Licensed to Charm’s Maggie Calmels on embracing trends, avoiding bandwagons and designing Frida Kahlo pieces

Maggie Calmels – Founder and Creative Director at Licensed to Charm – discusses her approach to bringing brands like Labyrinth, Pusheen and Frida Kahlo into jewellery.

Licensed to Charm is a designer and maker of quirky collectable jewellery, with licensed collections spanning brands like Pusheen and Miffy to Labyrinth and Wallace & Gromit.

This year saw the firm debut a Frida Kahlo collection, inspired by the artist’s life and works. To dive into the new collection, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes spoke with Maggie Calmels – Founder and Creative Director at Licensed to Charm.

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

Licensed to Charm specialises in charm jewellery based on well-known characters and designs. What first gave you the idea to develop this category in licensing?
Every year I used to visit San Diego Comic Con, plus the ones in New York and London.

I realised that the product range available to fans was dominated by toys and figurines, general branded merch, t-shirts and dress-up. There was little or no ‘proper’ jewellery. By that I mean wearable everyday pieces made from silver and gold-vermeil, made to last, to collect and keep.

Initially I thought it would be great fun to recreate the traditional charm bracelet of my childhood, but with charms with representing little precious miniatures of favourite characters, iconic objects and designs. I thought these would be very desirable.

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

And desirable they are! So what is your process for selecting licences to feature in the Licensed to Charm range?
Like most people, I have my own personal favourites and I tend to go for licences that I have a real passion for. It’s also opportunistic, where a meeting or visit can spark an interest in something new or unexpected. Then it’s down to a combination of having an idea for a creative route for jewellery that links with how and when a customer might wear it.

And of course, any licence has to be one that’s attainable for a small new company specialising in UK produced sustainable handmade jewellery – sadly some of my old favourites are not… At least not yet!

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

Talk us through the design process behind your ranges?
The design approach varies quite a lot depending on the type of licence. As Licensed to Charm has grown, we have created four product categories to group together licences with similar characteristics: Charming Characters, Film & TV, Art & Culture, and The Natural World.

For all categories, development begins with research, including an analysis of the key attributes of the brand, the most popular characters and elements – and the likely buying market.

Then we’ll start developing visuals for products to build a launch range including some evergreen items, plus some hero pieces which are instantly recognisable to hardcore fans.

With the first ranges, I experimented quite a lot on the design side and made lots of samples. This proved useful for persuading licensors who were sceptical about both jewellery items and designs.

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

Are there design trends in jewellery that you must make allowances for and acknowledge in your design work?
Trends that relate to how you wear jewellery are well worth acknowledging and including in product photography and social media to keep things current. Our jewellery is both brand and character led – and consciously quirky and individual rather than fashion-forward – so we try to resist ‘jumping on the band wagon’ or following fashions trends that don’t really fit.

You work at quite a small scale, so how difficult is it to replicate well known characters at this scale?
The issues around miniaturisation can be very challenging. So far, I’ve not had to avoid any characters completely as we’ve been allowed some flexibility by our licensors. For example, we produce characters roughly in proportion rather than exactly ‘to scale’. We also use iconic body parts where a full body would not work, for example Miffy’s head for earrings, or the Goblin King’s gloved hand holding his crystal ball for Labyrinth.

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

The 3D sculptor who creates the prototype designs is super-talented and we rarely have approval issues, however sometimes our designs prove challenging in production. We do sometimes have to revise things to accentuate features – mainly facial – that can lose impact when the finished piece is less that 10mm high.

You recently developed a Frida Kahlo range. What attracted you to this brand and how well does it translate into your category?
As a lover of art and craft, I wanted to create jewellery inspired by art and artists. Frida Kahlo has become one of the most influential of artists and a style icon in her own right, valued for her individuality and strength as much as her painting. Her self-portraits reflect her unique personal style and provide an inspiring background for jewellery development, being rich in motifs, imagery and symbolism.

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

Our Frida pieces are definitely ‘inspired by’ Frida, with only one item actually featuring an image of the artist. Plus, we added pops of her favourite colours with the use of gemstone beads and colourful tassels.

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

You mention colours there; is it difficult working with brands that have distinct colours in their brand DNA when you work in silver? How do you overcome the lack of colour in your designs?
Working with metals – silver and gold vermeil – is a bit like drawing in black and white. Shape and surface texture become very important to add detail. Without the help of colour to draw the eye, you have to ensure that tiny items are ‘readable’ and with silver we often use oxidising to emphasise details.

Consumer-wise, who is buying your products and what are the reasons they are buying into the products?
Our buyers are made up of groups of fans of particular brands, with increasing crossover between brands, generally within the four category groupings we created for our website. We are gradually getting a bit of a following from people who like something wearable every day, well designed and handmade, but also quirky and original. They are collecting ‘Licensed to Charm’ which is our long-term aim. We are also an eco-conscious business into sustainability and longevity with a very low carbon footprint, all made right here in the UK.

Maggie Calmels, Licensed to Charm

How do you stay on track in regards to design in licensing in general terms? Do you consult with other licensees?
I follow the on-line magazines and trade shows and keep in touch with people via LinkedIn. I’m always keen to talk with other licensees and to collaborate where possible.

You previously worked in the partwork world. What lessons were you able to bring across to the world of charms from the world of partworks?
I still use the consumer-focused approach to product development that I learned in the partwork industry, plus the insights gained on how to design items to be collectable, and fan appropriate.

Thanks Maggie, this has been great. One last question: If you were advising design students who were interested in getting involved in jewellery design, what advice would you give them?
To get out of pure 2D design into the world of 3D and to take some courses in jewellery making to understand the properties of materials and how things are made.

Great stuff. Thanks again!

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