A prevailing trend in fashion is customization. You may recall that last March for a very limited time (think: two business days), Prada offered its London customers the chance to customize their own shoes from its Made To Order Décolleté collection. At its Sloan Street shop, shoppers could create their own shoe from varying styles (think: peep toes, pumps and platforms) in an array of heel heights (five different heights to be exact), and a selection of colors and fabrics, and to have their initials gold stamped on the sole. Now, less than a year later, they’re at it again. Last month, Bergdorf Goodman hosted a pop-up made-to-order event where customers can create a custom pair of Prada’s beloved Micro Sole lace-up brogues –32 color variations, 5 different micro sole options, calfskin, crocodile, and python offerings, and the option to brand your initials in gold on the bottom.
Interestingly, the Italian design house isn't the first to unveil such a service, which was subsequently offered at one of its Chicago stores last year, as well. In November 2013, NYC-based retailer Bergdorf Goodman launched its Manolo Blahnik Custom BB Boutique, which allows customers to create their own BBs (the signature Manolo silhouette) from a selection of five heel heights, over twenty colors and an array of fabrics. The custom BBs are then assembled at Manolo’s atelier and shipped to you. Around that same time, Salvatore Ferragamo launched its custom service, allowing customers to choose the colors, hardware and monogram on their Varas. The latest to join the Made to Order movement? Bally.
Swiss heritage brand Bally is following suit and launching its own made-to-order program in its Madison Avenue New York boutique, as part of a bit of a brand revamp. According to the New York Post, instrumental in the 164-year old brand's upscale shift are CEO Frédéric de Narp and design director Pablo Coppola -- who, in addition to launching custom footwear, plan to open at least 12 more flagships in the key cities of the world in the next five to six years.
Bally joins Jimmy Choo, which debuted its custom shoe program last year at its Beverly Hills flagship. You know the drill: Shoppers can choose from a variety of silhouettes and their preferred heel height, color, and fabric, and last but not least, there's the option to add a personal gold-plated monogram on the sole. Choo's service moved to various other locations following its Beverly Hills debut.
While its nice to know what is trending, what we really want to know is: What is the significance of this trend in the bigger picture? Well, it seems these footwear-related instances fall into a larger scheme of personalization. The custom shoes are not dissimilar from the monogram. You likely know that Louis Vuitton has for quite awhile championed the personal monogram. Its Mon Monogram service, for instance, allows you to customize your Speedy, Neverfull, Keepall bags, etc., "ending up with over 200 million possible combinations on your bag of choice," so they say. Goyard, the Paris-based marker of trunks, travel bags, and leather goods, has offered a similar service for even longer. According to a statement from the company, "Luggage personalization stems from Europe’s heraldic traditions and had its heyday in the 19th century. Back then, it was a practical imperative that had nothing to do with fashion or status." Nowadays, the logistical need for a monogram on your Goyard trunk has lessened substantially, as it is a rarity and not a regularity for someone to be traveling with an identical Goyard trunk (or even traveling with a trunk at all). The modern day purpose is far more symbolic than utilitarian.
According to Graciela Cors, studio design manager for Goyard in San Francisco, "Goyard clients now enjoy the customization as a status symbol and a fashion perk." James Ferragamo, Director of Women's Leather Products, offered a similar explanation, saying: "I think that exclusivity is very important in fashion. Today fashion is much more about doing something that is only for you rather than something that is for the masses."
The most obvious take away from these personalization services is that they are the most recent reincarnation of a trend we have already seen, as fashion is, after all, inherently cyclical. In this same vein, personalization of products is just the latest way for brands to market their goods and cater to the desires of luxury shoppers, who value quality, as well as exclusivity, and who crave new additions to their wardrobes. Thus, these services, which largely rely on a brand's signature (aka best selling) styles, offer shoppers the chance to not only "make it theirs" but also allows shoppers to create something that is potentially one of a kind, without the price tag of a truly bespoke creation. Simultaneously, it allows brands to repackage their most successful styles, so to speak, and further profit from them.
This specific rise in personalization is also likely a response to the saturation of the market with luxury goods (both real and counterfeit). It is no secret that brands have been working overtime to rebound from the influx of logo-centric designs that consumers have ultimately begun to view as passé, in part because many of them (think: a basic Louis Vuitton speedy bag or Louboutin) became just too accessible. Another factor is that with demand for luxury goods comes demand for cheaper lookalikes, which in many cases, do actually look like the real thing to some extent - especially at first glance or from a distance. As a result, these counterfeits add to the pool of goods in the market and assist in creating the lack of desirability amongst many luxury customers, who thrive on exclusivity.
Much in the same way that the Louis Vuitton monogram service, which allows shoppers to personalize products that are heavily present in the marketplace, and thus, make them unique, different from (and more expensive than) the standard Speedy bag, for instance, and distinguish them from the many, many fakes out there, custom shoe services provide similar benefits. These personalization services and the corresponding events/press brings renewed attention to some brands that may have been overshadowed a bit by the very serious hype that until somewhat recently surrounded the red soled Christian Louboutins. Furthermore, they also provide customers with some assurance that they are buying designs that are not only more luxurious and more original than those that the average person has, but these designs are also, thanks to their individualization, certainly authentic and are more difficult to copy. Seems like a win-win for all parties involved, except for the counterfeiters.