Fashion's a Factor at the Licensing Expo

And Leading the Display Down the Runway Is . . . Yes, Hasbro

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Fashion brands across the quality spectrum make extensive use of licensing. Designers such as Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, Donna Karan and pretty much anyone else that you can think of , have robust licensing programs. Marcolin Eyewear out of Italy is an example. It maintains eyewear licenses for a variety of designer brands including Tom Ford, DSquared2, John Galliano Eyewear, Roberto Cavalli and Tod's.

Statistics furnished by the International Licensing Expo show that $35 billion of licensed-product sales began as fashion brands. Yet fashion -- especially designer fashion -- has been largely absent from the Expo. The only fashion brand with a consistent presence at the show over the years has been Sketchers. Why is this? I asked a colleague who represents a number of high-end fashion brands.

"This just isn't our show," she replied, "when we are looking to secure licenses for fashion brands we prefer to go to MAGIC in the U.S. or Pitti Uomo and Bread and Butter in Europe."

But, walking the show, it is obvious that fashion is working its way into the International Licensing Expo, and it's about time. While the high-end designers likely will continue to rely on runway shows rather than trade shows, there is certainly room for more mass fashion brands.

Part of this shift is being driven by Advanstar, organizer of both the International Licensing Expo and Magic, which clearly is hoping to create synergies between the shows. This year Advanstar created a Fashion District, made up of mostly private-label apparel manufacturers and featuring a Pan Am Sky Lounge (DJ included). The only thing missing is the real garmentos (of the Seventh Avenue variety) pushing racks through the aisles.

But there is also a real trend occurring out there. Anchoring the Fashion District are two first-time exhibitors, Cherokee Group and Von Dutch. Cherokee Group, which owns mass brands such as Cherokee (exclusive to Target in the United States), Laila Ali and others, is looking for new retail partners here and internationally. Von Dutch was bought in 2009 by Groupe Royer S.A. and re-launched as a multinational licensing company similar to The Sharper Image and Linens 'n Things. Von Dutch is in the process of re-launching a contemporary lifestyle brand in the United States (first apparel, then accessories and beyond) and has come to the show to meet with manufacturers and retailers.

Interestingly, the one property that stands to influence how much fashion licensing takes place at the International Licensing Expo is not a traditional fashion brand. It's Hasbro. The Rhode Island-based global toy and board-game company has boldly chosen this year to showcase its fashion products front and center. When I first saw the Hasbro booth, I thought I was looking at American Eagle (which is not exhibiting at the show)!

While non-fashion brands have dabbled in apparel licensing for a long time (I was involved in the creation of Coca-Cola Clothes in the late 1980s), but I have never seen such a concerted effort by a brand like Hasbro.

According to Bryony Bouyer, Hasbro's SVP Franchise Development & Marketing, Global Brand Licensing & Publishing, Hasbro already enjoys "solid beachheads" in toys, digital gaming and publishing. Focusing on fashion is smart for Hasbro. Not only can the brand capitalize on the buzz that comes from collaborating with new and unusual partners, such as FILA, Mighty Fine, Forever 21, Hot Topic and Japan's Uniqlo, but consumers can connect with Hasbro's properties in ways that are more intimate and personal. Is there any stronger way to show your love for a brand or property than incorporating it into your personal style? Furthermore, Hasbro can efficiently reach a much wider audience with each property. For example, Hasbro is featuring My Little Pony-inspired fashion products designed for men, women and children. Yes, even men! Bryoney introduced me to a phenomenon called Bronies, or "bro ponies," men/fanboys obsessed with My Little Pony. I also saw interesting female fashions for the G.I. Joe brand.

This raises a number of questions for any non-fashion brand entering fashion. The fashion world is very different than the toy or publishing worlds. Fashion brands are required to come up with new collections and products seasonally, not yearly. It is no longer about figuring out the next killer toy for Christmas; now it is about figuring out the killer look for back-to-school, spring, summer, fall and winter. How will this impact the brand's licensing program and resources? Who is responsible for creating the brand's fashion-design aesthetic? Is it the licensor or the licensee? If the licensee, then how will the brand ensure a cohesive look and feel for the collections across fashion product categories? Do they need to bring on fashion creative directors to oversee the properties? I am sure a brand like Hasbro will figure all of this out.

Show wrap-up and parting thoughts tomorrow.

Michael Stone is president and chief executive officer of Beanstalk, an Omnicom Group-owned global brand licensing consultancy. You can follow Beanstalk @BeanstalkGroup.
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