The Luxury Market Comes up Close and Gets Very, Very Personal

PHOTO: These bespoke Edie Parker clutches are a conversation starter.

For an industry built on the promise of "personal style," the fashion trade had begun to look surprisingly homogeneous. A decade ago, consumers craved "It" bags, collected identical logos, and could read tell-tale stitching on designer denim like tea leaves.

Even the savviest shoppers forgot the simple truth that your local eighth-grader has always known: Uniforms are not cool.

The good news is we've all since remembered.

Responding to a growing demand for exclusivity and the mass-market precedent set by sneaker companies like Nike, the luxury space is coming up close and getting very, very personal as designers begin to reclaim the craft that once defined them. Couture is back in style.

That upscale fashion houses would tailor garments to better suit special clients is nothing new. According to Roopal Patel, founder of Roopal Patel Consulting, landmark labels often invite 'tried-and-true fans' to private trunk shows to preview collections and place custom orders. "A client might say to the team, 'Oh, well, is it possible to extend the sleeves by a quarter inch or drop the hemline down two inches?'" Patel says. "These sorts of adjustments have been possible for a long time."

And yet while brands may once have granted these privileges to a select few, such modifications were not always made available to general audiences. But that was before Twitter.

As even the most rarefied labels cultivate Instagram followers and launch online operations, it is no longer in the best interest of a designer to close his or her atelier to the public. The savviest brands are welcoming the World Wide Web.

An early champion of web-optimized customization, Burberry announced Burberry Bespoke three years ago. The unprecedented initiative lets deep-pocketed clients build Burberry trench coats in the cut, fabric, and color of their choosing. Attractive accouterments include studded sleeves and mink-fur lining. But personalization has its price. A tricked-out trench can set you back almost $9,000.

Last year, Ferragamo debuted a dedicated platform that invites users to customize Vara and Varina shoes to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the iconic styles.

Prada followed suit in June and unveiled the Made-to-Order Décolleté Collection. The service gives women the opportunity to purchase pumps in one of three heel heights, five finishes and 27 colors. Both Ferragamo and Prada offer shoppers the option to add metallic monograms to shoe soles.

The result screams luxury. But its significance is subtler: The consumer now has her own logo and she’s willing to pay for it.

"That’s the key component of this trend," Patel says. "The luxury customer is demanding individual products that not everyone else has. She wants to walk into a room and know that something is only hers."

Serial entrepreneur Aslaug Magnusdottir is so convinced of that that she has built a business to make it happen. The Moda Operandi and Gilt Groupe alumna launched Tinker Tailor in May.

The site bills itself as "the world’s first digital destination for the creation and customization of luxury fashion" and counts industry insiders like Waris Ahluwalia and Harper’s Bazaar Fashion Editor Laura Brown as advisory board members.

PHOTO: Tinker Tailor lets users customize designer dressers and create their own silhouettes.
Tinker Tailor
PHOTO: Tinker Tailor lets users customize designer dressers and create their own silhouettes.

The start-up splits its focus: Shoppers can use it either to design custom-order ensembles in an array of fabrics and silhouettes or to alter existing designs from such storied labels as Giambattista Valli, Roksanda Ilincic, and Alberta Ferretti. According to Magnusdottir, the emphasis on choice ensures that resultant looks are 'relevant' to global customers from the Middle East to Midtown.

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