By Barbara Thau
WILLIAMSBURG, Va.–Williamsburg is spreading its home licensing wings.
This year marks the biggest launch of licensed product to date for the brand inspired by the lifestyle, goods and architecture of 18th-century Colonial Williamsburg, Va.
The brand is highlighting that growth with the Williamsburg For All Seasons marketing campaign. Its message: Williamsburg has expanded to dress every room of the home, stretching beyond its formal roots to resonate with the casual lifestyle of today’s shoppers, Jim Easton, vice president of Williamsburg, the products division for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, told HFN.
“We are the oldest licensing program in America,” Easton said, noting the brand dates back to 1937. “The brand has been consistently formal, high-end product for the living room, dining room and bedroom.”
But in the past eight years, Williamsburg has branched out to address a variety of casual lifestyles and homes while staying true to its classic aesthetic, Easton said. “People aren’t just living in this formal way—we wanted to reflect that.”
To that end, the Williamsburg home collection has evolved so that it’s not only appropriate for a formal Thanksgiving dinner but also for casual entertaining, such as “serving lemonade on the back porch or for decorating the house for spring,” Easton said. “We are important 12 months a year.”
Sara Carcieri, a marketing executive for Reed & Barton, a new licensee, agreed. “They have repositioned the brand to be more cutting edge and timeless,” she said.
The Williamsburg For All Seasons hook is the culmination of that effort, reflected in the spate of new and expanded licensing partnerships. As of January, more than 20 licensees launched new products.
Williamsburg boasts more than 60 licensees, 7,000 products and over $100 million in retail sales, Easton said.
Each product in the Williamsburg collection is based on the thousands of items—home objects, rare books or images—in its archives.
Merchandise reflects reproductions of archival material as well as “interpretative products”—the fastest-growing part of the collection, Easton said.
“So whereas a decade ago, the most formal, elegant, high-style mahogany furniture piece that would have been owned by the gentry” would typify the program, today, things like everyday ceramic earthenware are gaining steam, said Chris Fischer, Williamsburg’s director of licensing.
The brand has expanded to holiday home decor as well as outdoor entertaining and gardening with new licensees Reed & Barton, Aldik and Campania.
Reed & Barton bowed its first collection of Williamsburg holiday-themed dinnerware, flatware and stemware in January.
Next up is a collection of alternative metal gifts for spring.
Holiday decor from Aldik takes its cue from botanicals inspired by the Christmas decorations seen throughout Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area.
Aldik and Williamsburg launched the “Williamsburg For All Seasons” campaign this winter during the Atlanta and Dallas markets.
The companies collaborated on the line “using the current and historical reproductions of the area as inspiration, combining this with current color and lifestyle trends to create a home decor line that is up to date,” Zury Segal, director of marketing and product management for Aldik, told HFN.
While the Williamsburg aesthetic is 18th-century classic, “We’re aware of what’s going on in the world of design,” Easton said.
Meanwhile, new licensee Campania adds garden accessories, such as cast stone urns based on those found at Colonial Williamsburg’s Governor’s Palace, to the line.
Licensee Capel has developed an extensive line of braided, machine-made and hand-knotted Williamsburg rugs during its six-year partnership.
“Our interpretive license allows us flexibility to create designs that may be classic or transitional while still representing the Colonial Williamsburg look,” Mary Clara Capel, director of administration, told HFN.
“Capel’s product development team works closely with the retail buyers at Williamsburg in addition to the home brand coordinator,” Capel said.
Williamsburg’s biggest channels of distribution are independent specialty stores; department stores such as Macy’s, Dillard’s and Belk; and 23 Williamsburg-branded stores, its Web site and catalog. The brand is also sold through lighting showrooms.
Williamsburg is a non-profit operation. Royalty revenues from licensees get pumped back into the museum to purchase more items for the collection.
While there are other non-profit brands such as The Smithsonian, “We’re the only one that has a full line of product,” Easton said.
Although, Williamsburg has “filled big holes in our brand, we’re not as strong in the kitchen today,” he said.
“We’ve thought about pots and pans—there would be good inspiration for that here” at the archives, Easton said. “That’s sort of on the list.” — Andrea Lillo, Allison Zisko and Jennifer Quail contributed to this report.