein in 1981, the store wanted to buy the jewelry as well as the Calvin Klein clothes. They did, but it turned out to be so expensive after all of the duties were paid that they contacted Vendome Yamada to see if an arrangement could be worked out that would allow the goods to be made domestically. Fortunately for all concerned, it could.

Under the agreement that continues to this day, Morris sends Vendome Yamada a new collection several times a year and they duplicate it domestically. Both this Japanese-produced line and the American-made version are sold in Japan but at widely differing price points. It's a matter of status for many Japanese buyers to buy the pricier American-made version, but the bulk of the sales are of the Japanese-produced product. For his part, Morris has benefitted beyond the royalty checks that licensees receive. The pact opened 15 outlets in Japan, no small achievement. "Their job is to maintain my image as a prestige name," he says. Apparantly, they are doing a good job. "My name is well-known in Japan," he says.

Morris has recently signed another deal with M. Fabrikant & Son to produce jewelry and other luxury goods in the United States, but says it is more of a partnership or joint venture. Nonetheless, he is still giving the company permission for a limited period of time to use his name on a number of products over which he exercises design and quality control.

Another American venturing into the Japanese market by way of licensing is Jordan Schlanger of New York. His deal is with Imayo, for which he designs a line specifically for the Japanese market. Like the Robert Lee Morris arrangement with Vendome Yamada, Imayo will manufacture, distribute and sell the pieces which will include items available exclusively in Japan. Curiously, what drew Schlanger to the Japanese market was the realization that he had a big Asian following in the United States.

The fashion world has certainly weighed in with a number of new jewlery lines by big name fashion designers, only a few of whom have struck licensing deals. Most wish to maintain total control over manufacturing , distribution and sales, and in some cases have their own stores to fill with their own merchandise. "Typically," explains Robert Lee Morris, "licensing occurs when somebody wants to put your name on a product that they already do very well. It's great for a market you don't know particularly well, say handbags. In a case like that, it's better to license to someone who knows that market."

That appears to be the approach adopted by fashion designer Cynthia Rowley. In a deal with S. K. F. International, she has debuted several lines of sterling silver jewelry reflecting her signature picture frame logo and other elements carried over from her fashion work. For her, jewelry is only one of many types of accessories produced under license. Others include knitwear, footwear, hosiery and hats.

One designer whose business depends heavily on licenses from a number of sources is Catherine Baumann of Beverly Hills who makes minaudieres in such shapes as Coca-Cola bottles, Campbell soup cans and Mickey Mouse. She recently got a lot of notice when one of her minaudieres in the shape of the ship Titanic was carried at the Academy Awards show. Among the other companies she has signed licensing agreements with are such fixtures of the American landscape as McDonald's, Warner Brothers, King Features, Mattel, MGM, Wilson Sporting Goods and a number of others. There is a reason for these choices, she says. "As a former Miss America," she explains, "I take American icons and turn them into pop art."

Licensing deals like these bring in royalty checks, it is true, but almost universally the designers brought up another aspect about the work that goes into these projects. "This is the fun part," relates Lisa Jenks. "It's nice to stretch in a different way, to get other inspirations." Jose Hess was, if anything, even more emphatic. When asked if his licensed creations were fun to make, he shot back without hesitation. "Absolutely! We really have a good time making these."

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This article originally appeared in Lustre magazine. Used here with permission.

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