Ever picked up a shoe and thought to yourself, wouldn’t it be better if the hardware was in a different finish, or the sole a different colour? There’s probably no better time to be finicky about the details of what you wear, with mass customisation fast becoming a cornerstone of high-end fashion.
Take Salvatore Ferragamo. Following the success of last year’s Vara and Varina MTO (made-to-order) women’s shoes, the brand has launched the MTO Driver so men can also try personalising their footwear – in this case, a classic driving shoe. The options for elements such as material and hardware finish make for more than 100 permutations.
With notable designer Jason Wu helming its womenswear division, Hugo Boss is also showing that it’s not just about crafting men’s suits. For autumn, the German brand presents the Boss Bespoke Bag for women, a structured tote that can be personalised with different colourways and hardware finishes.
SLOW BUT STEADY
Strictly speaking, mass customisation is nothing new. Dell has been selling configure-to-order personal computers for ages. In the fashion sector, Levi’s launched a mass customisation programme in 1994 called Perfect Pair. For years, consumers could get their jeans tailored to their sizes and preferences. The programme never really caught on, and was terminated a decade later. In 2010, however, the denim company jumped right back into mass customisation with Curve ID. The difference? This time, it was an online interactive experience.
Technology has greatly increased the potential for mass customisation programmes. Configurators (the digital platforms that customers use to pick colourways and see visualisations of their desired specifications on the product) have become less expensive even as their capabilities have grown.
Customers participate in the design process by clicking on options. Companies, in turn, deliver an individualised product. The customer gets to wear something he had a hand in making, and the company has less inventory to contend with. Everybody wins.
With consumers becoming increasingly connected and eager for ways to wear their individuality on their sleeves, it’s not hard to see why mass customisation has caught on in a big way. This is especially true for the luxury sector, which has even more pressure to offer products and experiences truly special to its customers. Being able to get your initials on your Louis Vuitton carry-all with its Mon Monogram service, customise a pair of Prada Made to Order Decollete shoes or personalise an Hermes scarf seems par for the course.
THE LUSTRE IN LUXURY
But at a time when consumers can “design” a pair of Nike trainers at their computers and even Coke cans can be customised, how can luxury brands set themselves apart? Perhaps the answer lies in customer engagement beyond the retail process, and aligning the service with the brand’s DNA and digital marketing strategy. Burberry, for instance, first plunged into mass customisation in 2011 with Burberry Bespoke, a programme that celebrated its iconic trench coat, while etching into public consciousness the idea that the Burberry trench was the only trench worth having.
What was clever was not that customers could line a coat with mink if they felt like it, but that even those who could not afford a designer trench coat could be part of the experience. Site visitors could assemble a coat virtually and share those images on social media platforms – an effective way for the brand to build brand loyalty while creating buzz. This month, Burberry extends its customisation capabilities to another signature accessory: its cashmere scarves.
As mass customisation continues to gain momentum in the luxury sector, true bespoke, where everything is measured and made to specification from scratch, may be the only option left for those who want something truly one-of-a-kind.
That said, not everyone has the patience to sit through numerous face-to-face discussions and measurements, and wait months for, say, a pair of Oxfords. At the end of the day, luxury is about satisfying personal preferences and, now, there’s truly something for everyone.