Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, May 6, 2011
WHETHER BASED ON A LIFESTYLE, A DESIGNER, A MAGAZINE OR A MOUSE, LICENSED COLLECTIONS CONTINUE TO SUIT THE NEEDS OF CONSUMERS.
At this month's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, Henry Hall Designs will debut the Talenti Collection, international artist Karim Rashid's first venture into residential outdoor furniture. Infused with Rashid's signature minimalism, the pieces are made of steel rods covered in a metal mesh and painted with eight coats of ceramic paint, available in bronze, white and light shades of yellow, pink, turquoise and green.
Owner Henry Hall said he finds Rashid's work incredibly inspiring and innovative on many levels, "Karim is a designer in the true sense of the word. He is willing to take risks for the integrity and purity of his designs."
Victoria Hall described Rashid's designs as "a breath of fresh air." She added his outdoor furniture is quite sturdy despite its light appearance. "He's an incredibly prolific designer," she said. "We think he doesn't sleep."
Rashid has worked with an impressive array of clients over the years including Alessi, Umbra, Prada and Issey Miyake. His numerous awards include the Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Award and the international Red Dot Award.
Joe Ruggiero, who won fame through HGTV, has witnessed licensing efforts by celebrities who viewed it as a get-rich-quick scheme as well as well-known designers who are closely involved with the products.
"I think we will see more outdoor (home furnishings) going indoor," Ruggiero said. He noted up to 120 fabric choices are available in his licensed line and predicted all fabrics will be performance fabrics in another 20 years. "Sunbrella has been the real core," he said.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's been great," Ruggiero said of his licensed lines. "I love working with Woodard. The lights are already on outdoors with Craft made."
Offering Ruggiero's licensed lines "brought credibility immediately outside the industry," Miles Talbott President George Jordan said. "We are seeing more than 50% growth in this category this year. Time is the most precious commodity for shoppers today. They've already done the research online before they go to the store."
Jordan agreed with Ruggiero's comment about boundaries disappearing between indoor and outdoor living areas.
In its fourth year as a Woolrich licensee, Whitecraft finds its first introduction in the line, Chatham Run, is its third overall best-selling collection while River Run is its fourth overall best-seller. "I truly expect by the end of the year, River Run will pass Chatham Run in sales," said Bill Herren, Whitecraft director of sales and marketing. The newer Birchwood Collection offers a lighter appearance for the Woolrich customer.
"There really is a whole audience out there for Woolrich, which has a specific look that they want," Herren said. "With Woolrich, especially, it gave us an opportunity to design a group of furniture that we had not thought about. It gave us a whole different way to manufacture a style of furniture that nobody else was doing."
Last fall, Whitecraft also launched a licensed outdoor furnishings program with Biltmore, the nation's largest privately owned residence. After the license was signed, the staff at Biltmore allowed Herren to tour the estate in Asheville, N.C., and draw design inspiration from areas not open to the public. An advantage to the Biltmore license is its own catalog and a huge database of customer names drawn from visits to Biltmore House.
"I don't think a name per se is as important as a lifestyle," Herren said. "Basically, the outdoor is turning into an extension of your indoor." He said the company's motivation for a license is to make it easy for developing designs consumers will want.
"It helps when all the brand partners can work together," Herren said. "When that happens, it presents a whole look that all blends together." Whitecraft recently added a loveseat, swivel lounge chair, cocktail table and another dining table to its South Terrace line, an all-weather woven collection inspired by pieces in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House.
NorthCape International is in its third season as a partner with Southern Living magazine. "We have four collections, and they're all doing well," said Kim Golson of NorthCape International. "I never was a true believer in licensed lines, but partnering up with Chromcraft-Revington in its High Point showroom has been a real plus in gaining exposure to full-line furniture stores."
Golson said the containersonly line sells in other parts of the nation, but especially in the South, where the Southern Living name is well known.
Lloyd/Flanders also has developed four casual furniture lines inspired by lifestyles along the nation's coasts and lakesides as part of its collaboration with consumer magazine Coastal Living.
"We were already advertising in Coastal Living so this license just seemed to make sense," Lloyd/Flanders President Dudley Flanders said. "Stanley Furniture had developed the brand for indoors so it was a natural extension for us to go into outdoors."
Flanders said the line has been successful with the company's current dealer base. "We're hearing from the dealers that people are coming in and asking for it by name," he said.
Bill Markowitz, president of Veneman Collections, said he expects to see more licensing relationships in the future. "More talented designers are interested in the outdoors than they have been in years," he said. "Roger Thomas, for example, loves working with outdoor designs. At the Wynn in Las Vegas, we did the sun-beds in the water. We get a lot of calls just from the label on those."
In addition to its Roger Thomas designs, Veneman began working with Disney Consumer Products in 2009 to expand the Walt Disney Signature Collection, Disney's first non-character lifestyle brand. "Walt Disney, the person, loved to entertain, and he loved furniture," Markowitz said. "We still have to have the market understand there is a relationship to licensing. Once the marriage is correct, the branding and licensing will grow. The stumbling block seems to be on the retail floor because they think the licensed product is more expensive."
The Rug Market is in its third year of making rugs with the Walt Disney Signature license. "We have participated in earlier license agreements, but we think this is great for now because it's the second best-known license (after Coca- Cola)," said Andrew Shabtai, vice president, The Rug Market America. "Our goal is to stick with Disney."
When asked why he thinks the license has been successful, Shabtai said customers are curious because the rugs are not character-driven. "At first, they are trying to understand how these elegant designs and patterns fit in," he said. "The line is based on Walt Disney's lifestyle and tastes; he was a very wealthy man and had a nice, extravagant lifestyle."
Although inspired by natural elements in Disney cartoons, the patterns are more mature. On the back of every tag, a story explains how the concept was developed. The colors are toned-down, safe colors and tend to be more neutral than other rugs in The Rug Market's line, he said.
"We keep it fashionable, in line with what's currently happening with fabrics and the home furnishings market," Shabtai said. "The Disney Company is a great company to work with. They have the same type of energy we're trying to bring. For example, they will not accept failure and neither will we. We make sure we're all on the same page."
Agio International had a strong response after it partnered with Disney in 2008. Dealer support for the Animal Kingdom and Grand Floridian Collections continued in 2009, but the Yacht Club group was not as well-received, according to Agio President and CEO Bob Gaylord. He noted that all three are high-end sets and the economic conditions did not help with placement or sell-through.
"The Animal Kingdom, surprisingly, is the best-selling collection, with its tropical design and animal print fabric pillows and umbrella trim," Gaylord said. "We have revamped the Grand Floridian in terms of finish and fabric, but for some reason that continues to take a backseat to the Animal Kingdom."
The company had expected the traditional style and mixed media materials would make the Grand Floridian sell best, but even after Agio revamped the finish and fabric of the Grand Floridian, the Animal Kingdom continues to lead the pack, Gaylord said.
"Disney is one of the most recognized brands in the country and their resorts are all about the best in outdoor living, so the tie-in makes a lot of sense," Gaylord said of the licensing partnership. "I only wish we had not started this program at the beginning of the Great Recession. In a few years, when the economy and housing market recovers, higher-end collections will flourish again. But, then again, dealers who have embraced the set continue to do very well with them."
Elegant detailing blends with sturdy, fundamental craftsmanship in Low Country, one of four Coastal Living collections manufactured by Lloyd/Flanders.
NorthCape International provides an updated version of heirloom wicker pieces in Tidewater, one of four full outdoor groups in the Southern Living Home Collection.
Inspired by pieces in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House, South Terrace is an all-weather group made by Whitecraft for Biltmore Chateau Reserve.