The Brand Radar: Rampley & Co, The Ashmolean Museum and story-led licensing in the heritage sector

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how Rampley & Co’s new line of Ashmolean pocket squares highlights the heritage sector’s appetite to tell their stories through trend-led collaborations.

The Ashmolean Museum has recently announced a licensing partnership with Rampley & Co, a well-established brand in the menswear and accessories market. Their product ranges include silk pocket squares and silk linings for men’s jackets.

The partnership with the Ashmolean is initially centred on pocket squares, with five silk pocket squares featuring art sourced from the rich collection that the Ashmolean has.

Ian Downes, Rampley & Co, The Ashmolean Museum, The Brand Radar

The Ashmolean’s Carrie Hickman gave some insight to the collection, saying: “Rampley & Co have a passion for working with artisan and heritage partners, making the Ashmolean Museum an excellent fit for their popular pocket squares. It’s been a pleasure working with them to identify the right imagery from the collection for this beautiful range.”

The Ashmolean Collection is made up of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Day Dream, Hiroshige’s woodprint of a Great Eagle, JMW Turner’s painting of Oxford High Street, Kuniyoshi’s woodblock print of Chusenko Teitikuson and a 16th Century red and brown ink illustration depicting a Trajanic battle scene.

Rampley have carefully selected images from the Ashmolean’s collection which tap into themes they know sell well but also with a nod to the Ashmolean’s location and reputation. In this context, Turner’s painting of Oxford High Street makes perfect sense in terms of creating a product that is connected to Oxford and will appeal to those with an Oxford connection. Rampley’s products are ones which will be self-purchased, but are also naturals for gift giving.

Ian Downes, Rampley & Co, The Ashmolean Museum, The Brand Radar

Rampley & Co’s Elliott Rampley gave some interesting insight into their selection process. He said: “When making selections there are a number of factors that we take into account. Firstly, we always try to ensure that every product we produce tells a story and so we like to choose imagery and designs that have heritage and a historical narrative we can provide to our customers.

“Secondly, we have to make sure the design itself works in terms of being used as a pocket square so we look at the colour palette, as well as how the design may show when only part of it is seen from the top of a pocket. We then also try to make sure we have variation across our range – so we’re looking for designs, colours and themes that we haven’t necessarily used before and that aren’t available in any of our other collaborations.”

Elliott also expanded on Rampley & Co’s design process. He adds: “We find that we have a real mix of themes that appeal to customers. Recently we’ve seen that our Ukiyo-e Japanese designs have been particularly successful. Beyond this, we often see military themed paintings, ornithological designs and then well-known works by famous names such as Turner.”

These sorts of partnerships do require a lot of creative thinking, not least to narrow down selections but also to design with a consumer in mind. Rampley & Co have spent a lot of time getting to know their customers and are able to pinpoint who they are but also why they are buying Rampley’s products.

As Elliott commented: “We have a highly varied customer base, selling around the world to those interested in menswear, history, design and heritage. Often though, whether it’s someone looking for a one-off wedding item to wear, somebody gifting to their significant other, or somebody that wears our items on a daily basis, it’s that shared love of high quality, well-made clothing that lasts that really appeals. Beyond that we find that they’re really looking for something unique that you can’t get anywhere else and that’s one of the reasons our pocket squares and ties are so popular.”

The Ashmolean’s licensing programme is making great use of their collection, with an understanding of its different aspects and how these are particularly relevant for specific uses or occasions.

It’s interesting to see that Rampley’s selections include two Japanese art pieces. This reflects that there is a design trend in this direction in the market generally… Indeed, another one of the Ashmolean’s partners – Berksha – have also used Japanese art for a recently released apparel range.

Ian Downes, Rampley & Co, The Ashmolean Museum, The Brand Radar

This appetite to be ‘on trend’ from heritage licensors is an interesting one and reflects a change in the sector’s approach to design. There seems to be more of a willingness to work in a bespoke way rather than restrict licensees to a more limited supply of pre-determined designs. Licensees at first glance maybe underestimate how much design museums like the Ashmolean have within their collections and how flexible they can be design-wise.

Another factor coming to the fore in the Ashmolean’s programme is that they are embracing local licensees and Made in the UK products. Recently they have worked with local companies Team Tea and Hook Norton Brewery to develop new products, while they also work with The Oxford Artisan Distillery for an Ashmolean Gin collection. Rampley’s products are made in the UK which dovetails with one of the Ashmolean’s objectives to work more locally as and when they can.

Rampley & Co are a great example of a licensee who is very focused, knows their product and their consumers. They are experts at product development and design, but also at managing their consumer community. They take a very proactive approach to direct marketing with an e-newsletter programme coupled with curated content that underpins their credentials.

A good example of this are short films explaining to consumers how to choose designs for their collections in their Product Insight series. They also use platforms like YouTube to further support their product range; a good example of how a manufacturer has built their business with social media and content in mind. This style of marketing appeals to rights owners as well as it helps them reach new audiences and consumers efficiently, while finding a new way of telling the story of their collections.

Rampley & Co also tap into influencers and opinion formers to help drive interest in their products. One of these – Jamie Azzopardi – made some interesting observations about the way that Rampley & Co collaborate with their partners.

He said: “For the past couple of years, I have followed the journey of Rampley & Co and I must say I am such a fan of their work. Their attention to details, fine British construction and ability to uniquely collaborate with an array of businesses, both fashion and art based, not only pulls at my heartstrings, but as a stylist and lifestyle blogger, gives me sincere hope that art and fashion do have a mainstream future together.”

Jamie’s point about art and fashion having a mainstream future together is an interesting one in the context of licensing, not least as it provides another reason for museums such as the Ashmolean to be support and developing their licensing programmes.

Licensed products provide a fabulous platform to celebrate art and artists. Rampley & Co’s Ashmolean silk square collection is a wonderful example of heritage licensing working well and a really innovative way of bringing art alive in a fresh on-trend way.

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