You have certainly seen those seals bearing a phrase that starts with, “By Appointment to”. It is the Royal Warrant, an endorsement by a member of a royal family to a product or provider of services that they deemed worthy of that honor. Does it really mean superior quality? Who can “appoint”? Gentleman’s Gazette explores this famous distinction.
It is highly probable that the first time you saw a Royal Warrant of Appointment – or Royal Warrant, for short – was in a bottle of Scotch Whisky. In Britain, 27 holders of the Warrant are related to drinks, and since 1994 one of these – Laphroaig – has a Warrant by the Prince of Wales, a regular consumer of the peaty Islay single malt. Though many countries still maintain the system of royal warrants (even if there isn’t a monarchy with an official position), we will focus today on the most famous system of warrants: the British Royal Warrants.
What is a Royal Warrant?
A royal warrant is essentially a seal of approval: a Royal Warrant allows the supplier to boast that he has a royal (the issuer of the honor) as a client, gaining prestige by this fact. In the case of Great Britain, companies may apply for a Royal Warrant if they have been suppliers to the Royal Household for at least five years. After the honor is granted, the holder may display the coat of arms of the granter and the words “By Appointment”.
The History of the Royal Warrant
A Royal Warrant holder may exhibit the seals – a tradition that started in the 18th century – in their products, premises, stationery, vehicles, and advertisements. But the privilege is much older and comes from the royal charters granted to medieval corporations or guilds, such as the one granted by King Henri II to the Weaver’s Company in 1155. The Warrants are not awarded to professional services such as banking, lawyers, accountants, periodicals and places such as pubs.
In a dinner organized by the holders in 1840 to celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria, they decided to create the “Royal Tradesmen Association”, then with 25 members, all men: if a woman or a company belonging to one received a Royal Warrant, she could “appoint a gentleman to represent her.”
Queen Victoria was the main Power behind the prestige of the honor: in her 64-year reign, she and her family granted over 2,000 Royal Warrants, many of them – as those awarded to companies such as Fortnum & Mason, Schweppes, and Twinings – extant. In 1907, a Royal Decree – renewed 100 years later by the Queen – transformed the association in “The Royal Warrant Holders Association”. However, as an option, not all holders are members of the association.
The Royal Warrant Today
In the UK, only three members of the royal family may award warrants to a regular and trustable supplier. (The Queen Mother – a keen gin drinker – also granted warrants, but they expired automatically in 2007, five years after her death in 2002.) As of this writing, Queen Elizabeth has 634 standing Royal Warrants, the Prince of Wales 164 and the Duke of Edinburgh 34. In the case of the Prince of Wales, the company must also show that it follows proper environmental policies.
The holders of Royal Warrants form a small and select group of 832 companies with daily, normal activities and also with prosaic ones, such as Cherwell Packaging Ltd, “supplier of washroom hygiene products”, or Hugh Todd, that fits into the “Agricultural and Animal Welfare” and supplies “animal pregnancy scanning”, probably for the horses or corgi dogs of the Queen.
In an era where almost everyone has a precision GPS in their hands, thanks to the smartphones, it is almost unimaginable that someone may still need a cartographer, but Latitude Cartography Ltd was granted a Royal Warrant of Appointment by Her Majesty in 2008! I believe that their main customers are the landed gentry who need to have the exact dimension of their properties – and it comes in a nice package, too.
But I believe that the reader may be more interested in the Royal Warrant suppliers of apparel, or, as the Royal Warrant Holders Association states, “Clothing and Accessories”.
Triple Warrant Holders
Some of these companies hold three Warrants, granted by the Queen, by the Duke of Edinburgh or by the Prince of Wales.
That is the case of Daks, for instance. Founded in 1894, it became famous for the invention of the “self-supporting trousers”, thanks to the adjustable waistband that eliminated the need for belts or suspenders. They also had small rubber pads inside the waistband to hold the shirt in place.
These slacks were a creation of Alexander Simpson, son of Simeon, the founder. By the way, the name Daks come from a combination of the words “DAD” (the founder) and “SLACKS” (the American word for informal trousers).
Ede & Ravenscroft
Another garment company to have three warrants is Ede & Ravenscroft, a name that sounds as if it came straight out of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. The company – now almost 330 years old – produces legal and ceremonial dress, as well as regular tailoring.
Gieves & Hawkes
Gieves & Hawkes, majestically located at the iconic No. 1 Savile Row, is one of the Prince of Wales’ main tailors. In 2013, during one of his visits to the bicentenary company, he tried his hand at cutting a gray wool fabric, perhaps for a new suit for himself.
One of their DNA marks is a soft shoulder, with room at the front and a high armhole, as well as a roped shoulder coherent with their military roots. They now boast all three British royals as clients and granters.
A name that is probably familiar for those with an active country life is Barbour, “Manufacturers of Waterproof & Protective Clothing” for the three granters. They are most famous for the wax jackets they make in the North East of England. These coats may be rewaxed, meaning that they may be worn for years or decades – something that appeals to the thrifty side of the Prince of Wales. Margaret Barbour said that their warrants “make her very proud” – and to top that off, she was the first lady member elected to the Royal Warrant Holders’ Council.
Other Notable Warrant Holders
Anderson & Sheppard
Per Anderson, one of the founders of the company established in 1906, was a keen disciple of the legendary cutter Frederick Scholte, who made clothes for the Duke of Windsor (of Wallis Simpson fame). They were responsible for most of Prince Charles double-breasted suits for years. In their books, the prince is named “Charles Smith” since he started to order clothes from them in 1982.
Mr Hitchcock, the chief cutter, describes the Prince as “very frugal”: the rule is that he will be more called to repair an old garment than to create a new one. Faithful to the old adage, “The suit shouldn’t wear the man; the man should wear the suit”, Anderson & Sheppard still adopts the fluid style established by Per Anderson as a general guide to the minimum of 27 measurements required for each suit. Anderson & Sheppard currently hold one royal warrant.
James Lock & Co. Ltd. was founded in 1676 by Robert Davis, and it is the 34th world’s oldest family-owned business, as well as the world’s oldest hat shop. Even though the Queen has not granted it a warrant – she buys hats at George Goddard and also at Patey -, her husband and her heir have.
The 6, St. James’s Street address company is famous not only for their bespoke and ready-to-wear hats and caps but also for scarves, gloves and headgear accessories, such as hat boxes, brushes, and others. They currently hold two royals warrants.
As Britishly iconic as the Big Ben or the Queen herself is Burberry, established in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, then only 21 years old.
The brand really became famous after 1880, when Thomas created the waterproof gabardine, the fabric that enabled the trench coat to be the First World War garment. After the war, it became a civilian icon. Burberry currently hold two royal warrants for weatherproofers and outfitters.
Turnbull & Asser
This is one of the warrants granted by the Prince of Wales alone. The company was founded in 1885 and has made shirts for eminent men – and literary characters, too: one of the most remarkable scenes from The Great Gatsby movie (with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, the version I prefer) had Redford, as Gatsby, flinging his Turnbull & Asser shirts to the air and commenting with Daisy: ” “I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall.” And Daisy cries: “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she says, “her voice muffled in the thick folds.”
According to the company’s website, “The film’s producer, Robert Evans, wrote in his memoir that he chose Turnbull & Asser shirts to star in the film after his friend, actress Candice Bergen, looked stunning in one when they had lunch together in London while he was filming Gatsby at Pinewood.”
This author had two T&A shirts in Sea Island cotton, over 40 years ago, which could stand to the test: thrown in the air, they would take a lifetime to get to the floor. They were really light – and this is my “Commoner Warrant” if I’m allowed to grant one.
Oops, There Goes My Royal Warrant…
Some 20-40 companies lose the concession every year, for loss of quality, closure, bankruptcy, changes in society and other causes. A similar number receive a Warrant in the same period, which is reviewed every five years.
A Royal Falling Out: Harrods
The most famous case of a company that lost its warrants is Harrods, the ultra-traditional London department store, bought in 1985 by Mohamed al-Fayed. In December 2000, the Duke of Edinburgh withdrew his Seal of approval allegedly due to a “significant decline in the trading relationship” between the Duke and the store. However, Prince Philip was inflamed by the declarations of owner Mohamed al-Fayed, who suggested that the Duke would be the mastermind of the supposed plot that killed Princess Diana and Dodi, his son.
After the announcement, al-Fayed removed the royal warrants from the store façade and from its stationery. Not satisfied, he also burned the seals and filmed the act.
Other Royals, Other Warrants
But if you believe that only the British Royal Family grants warrants, you are wrong. The Danish Royals also honor some companies and are even stricter than the British: if a regular supplier wishes to use the seal stating, “By appointment to the Royal Danish Court,” it must have been rendering services or providing goods for 10 years, at least. Among these, we have many Danish suppliers, such as Bang & Olufsen (surprise!) and Carlsberg. Swedish, Dutch and Belgian royal houses also grant warrants.
If you have a friend that is knowledgeable about wine, you will probably ask him or her before buying a case of a Burgundy you have never drunk before. He will state his preference, even though it may not be the best value or the best tasting wine in that price bracket. Similarly, the Royal Warrants are not granted to the best products, but to those preferred by this or that royal house member.
Sometimes, the British treat the RW as a privilege that makes the price of those products go up; sometimes, the products are considered elitist. But take a closer look and you will find Cadbury chocolates, Heinz sauces, Stork margarine, which can hardly be considered elitist.
Some companies, such as After Eight, are no longer using the RW because the younger generation dislikes the royal endorsement. And sometimes, the Royals think twice: Benson & Hedges, famous for their cigarettes, had their Royal Warrant revoked in 1999. Apparently, the Queen did not want her endorsement on products that killed her subjects.
Besides, not everyone is as keen on the Royals’ approval: in a survey mentioned in 2011 by The Guardian, 42% out of 230 adults were indifferent to royal warrants, the same percentage considered them unimportant and only 13% thought they made a difference.
Yes, the fact that Nestlé – read After Eight – dropped their RW may indicate that the multinationals no longer believe in the differential value of that honor in the sales of their products.
Anyway, in a changing world, as this is, it is interesting to patronize whoever supplies goods with inherent quality, and it allows a commoner with monarchist penchants to feel close to the royals: “Prince Charles and I drink Laphroaig, our preferred single malt…”