I’m not accustomed to winning things – exclusive holidays…luxury watches… Not that I lose sleep over this of course. I’d never dream of entering any type of competition normally. But things changed when I was asked by Hand & Lock, the royal embroiderers, to press the ‘click to win’ button on its website for a chance to own a pair of bespoke Olivia von Halle pyjamas.
As luck would have it my name was plucked from the cosmos and the golden prize was mine! Furthermore, said PJs were to be monogrammed during a press event to be held at Hand & Lock’s central London atelier the following evening.
For those unfamiliar with Hand & Lock, this British heritage brand where Savile Row tailors including Gieves & Hawkes send their client’s shirts to be monogrammed, dates back to 1767. Back at the press event, a small group huddled around the embroiderer’s workstation to watch as my initials ‘L’ and ‘M’, were stencilled onto the top pocket with powdered cuttlefish and a wooden brush.
Seeing the letters appear and watching as they were then hand-stitched with a silk thread, it dawned on me that these lovely pyjamas were no longer an Olivia von Halle creation – but thanks to the addition of my monogram they had become something unique to me. By adding two simple, yet very evident letters on a plain background, I had erased any former brand identity.
I was reminded of that old Bottega Veneta anti-branding slogan; “When your own initials are enough.” How apt especially in today’s world of in-your-face acronyms and iconic hardwear.
As Robert Burke, head of the New York-based luxury consulting firm Robert Burke Associates rightfully said in the New York Times last year: “In China and in Russia, customers are starting to mature and don’t want to be known as the people that carry around bags with logos on them anymore. In my experience, as the consumer becomes more sophisticated and educated, the less they are interested in overt logos.”
But it’s not just the logo, which seems a tad dated these days. In recent seasons we have seen power brands turning to less obvious branding and identifying their products through creative prints and patterns. Bottega Veneta’s iconic leather-weaving technique called Intrecciato, which continues to mark its coveted leather goods, is a case in point.
Then there is the French designer Pierre Hardy. Since creating a cube motif to introduce small leather goods in 2010, the pattern has been used in tote bags and high-heeled espadrilles and is echoed in jewellery, including a gold-plated cuff. And least we forget Alexander McQueen’s prolific skull print? What began as a gothic pattern on silk scarves now engulfs huge swathes of the ready-to-wear, which begs the question – where will it stop?
Prints on repeat, logos on loop… are designers running out of ideas – becoming lazy even in their approach to brand identity? As luxury brands seek to maximise their financial potential, more and more seasonal analysis is conducted to ensure the optimum product mix is achieved. Whilst this in itself makes sound business sense, it can lead to collections being dictated by ‘iconic prints’ or any other similar branding method. The challenge for the design team is to accommodate (or disguise) the print or logo in a myriad of ways to appeal to as broad customer base as possible.
This challenge between the creative and commercial reached a high profile nadir last year after Nicholas Ghesquière left his position of creative director of Balenciaga and broke ranks to openly criticise the label, claiming it ‘became so dehumanized. Everything became an asset for the brand, trying to make it ever more corporate – it was all about branding.’
As more of us seek an emotional connection (not to mention a dash of novelty) between ourselves and our luxury purchase is it any wonder that monogramming and other forms of personal customisation are on the up?
Thankfully, the number of interesting store initiatives aimed at getting the customer more creatively involved, is growing. Take Louis Vuitton’s ‘Haute Maroquinerie’ for example. At this dedicated private salon, housed in Vuitton’s Bond Street Maison – customers can work directly with experts to create their own unique piece. Here, they can choose 80,000 variations from a selection of handbag styles, leather, colour and finish.
And later this month, The New Craftsmen, will launch its first ever-dedicated area for commissioning bespoke work within a new permanent space in Mayfair. This will feature a selection of materials, finishes and inspiration from a range of makers who form part of its collective. They will be able to talk clients through different work and options in a relaxed and convivial area.
New Craftsmen co founder Natalie Melton says; “I think all consumers are increasingly looking for purchases with special meaning or personal significance to them and so the rise of one-off, bespoke, or customised pieces will continue to grow and grow. It’s another level of discernment, the elite don’t want to define themselves by recognisable brands but rather seek out the unknown, the finely crafted and the personalised.”
If I had the choice between buying a designer shoe or adding my own twists and turns to it I know which option I would chose. I’ve even had a go at making my own bespoke shoes – well, a taster of the experience while reviewing Carréducker’s intensive shoemaking course in Bloomsbury. Incidentally, private shoemaking lessons, weekend workshops and intensive courses are booming across London, which proves the point – we all want to make our mark.
“People have realised that as we’ve gone through the 80’s and 90’s, happiness isn’t always based on ‘quick fix’ fashion and now want items that are really special to them,” says Deborah Carré, who together with her partner James Ducker teaches individuals to make their own Derbys from scratch.
So next time I go shopping for silk pyjamas, or even an iPad case or a new yoga mat, will I be tempted to make it my own with a monogram or my choice of cut, material and colour? You bet. Move aside GG, D&G and anyone else. LM is the only logo I’ll be flashing this season.
Lucie Muir is currently Acting Commissioning Style Editor of The Financial Times and has been a fashion journalist for over 20 years working for publications such as Vogue, The Financial Times, Luxury Briefing and the International Herald Tribune.