Halston: A Lesson in Licensing

“Am I a businessman or an artist? asks American designer Roy Halston Frowick (Ewan McGregor, who for his performance won the 2021 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie), in the 2021 Netflix series, “Halston.” Titled after its subject, Frowick is better known as Halston. “Why not the two of them?” retorts the American publicist and “empress of the seventh avenue”, Eleanor Lambert (Kelly Bishop). It is in this second episode (“Versailles”) that Lambert deftly guides Halston through the resolution of his identity crisis with an introduction to David J. Mahoney (Bill Pullman), chairman of Norton Simon, a consumer products conglomerate. in search of “magic”. To successfully tempt the former milliner to sell his namesake to Norton Simon, Mahoney not only offers the panacea for the myriad problems facing the fledgling fashion house, but the promise of fame. “I’m going to make you so intrinsic to American culture that no one will remember a time when there wasn’t Halston.” It’s in the series’ penultimate episode (“The Party’s Over”), when Joe Eula (David Pittu), Halston’s creative director, says, “The Halston name is on everything from loungewear, furniture, luggage, linens, wigs for sake!” that audiences can fully appreciate how well Mahoney delivered on his promise to convert Halston from pronoun to noun. In a word, the license.

Licence ? The concept is quite simple. On one side is the famous brand (licensor), whose identity – its most valuable resource – is host to limitless merchandising opportunities. On the other hand, there is the manufacturer (licensee), who, having recognized the possibilities, is willing to fashion the brand name and logo (intellectual property) on any type of consumer product. The licensor may then lease its intellectual property to the licensee for a predetermined term in a defined territory, in exchange for a royalty on sales of the product developed by the licensee and approved by the licensor for distribution and sale. All these terms are carefully articulated and the respective obligations of each party formalized in a license agreement. When drafted by a non-adversarial attorney who is not just a risk-mitigator, but a pragmatic business partner, such an agreement will set reasonable expectations for many variables, not limited to the aesthetics and quality of the product, or license merchandising and marketing strategies. The marriage between the granting parties must then be properly nurtured, and after continued commitment to each other in accordance with negotiated and agreed terms, there is opportunistic growth.