Standing majestically with its contemporary glass-clad foyer set within scenic lush landscaping, the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre has been greeting visitors near and far since its establishment. That being said, I’ve never set foot in the centre before and today, I finally know why it is recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in Kuala Lumpur, winning the Traveller’s Choice Award by TripAdvisor in 2015.
Coming here was not without its reasons. I was scheduled to meet Lauren Sizeland, Head of Business Development & Licensing for the V&A Museum, at The Café, but I was running late and did not have the time to really immerse myself in the whole atmosphere. However, as I was scurried through the halls on my way to meet her, I caught glimpses of large chimes and bells as well as an impressive collection of past and present Royal Selangor photo frames. Clearly, if one would have taken their time, one would realise that the whole concept of the venue was to introduce to the visitors the world of pewter through sight, touch and sound.
With freshly baked pastries and brewed coffees filling up the air, I knew I was at the right place. All the way from the UK, Lauren is one of the honourable speakers for the Royal Selangor Design Week. Cheery and welcoming, Lauren is one of the most pleasant individuals I’ve ever encountered. With more than 20 years of experience in the arts and museum sector, she does not demand authority but sits patiently and readily to answer all my questions.
Can you tell us about your role in V&A?
Well, I’ve responsibilities for brand licensing, image licensing and publishing at the V&A. I’ve been with the museum for 11 years, so in terms of licensing programme, we work internationally. I manage an extensive portfolio of licensees. V&A has around 70 licensees worldwide and Royal Selangor is one of them and the only one currently in Malaysia. I also identify opportunities and nurture relationships to maximise the best of V&A’s intellectual property.
Before V&A, you worked at a science museum in London. It must be a drastic change!
Yes, it is. Both are very different in terms of their archives and intellectual properties. At the science museum, I was responsible for the retail licensing and that is very much based on educational toys and gadgets, whereas the V&A is all about the beautiful archive and its intellectual property is very degradable because of the nature of V&A’s collection. I’m proud to share that the V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a collection of over 2.3 million objects that span more than 5,000 years of human creativity, including jewellery, furniture, fashion and ceramics. The museum was also the winner of the B&LLA’s Best Licensed Heritage Brand 2016.
What does brand licensing mean?
So, what we’re licensing is V&A’s assets and the archives, which I would say, are mostly two-dimensional collections such as wallpaper designs, textile designs and designs on paper. And they are all licensed alongside the brand. Taking inspiration from the archives, our licensees create innovative products by balancing the old and the new, digital and traditional, plain and pattern, in a way that sets us apart. As our licensee, everything will be endorsed by V&A’s logo and we work really closely with them to ensure that every stage of each product that is being developed has been approved and we are satisfied with the end product that goes into the market.
And how do people be a part of the V&A? Do companies send in resumes?
We do approach other people. We are actively looking for partners and we exhibit in trade shows so that we are always exposing ourselves to future new partners. But we also do our own research and look at what is going on. If we like a collaboration that we see, then we may contact that same company and ask if they are interested in working with the V&A.
Were you part of the partnership between the V&A and Royal Selangor?
Oh no, it was done a long time ago, almost 20 years. I don’t really know in detail how the partnership came around, but what I can tell you is that in terms of the big successful range with Royal Selangor was based on William Morris, a renowned English textile designer in 1800. His designs were reinterpreted to work on pewter and both parties have developed timeless pieces in antique finish, which were never used and seen before. The collection involved a lot of R&D to create. Each piece exudes the rich but subdued patina of pewter resembling the great creations of the past.
What about the latest tracery collection?
This was launch in 2009 and is based on many of the remarkable surviving examples of stonework, wood carving, stained glass, and gold and silver plate that have been gathered together in V&A’s Mediaeval and Renaissance galleries. Its graceful, lightweight design is masterful in its geometric simplicity and complements the rhythm and balance of Mediaeval crafts. The collection is outstanding in its range and depth, bringing together sumptuous treasures by some of the greatest artists of the day.
And how did the V&A contribute to the design know-how and savoire faire?
Whenever we work with a licensee, it’s very much a collaborative type of development. We try to create and maintain a level of visual recognition across the whole range of our licensed products. We combine the different individual requirements of licensees into a coherent, consistent expression of V&A’s own brand vision as well as enabling licensees to achieve their own target. Which means that our research team will engage really closely with the designers. Sometimes, the designers will provide us with mood boards so that we understand what trend they are looking at. And other times we will try to find elements in the archives that will response well to emerging trends.