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Dress you up: how licences took over the catwalk

From Star Wars to SpongeBob, Barbie to Hello Kitty, we look at how brands have captivated fashion designers.

The world of high-end designer fashion has long been associated with producing limited edition lines for select brands, but over the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of innovative collaborations between some of our best known properties and the world of fashion.

From Barbie to SpongeBob Squarepants, and Star Wars to Looney Tunes, it seems that any designer worth his or her salt wants the chance to show what they can do with a licence. So, what’s the attraction?

“Designers get the attention of fans of the property and media attention for taking on a recognisable brand,” explains Marianne James, vp consumer products UK & Ireland and European retail sales and marketing at Nickelodeon. “I also think there might be something very satisfying in the challenge of bringing a beloved character to cutting edge fashion.”

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SpongeBob Squarepants is one such beloved character that has been getting a lot of attention from the fashion world recently. These range from Jeremy Scott’s line for Moschino and Pharrell’s ICECREAM range in 2013, through to the recently launched collaborations with Beatrix Ong, Hype Clothing and YrStore.

“We met Beatrix through our Asian office and once we met [her], her love of SpongeBob was apparent and our partnership was formed,” Marianne continues. “Hype approached us earlier this year to collaborate on SpongeBob and it was a perfect union of our brands, given the popular culture and fashion credentials of SpongeBob.”

Part of the attraction for designers can also be the nostalgia they hold for certain brands. This was the case for Sanrio and Olympia Le Tan – when the company got in touch with the designer because it thought the brands would be a perfect fit, she quickly let it be known that Hello Kitty, Little Twin Stars and My Melody were her whole childhood and having them as part of her next collection would be a dream come true.

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“By teaming up with a fashion designer, we are showing our audience that Hello Kitty and Sanrio characters are growing up with them and that our brands are for fashionable adults, not just children,” says Clara Wooller, director of sales and promotions at Sanrio.

The company is also working with Alice Vandy, who works primarily in lycra, creating second skins for clubbers and who it came across at last year’s London Comic Con.

“When you have the decades of awareness and love that Sanrio brands are so privileged to enjoy, people go nuts for fresh interpretations of well loved characters in playful or subversive new ways,” adds Camille Brochant de Villiers, Sanrio’s brand and sales coordinator.

“Collaborations and co-brandings are the norm in Japan where Sanrio originates and are becoming more so over here – we’re always happy to talk to people about how we could work together on projects or products.”

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For Mattel and its fashion doll brand Barbie, working with designers has been a natural fit for a long time. Most recently, it expanded its apparel partnership with Mango Kids for a retro pop art-inspired range including a t-shirt and sweater, celebrating the Barbie logo and doll.

Wendy Hill, brand activation director at Mattel, says: “Working with a selective range of high fashion and attainable brands in an organic way that is very true to Barbie’s brand, gives Barbie unparalleled influence in the fashion doll space, reaching audiences across an incredibly broad variety of media.

“For designers and brands when working with Barbie, the flexibility in imagining what she can be is instantly appealing.”

As Sanrio’s Camille pointed out, working with a designer can also help a well known children’s brand break into a whole new market, giving it the opportunity to be seen in a completely different light.

Warner Bros’. Looney Tunes scored a huge hit when it teamed with Moschino for a collection which was loved by critics, celebrity influencers and consumers alike, for example.

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Meanwhile, at the same time, the brand’s tie up with NBA and Nike has helped WBCP to expand on the sports credentials of the property.

“Looney Tunes is a rule maker and indeed rule breaker,” says Paul Bufton, vp of licensing and business development at WBCP WMEA. “From high end to high street, the Looney Tunes are proving to be a positive disruptive force in the apparel category.

“Brand collaborations are a fantastic endorsement and they are a proven way of extending the audience reach and retail footprint of our brands. Creatively it’s also a winning combination, new insight and an inspiring outside perspective has lead to the creation of some fantastic products.”

Johanne Broadfield, vp, Cartoon Network Enterprises, Turner EMEA – which has worked with Moschino and Desigual among others – points out that such tie ups are also about inspiring existing audiences too, and getting them deeper into the brands.

“The beauty of a successful collaboration is the benefit it brings to both brands in terms of media excitement and customer engagement,” she says. “We received a great deal of media coverage globally for The Powerpuff Girls collection by Moschino because it surprised and excited both Moschino followers and a generation of fans of the original show. It’s not just about opening up new audiences or markets.”

There are further collaborations to come throughout 2016 from a variety of licensors and it will certainly be interesting to see who some of our most loved brands end up working with.

This feature originally appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of The Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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