Gucci became the latest luxury retailer to join the customization bandwagon when it announced plans this week to offer a DIY service for consumers to adorn products with patches, trims and monograms.
The storied fashion house joins a growing trend in the luxury market to modify seemingly sacrosanct garments. However, high-end brands are increasingly seeing the value in allowing consumers to bring their own flair to products, regardless of maintaining tradition and aesthetics.
Gucci’s service, aptly titled Gucci DIY, offers consumers the opportunity to add personal flair to the brand’s Dionysus bag (which retails for $1,550) with plans to integrate the Ace sneaker and Princetown slipper and men’s made-to-order suits. The program is currently exclusively available at the Milan flagship store, but will soon expand to other flagship locations in major cities around the world.
Michael Miraflor, vp of strategy at Blue 449, said brands like Gucci have struggled in recent years to maintain cultural currency, particularly as shoppers place an increasing premium on customization.
“We’re no longer in a place where a brand can tell you how you’re supposed to look. Everyone, especially young people, likes to put their personal spin on things,” Miraflor said. “There’s a lot of value and cachet in being an individual, rather than seeming like you’re a cookie cutter in a catalogue.”
He first became aware of the rise of customization while on a recent trip to Paris when he stumbled upon a pop artist exhibition led by Blair Chivers in the trendy Parisian retailer Colette. There, he witnessed what he called a “luxury goods massacre,” astounded as passersby handed over $10,000 Birkin bags for a shot at exclusive customization.
“Isn’t the goal of owning an iconic item to keep it as super clean and unblemished as possible?,” he mused in a shared post on LinkedIn. “I had seen artist-inspired collaborations and customization of luxury goods before, but it was usually sanctioned directly by the brand or kept as such a rare and expensive option that it was reserved for consumers with an overflowing closet full of luxury goods.”
In an interview, Miraflor said that Gucci’s strategy to push toward personalization is a reflection of the ongoing efforts of the company’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, to transition the dated brand to the “popular culture zeitgeist.”
“Personalization is very relevant and very ‘now.’ I would expect to see more luxury and high fashion brands expressing their take on personalization in the near future,” Miraflor said.
Tom Patterson, CEO of menswear company Tommy John, said the move toward individualization is a strategic ploy to increase engagement with consumers.
“These retailers need a reason to drive people to the stores at the end of the day,” he said. “Consumer behavior has changed so much, they’re being forced to let the consumer have more control.”
He noted that like many fashion movements, customization has primarily remained a trend among womenswear, though added that menswear has traditionally placed an emphasis on monogramming goods like cufflinks and wallets.
Still, customization can be challenging for smaller retailers that lack scale, particularly those that base their entire business models around it like Bow & Drape. Major fashion brands benefit from resources that allow them to dabble in an exploratory DIY space.
“Bigger brands can absorb the cost, but it’s harder for smaller brands just starting out with customization being 100 percent of their business,” Patterson said.
“The [smaller] companies generally are limited by the few items they can customize,” Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, analyst at Forrester, told Digiday in a recent article. “They’re like pizza restaurants with lots of variants around a few core items. To scale, they’ll need to offer much more variety and choice.”