Eyebrows raised as big stores cash in on Downton Abbey merchandise
The British might understand a tea towel and a mug with a picture on it, or perhaps they would have a calendar on the wall, but now Downton Abbey is bringing out a toe-curling range of merchandise – thanks to the hit TV show’s legion of US fans.
The Dowager Countess of Grantham would never approve, but at least the show’s bosses have gone with the upmarket British brand of John Lewis to produce 37 items of Downton Abbey jewellery, and signed a deal with the classic British store Marks & Spencer for a range of beauty products. So expect the Christmas of 2013 to go down as the one where pretty much everyone received or gave a Downton Abbey-themed present.
Maybe it will be a £25 gold tone crystal Edwardian-style necklace, inspired by one worn by Lady Edith in the programme, or a lipstick from M&S packaged in a box which says: ‘Now stop talking and kiss me before I get cross’ – one of the more famous lines from Dorset-based Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
The John Lewis and M&S ranges are just the start. The show’s producers, Carnival Films, have hired a marketing firm to milk everything they can from the brand, with one eye firmly on a US market more comfortable with what the Dowager would witheringly refer to as “trade”.
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So there will be board games, Christmas decorations – a model of the car to hang on the tree will set you back £15 – tableware, bed linen and silverware so you can at least deck out your dining table like it’s 1920 and you are expecting Lord Grantham for dinner . Estimates have put the market for Downton Abbey merchandise at £100 million, but if it takes off in the States it could easily surpass that.
Naturally, given the TV show has joined with boyband One Direction to spark a craze for Anglophilia in the US, the Downton Abbey range includes tea. The Republic of Tea company has signed up to produce a Downton range, which includes a ‘full-bodied’ Grantham breakfast tea.
And after a certain hour of the day, serving wine is acceptable, so an American firm with the shudderingly vulgar title Wines That Rock will bring out an official Downton wine range next year.
There appears to be no end in sight for marketing opportunities – fans can already buy hybrid roses inspired by characters including Anna the maid, something towards which the Dowager would surely raise an eyebrow.
But the character played by Maggie Smith would at least recognise a glass of wine, a cup of tea and a fragrant rose – quite what she’d make of salad dressing, an iPhone case and a Downton Abbey “wipe-clean” plastic reusable shopping bag is anyone’s guess.
Industry expert Carole Postal, of Knockout Licensing, said: “The greatest compliment to the show is the number of retailers wanting to be a part of it.”