There’s nothing revolutionary about brands adorning their products with cultural intellectual property (IP). In 2013, Uniqlo released an “immersive art apparel” line with MoMA; two years earlier, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) had dropped Keith Haring Levis jackets; and way back in 2010, Estee Lauder channeled its inner bauhaus with a Neue Galerie lipstick compact.
The enduring financial stress the pandemic has foisted on cultural organizations, however, is supercharging a model that has long proved extremely lucrative in the entertainment and sports industries. Key to these are licensing programs and pre-2019, only a handful of global cultural institutions boasted developed strategies. Today, the number leveraging IP for revenue is growing, as evidenced by the likes of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Gallery signing with IP licensing specialists over the past year.
Here are some recent stand out museum IP collaborations.
Van Gogh Museum x Casely
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum has proven long proven adept at leveraging its IP through partnerships and collaborations — DHL, Vans, Playmobil to name but three. It’s a position the museum has strengthened and expanded further under the pandemic’s shadow, in part signaled with its new agreement with IMG last year. Its Blueprint Collections, aided by Licensing Link, saw it recognized at the Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Award this year. Recently, it worked with Casely on a four-piece phone case release featuring some of the Impressionist artist’s most celebrated works. Next up? A collaboration with high-end yoga brand Manduka.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art x Ten Thousand Things
In late September, the Met released a new series of expansive licensing partnerships running into 2022 and spanning Ann Gish in home decor, Olympia Le Tan for fashion, and Kidrobot on collectable art toys (courtesy of agency Beanstalk). The announcement followed a collaboration with local New York jewelry brand Ten Thousand Things, a boutique built by fashion designers turned self-taught jewelers Ron Anderson and David Rees. The result is a seven-piece release of handcrafted abstract designs inspired by the galleries of ancient art and artifacts long-visited by the jewelers that includes chrysoprase drop earrings and a matte silver necklace of miniature pearls.
MOCA x Vans
The iconic Californian skateboard brand has become a serial collaborator with cultural institutions in recent years, launching sunflower and almond blossom editions with Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and a range of contemporary art apparel with MoMA in 2020. This time, Vans has looked a little closer to home by teaming up with MOCA. It’s a two-drop collaboration with the first featuring classic Vans silhouettes adorned with MOCA’s logo and the second integrating work from a trio of California artists all on display at MOCA, Judy Baca, Brenna Youngblood, and Frances Stark.
Louvre x Uniqlo
After years of sporadic — albeit high-profile — collaborations, 2020’s lockdowns pushed the Parisian institution to demonstrate the patently obvious: the invaluable collection of the world’s most visited museum has a veritable market price. The first step? Break from the portal it shared with the Grand Palais, Musée d’Orsay, and Versailles and launch its own online store. Collaborations galore promptly followed. The Louvre worked with Casetify to put Liberty, Venus, and Mona Lisa on iPhone cases and water bottles, released an eight-piece collection with Netflix post-Lupin success, dropped hoodies with Off-White, and partnered with local designer Maison Sarah Lavoine on a range of home goods.
The most wide-ranging and lucrative agreement, however, is the four-year deal it signed with Uniqlo. Aiming to introduce the public to museum masterpieces and integrate “the joy of art in daily life,” the collaboration recently released its second edition, a collection of apparel and accessories at affordable price points.
Basquiat x Tiffany & Co.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tiffany’s annual advent calendar, a four-foot wooden cabinet fronted by the prodigious New York artist’s 1982 work “Equals Pi” and home to 24 boxes of wrapped luxury. Created in partnership with global licensing agency Artestar, the featured work stirred controversy earlier in the year when Tiffany’s executive vice president suggested Basquiat’s grounding color was a conscious nod to the patented Pantone Color No.1837 — aka Tiffany blue. And at $150,000, generating attention and adhering to tradition may be the major motivators at work for the 5th Avenue brand, though it also used the release to announce a new partnership with Free Arts NYC and a forthcoming donation of $250,000 to the organization.
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