It’s the face that has launched millions of licensed products.
When The Smiley Company was formed back in 1972 to market a single piece of art – a simple drawing of a smiley face on a yellow circle, licensing experts predicted it would be a short-lived fad, at best.
Fifty years later, the company has not only proved the naysayers wrong, but has shown it has the cachet to land collaborations with fashion designers, luxury brands and upscale department stores.
The Smiley Company has created a limited edition collection of 50th anniversary products, for sale in stores around the world, including 10 Nordstrom JWN department stores and Galeries Lafayette department stores in Paris, Beijing and Shanghai.
Nordstrom chose Smiley for a [email protected] installation that opened today at its flagship New York store, and nine other stores in the U.S. and Canada. The pop-in shops will sell apparel, beauty, home decor, and lifestyle products from 30 different brands, including Alice + Olivia, Carolina Herrera 212, Moschino, Sandro and Thierry Lasry.
The items, which will be in the 10 Nordstrom stores until April 17, will also be sold online on the Nordstrom website.
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One secret to Smiley’s longevity, according to Nicolas Loufrani, who heads the company founded by his father in 1972, is that brands, and consumers have turned to it repeatedly over the years for its message of positivity. As he approached brands during the pandemic in preparation for the 50th anniversary, he found many felt that message was just what they needed now.
While lockdowns and company shutdowns made pitching the anniversary ideas harder, the brands he was able to reach early in the pandemic told him “you’re coming with the best message right now,” Loufrani said. “You come with a positive message. We’re wearing masks and you tell us to smile,” he said.
After he had assembled enough brand partners, he was able to line up department stores and other retailers to carry the products.
Olivia Kim, VP of Creative Projects and Home at Nordstrom, who curates that retailer’s Pop-in installations, called the Smiley shop “a bright and optimistic collection of merchandise that feature everyone’s favorite logo.”
“Smiling is the simplest way to pass on happiness and kindness, and I’m excited for our customers to immerse themselves in a fun and feel-good experience through the shop and hope it inspires them to spread smiles in their everyday lives,” Kim said in a statement.
The Smiley Company collaboration with the Galeries Lafayette department stores opened February 21, and includes a giant art installation in the flagship Paris store on Boulevard Haussmann, featuring graffiti artist Andre Saraiva’s take on the Smiley logo. There also is a Smiley-themed skate-boarding ramp outside the store, and a Smiley gaming area with original arcade games and virtual reality game consoles.
The Galeries Lafayette display runs through April 3.
The Smiley Company was born after French journalist Franklin Loufrani designed the yellow smiley face logo for the newspaper France-Soir. The face, along with the words “Take the time to smile” was used to highlight feel-good, happy news stories.
While others have created logos with happy and smiling faces, Loufrani trademarked the “smiley” name and began licensing his logo. It became an icon of the 1970s, but declined as the image aged. Smiley has been revived over the past decade by Nicolas Loufrani, who has succeeded in forging creative partnerships with high-fashion brands.
A strategy Loufrani has used successfully to create those partnerships is presentimg design and product ideas to prospective partners, rather than waiting for licensing partners to come to him.
The company has managed to stay alive for 50 years, and continue to grow due to its creativity and “the ability to reinvent our selves,” Nicolas Loufrani said. “Every season we produce more than 24 style guides and hundreds and hundreds of product concepts for our partners. We reinvent the graphic direction based on the latest trends,” he said.
The company has over 400 licensing deals globally, and Smiley licensed products generate over $573 million in annual sales, with over 68 million items with the Smiley image sold annually, according to the company.
The company also helps create marketing campaigns for its partners, designed to boost social media engagements, and thus boost sales. For the Nordstrom partnership, “smile ambassadors” will be operating an interactive photo booth for Smiley selfies, and will be handing out surprises, and spreading the “take time to smile” message in parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn March 13-14.