Luxury accessories have an exclusivity problem. Because handbags are generally among a company’s most profitable and marketable product categories, most brands want (and need) to sell them hand over first in order to stay on the seasonal fashion treadmill. That’s a bit tricky, though, because one of the things luxury customers look for most in a new purchase is a sense of exclusivity; how do you sell lots of bags while still making every bag-buyer feel like she’s the only person in the world who has a particular piece? Lately, the answer is to turn a retail product into a one-of-a-kind handbag with the addition of the owner’s name or initials.
Leather goods have a long history of personalization; back when nobility traveled with customized trunks (and they still do, I guess), luggage was often emblazoned with the family’s crest or coat of arms as the final, distinguishing touch on the manufacturing process, as an old-world luggage tag of sorts. For brands like Louis Vuitton and Goyard, both of which got their start as malletiers, customization has long been a detail that they’ve offered their customers in various ways. At times it was a VIP perk, but now it’s widely available. Many Vuitton boutiques offer complimentary, on-site hot stamping (a process of applying color to leather via a combination of pressure and, well, heat) for your new purchase with initials in the color of your choice while you wait; Goyard’s customizations and Louis Vuitton’s more robust personalization service, Mon Monogram, requires consumers to send in their bags for hand-painting.
Those customization programs have proved successful for Vuitton and Goyard, and over the past few seasons, more brands have added optional customization to their purchase experiences. Bottega Veneta Initials, similar to Louis Vuitton’s Mon Monogram program, allows you to order a variety of leather goods customized with your initials and offers an 8-12 week turnaround time for the bag to be sent to your home. Fendi and Valentino, on the other hand, now both offer complimentary, in-boutique hot stamping at company flagships for a particular set of bags within their accessories collections. Perhaps the most creative incarnations of this trend is Edie Parker’s nameplate clutches, which are custom-manufactured with the purchaser’s letters of choice inlaid into the acrylic structure of a posh little evening bag.
Until recently, customization was largely a province of the most high-end brands; not only does it appeal to their very choosy and exclusivity-minded customer base, but it’s a program that requires significant financial and organizational operations to keep afloat, which usually comes along with more expensive bags. Because of its popularity, though, contemporary brands are starting to experiment with the service. Most recently, Rebecca Minkoff opened an online Monogram Shop that allows shoppers to have up to two initials hand-painted onto a small selection of popular bags in a color that matches the bag’s hardware. The markup for the service is minimal, as are the available customizations, and the limitations make personalization possible at a more accessible price level.
To make things even more accessible, Minkoff also debuted a line of simple totes and pouches that are pre-lettered with a single initial; cutting out the endless multi-letter and color combinations makes such a program sustainable at a lower price point because it allows the bags to be mass-produced and sold at third-party retailers. It’s not true personalization, because the bags aren’t unique to each order, but it’ll do in a pinch for customers who want to save time and stick to a tighter budget.
How much personalization will set you back varies depending on the size of the work and the price levels of the brand at play. Hot stamping is free with the purchase of a bag or small leather good (depending on the program) at every brand we checked, but painted customization is generally more time-consuming, varied and detailed, increasing the price of a bag by several hundred dollars in most cases. Check out detailed information about the biggest handbag personalization programs below.