The Licensing Lookout: The Word on the Street

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes heads down to Carnaby Street and finds it’s more like ‘Collab Street’.

Inspired by a feature on Antiques Roadshow, I took a stroll along Carnaby Street this week. The Antiques Roadshow feature compares three related items and invites the TV audience to rank them by value. This week’s feature focused on jackets. The selection included a Mod style boating blazer by Lord John.

Lord John was one of the stars of Swinging Sixties London and the brand had a boutique on Carnaby Street. This bit of fashion and cultural history is recalled in a series of plaques along Carnaby Street. Lord John was described as ‘trend setting’ and in turn Carnaby Street was the go to place for dedicated followers of fashion.

Carnaby Street may no longer be swinging, but it is certainly a smart shopping street.
Carnaby Street may no longer be swinging, but it is certainly a smart shopping street.

However, during the 70s and 80s Carnaby Street lost its lustre and became quite a tawdry street, largely occupied by low grade tourist shops with a few Mod shops and tailors doing their best to uphold the Street’s heritage. More recently the Street seems to have bounced back and has become a destination for shoppers seeking out contemporary fashion brands. This may not be to everyone’s taste but it is good to see Carnaby Street recapturing some of its 60s verve. It may no longer be swinging, but it is certainly a smart shopping street.

Some brands on the street still come and go – for example Pretty Green‘s shop closed recently, but generally it seems that the Street’s tenants have got their retail offer and pitch right. The consumer mix seems to be tourists and local workers in the week with out of town shoppers arriving at the weekends.

My snapshot analysis was that it is a relatively young consumer group – although one shopkeeper I chatted to who runs a tailoring firm did remark that he gets a lot of 70 year old Mods popping in at the weekend to chat about the good old days!

The Gorillaz collaboration with G Shock was being prominently promoted.
The Gorillaz collaboration with G Shock was being prominently promoted.

From a licensing point of view Carnaby Street could be renamed Collab Street. Many of the fashion brands feature or are frequent users of ‘collabs’. From the outside, it is unwise to assume what the deal is for a collab but it is fair to say that they can help create a conversation, drive consumer uptake and reset a brand design wise. There were a few on show in Carnaby Street this week.

One was being promoted prominently by watch brand G Shock. It was a partnership with the ‘band’ Gorillaz. It was well communicated and given a lot of prominence. It seemed like a good partnership to me from a creative perspective and one that suits both brands. I went to see Gorillaz at the 02 last year and reflecting on that one challenge might be identifying who the band’s audience is. Because it seemed quite diverse at the 02. That might be the point of this partnership.

Maybe the motivation for G Shock is more around creating a promotional platform and engagement with a wider audience. It may also be a partnership that works in venues and via direct marketing to ticket purchasers for instance. For Gorillaz, it brings the brand alive for consumers outside of concert season and I guess it allows it to explore partnerships that it feels comfortable with that in turn help music sales and fit the band’s ethos. I am sure Gorillaz design style also appealed to G Shock.

Puma's tie up with Tyakasha is a reminder it is also now a lifestyle brand and not just sports.
Puma's tie up with Tyakasha is a reminder it is also now a lifestyle brand and not just sports.

Sports brand Puma has a large shop on Carnaby Street which underpins the fact that Puma is a lifestyle brand not just a sportswear brand these days. It seems to have jumped lanes into spaces like music. Currently it is promoting a partnership with a design brand called Tyakasha.

I confess I had to look it up. Puma’s website describes the partnership thus: ‘Based out of Shanghai, Tyakasha is taking over the streetwear world with their lively, eclectic prints and designs. Their latest collaboration with PUMA goes intergalactic, featuring designs inspired by a fantastical team of astronauts and their space pirate boat. With whimsical illustrations, futuristic silhouettes, and cool hues, PUMA x TYAKASHA is far out’.

I am guessing the Puma x Tyakasha  partnership and design resonate with a younger audience and help reinforce Puma’s credentials. It will also help Puma develop business in China. A consumer market that is looking increasingly attractive to brand owners. This is a good example of how a ‘collab’ can help a brand project a fresh or different vibe and also create retail theatre.

Part of the role of flagship stores like those in Carnaby Street is to wave a brand flag. Activations like this one give consumers a reason to visit physical shops especially if they are coupled with personal appearances, in-store exclusives and events. A mixed economy of store activations and digital marketing can help build consumer relationships. All contributing to sales opportunities. Licensing has a real role to play in retail. Licensing can help them develop a  a toolkit for to build ongoing consumer relationships.

Stance has teamed up with Marvel for a new range of socks.
Stance has teamed up with Marvel for a new range of socks.

Carnaby Street also houses a few shops that seem to be launch stores for brands or one off location specific shops. It has a good footfall and a central London location, but also includes smaller sized units and, of course, has a fashion heritage. I noticed that sock brand Stance has a store on Carnaby Street. Stance also sells products like underwear. Among other things it was selling a broad range of Marvel socks. This range was accompanied in store by bold comic art themed signage. Stance also sells in stores like Selfridges and has a Covent Garden store as well. The company is relatively young and has origins in genres like skatewear. It uses brand ambassadors from sports like golf, American football and basketball. Seeing it feature licensed products is encouraging and shows that licensing can play a role with fast developing retailers.

Brands like Marvel have global appeal and will fit a retailer expanding internationally. Product design and specification will need to reflect price points and usage. Licensing needs to be aware of the broader retail landscape and provide commercially attractive options for all types of retail. One size certainly doesn’t fit al in retail terms.

Licensing is a core part of New Era's business.
Licensing is a core part of New Era's business.

Another specialist retailer on Carnaby Street is New Era. A cap manufacturer and retailer. Licensing is a core part of its business. At the moment, it is promoting a NFL range under the banner NFL Sidelines – Celebrating 100 Years of Champions. The range and the promotion of it have a very authentic feel to them. Underpinning the value of a long-term and deep brand partnership.

This New Era store is I imagine a destination store for the growing band of NFL fans. Again the location reinforces the fact that the NFL is a sports brand with street fashion credentials.

Moss Bros is promoting  range of James Bond 007 Casino Royale inspired suits.
Moss Bros is promoting range of James Bond 007 Casino Royale inspired suits.

Beyond Carnaby Street I noticed an interesting retail activation in the Strand. Moss Bros is promoting a range of James Bond 007 Casino Royale inspired suits in tandem with a Secret Cinema screening of the film.

Good to see an upscale retailer placing their faith in a brand partnership and also a sign how event based opportunities like Secret Cinema are now part of pop culture.

The AA's recent campaign inspired by Red Dwarf made The Times this week.
The AA's recent campaign inspired by Red Dwarf made The Times this week.

As we approach Brand Licensing Europe it was also good to see a promotional partnership mentioned in despatches on the City pages of national newspapers.

The AA has been running a TV advertising campaign featuring and based on the cult TV classic Red Dwarf. The headline in the City pages of The Times was ‘AA hands keys to Red Dwarf in drive to attract more members’. A great testimonial for licensing and licensed promotions.

Let’s hope BLE provides us with opportunities to create more partnerships like this one and to reinforce the value of licensing.

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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