The customization trend of the 2000s is having a global comeback, and fashionistas have embraced it, proving to naysayers that the days of conspicuous consumption in China are ending. Goyard, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry, Longchamp, Loewe, and now even Dior (with the Dior Oblique personalization program) all currently have a variety of customized accessories, and through their personalization programs, these brands are empowering high-value customers by transforming them into the architects of their exclusive products.
Sophie Delafontaine, Creative Director of Longchamp, told Jing Daily, “Nowadays, people are not looking for a bag, they’re looking for something special, something which really reflects who they are. And this is particularly true when speaking of customers buying luxury bags.” It’s clear that individuality and self-expression are important for younger demographics, and Chinese millennials and Gen-Zers glorify luxury brands that respect their individuality and respond to their peculiar needs. Since the primary in-demand quality of a heritage brand is ‘exclusivity,’ most luxury buyers have become less enthusiastic about mass production. Consequently, younger consumers want to be involved in the design process by leaving their mark on the end product.
A 2015 research paper from Deloitte named “The Deloitte Consumer Review. Made-to-order: The rise of mass personalization” states that 36 percent of consumers are interested in buying personalized products while 48 percent don’t mind waiting longer for customized luxury goods. Meanwhile, the 2017 Deloitte research paper “Bling it on. What makes a millennial spend more?” shows that 40.6 percent of Chinese millennial consumers don’t mind paying a premium for a personalized product, while in the U.S., 71.4 percent would pay a premium. This shows how popular customized luxury goods have become around the world and how this trend still has room for growth in China.
It should be noted here that a correlation between fashion styles and the economy is often recognized. Some retail experts argue that in times of recession, trendsetters embrace conspicuous consumption and more restrained aesthetics, while conversely, during a phase of economic expansion, consumers welcome splashy extravagance. Not surprisingly, in China — a country where the economy is booming and young consumers consider themselves brands — the customization trend is in high demand. China’s millennial and Gen-Z luxury consumers interpret personalization as a resource that helps them fulfill their right to self-expression and unabashed individualism.
Longchamp was one brand that was at the forefront of this current customization trend. Way back in 2004, the French luxury leather goods company launched the first customized Le Pliage® Personalized handbag. It was extremely popular, and as Sophie Delafontaine told Jing Daily, Longchamp “kept on renewing it ever since — particularly when we decided to add Le Pliage® Cuir a decade later.” She points out that through personalization, customers have “the opportunity to create their very own it-bag.”
But today’s focus on customization can even be seen in smaller labels. Robert Wun is a Hong-Kong born fashion designer best known for his signature edgy style and sculptured silhouettes. Recently, he told Jing Daily, “The Robert Wun brand is always about uniqueness,” and the designer has forged a customer-centric model where he discusses ideas with specific clients in order to construct a bespoke luxury product for them.
Wun says that “there is a particular joy and satisfaction in made-to-order designs with specific clients,” because, throughout the process, the designer understands the needs of the customer, while the buyer sees the effort going into a bespoke design. This process of creating alongside the designer strengthens the bond between them both, but it’s impossible for many luxury brands to offer a truly bespoke experience. Fortunately, a connection with the audience can be constructed through monogramming or new personalization processes.
Louis Vuitton’s Hot Stamping program, for instance, lets buyers hot stamp their monograms on small leather products. This process is available in select Louis Vuitton flagship stores, comes complimentary, and is quick (requiring just a few minutes of the buyer’s time). Consequently, an exclusive item produced at a large scale can still become exclusive to the consumer through a personalization process — one that’s faster and more cost-effective than a bespoke design.
“We’re all looking for unique pieces,” according to Sophie Delafontaine, and that’s why Longchamp is focusing more and more on personalization. And now that mass customization is easier to carry out, younger consumers can fully embrace their favorite brands by making each luxury product exclusive to them. This will put pressure on many brands to revise their creative strategies and the technologies they use for them.
Not long ago, personalization was a costly experience that required the support of craftsmen and artisans, but because of technological developments, consumers can now customize their products quickly and cheaply. This, of course, is not the same as a full bespoke experience but implies something more straightforward like hand-painted monograms on leather accessories (Goyard, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta), embroideries (ABCDior lets consumers embroider their initials on totes and sneakers), and hot stamping services (Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Valentino).
Considering China’s rich artisan heritage, it’s very likely that luxury consumers will move further away from the prevailing mass-produced premium brands and will instead embrace timeless products developed with skilled artisans. In this context, China’s passion for personalization can be understood as something deeper than a personal branding fad and more as a movement that’s here to stay.