As the inheritors of a revolution waged for independence from a distant crown, Americans like to think of themselves as immune to the charms of monarchy. Then why is it, when we look into our Barbour jackets and see those words and seals, “By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen…”, “By Appointment to H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh…”, “By Appointment to H.R.H. The Prince of Wales…” that we feel so…impressed?
We’re certainly not the first: British monarchs have been issuing royal warrants since the 15th century. These warrants, which acknowledge providers of commercial goods to the royal household, were issued over the centuries to craftspeople who supplied the Crown with everything from playing cards to waterfowl. By the 1700s, warrant holders began displaying the royal arms on their businesses in an early example of consumer-facing marketing.
Royal warrants gained further recognition under Queen Victoria, and nearly 2,000 were issued over the course of her 63-year reign. The Victorian Era also saw the creation of what is now the Royal Warrant Holder’s Association, and the codification of rules concerning how royal warrants could be displayed and used.
According to the royal family’s official website, there are 816 royal warrant holders today. These range from internationally recognized names like Burberry (credited as “Weatherproofers” to the queen and “Outfitters” to the Prince of Wales) to local moving services and scaffolding suppliers. But whether they operate retail stores across multiple continents or install fire alarms in Gloucestershire, the process for how companies receive their royal warrant is the same.
For starters, royal warrants can only be issued to businesses that have supplied products or non-professional services (i.e., not bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc.) to a warrant-issuing member of the royal household for at least five of the most recent seven years. Once these criteria are met, the company can apply for a royal warrant.
To take the example of Anderson & Sheppard, its head cutter Dennis Hallbery was invited to Kensington Palace in 1983 to measure the Prince of Wales for a double-breasted suit. Over the next five years the prince engaged the bespoke tailor to make additional suits and sport jackets, finally awarding them with a royal warrant in 1988.
Crucially, the relationship between the royal warrant giver and receiver must be strictly commercial: goods are never gifted. In an era awash with lucrative celebrity ad campaigns and freebie-grubbing influencers, the strictures and character of the royal warrant have made it that rarest of endorsements: an honest one.
“In some ways this is the quintessential quality mark or stamp of approval,” says Paul Alger, who serves as International Business Director of the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT). “It’s not like any other standard mark where you can fill in the forms and if you meet the criteria or pay the money, you’re in. These are built up over tens of years.”
While earning a royal warrant might take decades, it has a shelf life of just five years. In the year leading up to the warrant’s expiration, it will be reviewed by the Royal Household Warrant Committee to ensure that the company and its goods remain up-to-snuff.
The standards that the company must meet are exacting and can change with the times. Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, which provides the tweed fabric used to make the estate worker’s uniforms at Balmoral Castle, must prove more than just the quality of their cloth.
“Prince Charles is pushing very hard on the sustainable side of business, and every time we apply, we have to show what we’re doing for the environment,” says Huddersfield managing director Iain Milligan, who adds that their most recent renewal required the company to invest in an electric van.
While preparing for the renewal process is labor-intensive—Milligan estimates that it takes him a full year to gather the relevant information, which also covers criteria like employee welfare and waste disposal—the right to display the warrant is of immense value to its holders.
“For traditional British brands, their royal warrants will be one of their most precious assets, even if the UK market is not their primary market,” says Alger, adding that its influence extends far beyond Her Majesty’s realm. Specifically, Alger says that consumers in the United States, Japan and China hold the royal warrant in high regard.
“One would not expect in communist China that the Royal Family would be any motive for selling clothes and luxury garments. But actually, the experience of most of our brands is that the royal warrant is even more valuable outside of the UK that it is inside.”
The British monarchy is not alone in granting royal warrants to private businesses. Leather-goods purveyor Delvaux holds a warrant from the Belgian royal court, silversmith Georg Jensen displays a warrant from the queen of Denmark, and bespoke shirtmaker Camisería Burgos is the recipient of a warrant from the king of Spain. However, it feels as if the British royal warrant looms largest in the global consumer conscience.
Alger ascribes this to the close connection Queen Victoria forged between the crown and British industry, which continues to this day (indeed, Princess Anne has served as the president of UKFT for over 35 years). But he also chalks it up to the character and interests of the royals themselves.
“They’re very close to the land, they’re very close to jobs…Prince Charles has an encyclopedic knowledge of issues around agriculture, animal husbandry and production of textile and fashion products.”
Because each royal warrant is awarded by an individual member of the royal household (the reigning monarch decides which members may grant them), warrantees might be viewed as an expression of the granter’s personality. It’s not surprising that Charles, who’s become something of a classic menswear icon, should patronize makers like Tricker’s, Turnbull & Asser, Anderson & Sheppard and Ettinger.
For decades, the queen, the Prince of Wales and Prince Philip had been the only members of the royal household to grant warrants. But with Philip’s passing in June, there is speculation that Prince William might become the next royal warrant giver and may approach the task with a different sensibility.
“My guess with the Duke of Cambridge is that we may see a broadening out, because he’s a different person. He’s his own man, and he may want to support some younger British fashion brands,” says Alger, who also points out the Duchess of Cambridge’s support for budding British designers.
Alger clarifies that this is speculation, and that the status of future royal warrant givers remains shrouded behind the monarchial veil. However, it seems safe to bet that so long as the English throne is occupied, we’ll continue to find interest in who its occupant, and their family, patronizes.