While a personalised number plate might be considered a little ‘flash’ by some, personalisation in fashion has become big business, especially in the luxury sector where the challenge of counterfeit items continues to foster mistrust. Customising anything from your handbag to your heels - or even your mascara - has become a signifier of our changing attitude towards identity and towards consumerism in general. We’re overwhelmed with product and persuasion - from Fast Fashion to Fake News - such that a personalised edit or customised product is a welcome respite and relief and, indeed, a luxury. These days, bespoke fashion is considered the epitome of luxury.
Personalisation has become one of the key buzz words in fashion retail in recent years, but the reality is that most fashion brands and retailers are at the beginning of the journey to offering their customers truly curated experiences.
Looking back, we think of London’s Savile Row, where people pay thousands for made-to-measure suits, or ateliers in Milan or Paris, where a predominantly female clientele commission one-of-a-kind handmade gowns. Indeed, the rise in luxury hire is another offshoot of consumers looking to access a ‘Red carpet’, Hollywood experience. As consumers today, we too want to spend our money on something which is unique, which perfectly meets our needs and captures something of our spirit. While this bespoke experience has become democratised - Nike ID through to Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hillfiger and Eileen Fischer - we’re still willing to pay a premium. Technology is playing a big role in this development, but so too is the romance of the personal touch.
According to Deloitte research, one in three consumers surveyed were interested in personalised products, with 71 per cent of those prepared to pay a premium for embellishments, and design. Moreover, focusing on the fashion sector, 15 per cent of those asked are prepared to pay a substantial markup – more than 40 per cent over the asking price – for such items.
“Luxury consumers are increasingly expecting products that feel special and distinctive to them, such as monogrammed iPhone cases from Chaos Fashion,” says Tammy Smulders, global managing director of Havas LuxHub, the media group’s division dedicated to fashion, luxury and lifestyle business. Customisation will be the next revolution in fashion. And we know how this industry loves to disrupt!
At the dawn of a new year, as fashion buyers open their books and shoppers reconsider their wardrobes, the smart money is being placed on a more discerning way of buying clothes. Aside from the fact that few of us conform to the fashion industry’s ideal body shape, there’s a growing disillusionment with the fast, furious and faceless fashion bought ‘off-the-rail’, which rarely seems to meet the level of fit and quality we expect, nor the transparency we seek. Bespoke garments are rapidly becoming the most coveted pieces with stores such as Selfridges creating dedicated bespoke ateliers in both womenswear and in beauty. “We see so many women who have access to premium merchandise, but clients are getting more demanding and want a personal connection with their purchases,” says Judd Crane, director of womenswear at Selfridges. In a homogenised world, where we can order Burberry’s and Topshop’s latest collections as we watch a live stream of their runway shows, and every capital city features the same glass-fronted, glossy temples to expensive designer brands, this is the antithesis of the marketing and hype surrounding what we traditionally know as ‘luxury’ labels.
In fact, those savvy shoppers who are spending their money on unique, made-to-measure or personalised pieces are part of what is being coined “the new luxury”. And the beauty of this New Luxury is that, as with sustainable fashion and Luxury more broadly, consumer demand has resulted in its democratisation.
It might be that women such as Kate Middleton have popularised British designers and personalisation by supporting more budget-conscious dressmakers and made-to-measure cobblers in place of the former route of haute couture, but it’s fair to say that this option is beyond the reach of most of us. And yet, just as those flamboyant catwalk pieces at London Fashion Week rarely see a shop floor while informing mainstream trends, the essence and spirit of this demand for individuality and anonymity is determining the way we shop.
As any tailor who is respected in sartorial circles will tell you, expertly cut cloth and a flattering fit can create illusions of being slimmer, taller or curvier, highlighting or concealing your least or favourite features. It might be a question of buying a pair of morale-boosting heels which accommodate your pronounced arch or a hard-working tailored dress designed to conceal your tummy and flatter your hips. Moreover, a bespoke tailor will leave a lot of excess fabric in a garment, allowing for you to let the garment out by a few inches or alter the silhouette slightly. It’s about us all valuing what we buy, respecting who made it and seeking that will be truly ours. Forever.
Had I been actively searching for examples of this New Luxury of personalisation, I’d have been overwhelmed – just indulge yourself in an impromptu Google search – but as it happened, illustrations of this current of customisation simply washed up on my shores by chance.
Whether we fancy an everyday luxury such as a triple AAA grade leather handbag featuring your initials or a shamelessly sophisticated pair of heels which caress our foot shape and compliment our colour scheme, a connection with craftsmanship ensures what we buy meets our needs in terms of lifestyle, fit and individuality.
While a shoe merits customisation for reasons of function and fit, a bespoke handbag can accommodate those lifestyle needs which are specific to us, such as the number of external versus internal pockets, fastenings and handle options.
Customised garments were the norm one hundred years ago, but the trade-offs we have all made in return for factory-produced fashion and instant gratfication are many. Simply put, it’s not possible to have an eye-catching, uniquely shaped vamp caressing your foot in curved lines when it’s machine cut. Handmade shoes, which follow the traditional techniques of Italian shoemakers, resonate with our current interest in wellbeing, health and comfort. The mood for ‘self-care’. If confidence stems from comfort, then a customised shoe must be the perfect first step.
Buying bespoke is not about making a statement with trends and flaunting labels: it’s an understated way of dressing that means we can feel confident wearing the most flattering garments. Our own choice of fabrics and detailing – such as neckline, hem length, sleeve shape – can prove the difference between an item which is pleasing and one which is personal. Advocates will tell you that once you have started buying like this, you rarely go back.
At a time when the attitude of ‘Buy Less; Buy Better’ continues to gain traction and consumers show signs of Fast Fashion and Fake News fatigue, fashion and retail in general has never felt more personal. Truth; Transparency and the Personal Touch are back in vogue.