As oxymoronic as it might sound, 'mass customisation' is the new trend that has taken over the luxury market and is filtering into the mainstream.
It started with affluent customers of luxurious brands, no longer content to fork over thousands for a beautiful handbag, stylish shoe or stunning scarf if there is a risk it will be identical to one owned by a friend or neighbour.
They demand a personalised touch to truly make that stunning object theirs and theirs alone.
Now, fans of Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo can create their own unique version of the brand's iconic driving shoe. Details such as the colour of hardware and the kind of leather are completely customisable according to taste and whim.
Burberry recently introduced a Scarf Bar, from which customers can design a classic cashmere scarf from more than 30 patterns, adding embroidered initials in a choice of 30 shades of thread. It's the first time the iconic English fashion leader has offered a customising service of this scope for its accessories.
The mass customisation trend cashes in on consumers' need for instant gratification set by fast fashion, while still demanding unique or custom design products. It also extends the promise of clothing that's perfectly designed to fit the individual, at price points that are accessible to consumers unable to afford traditional bespoke clothing.
Graeme Lewsey, CEO of Melbourne's Virgin Australia Fashion Festival, says that part of customisation appeal for consumers is the opportunity to play a part in the broader narrative of a brand.
"I think it all comes back to storytelling and the power of the consumer," Lewsey explains.
"With the rise of social media and digital platforms, the consumer is now able to advocate and promote a brand to their friends and other consumers, and that's having a really interesting impact because unless there is a story, there isn't really much to say. So consumers on their own social media feeds are wanting to have some sort of status and story to pass on."
Mixing it up
But the demand hasn't been solely regulated to the fashion market, either.
Earlier this year, Moët Hennessy launched their uniquely intimate Moët Hennessy Private Events. In partnership with Urban Events & Catering, Private Events is an interactive experience of the brand's range of luxury champagnes and vodkas from the luxury of their own home.
The concept, which includes themes such as Moët Ice White Party and the Belvedere Vodka "Know Your Martini" Masterclass, offers a completely personalised experience, including made-to-order menus. Guests are also invited to experiment with creating signature drinks with the aid of expert mixologists.
Moët Hennessy Australia's Andrew McLaren believes that the demand for this kind of interactivity is only growing.
"As people are now globally connected there is a greater expectation that they will be able to experience brands in a particular way – their way," he explains.
"Quite often this involves experiential elements through to requests for personalisation. Individuals are now looking for richer, deeper experiences that connect our brands with their individual lifestyle."
While it may sound like a new way of talking about bespoke, mass customisation differs in several key ways.
Traditionally, true bespoke required hours of one-on-one interaction with a team of artisans before construction. This would then be followed up with ongoing consultation on details such as fit.
By comparison, mass customisation gives customers the same level of creative control from the comfort of their own home.
Online 3D modelling systems – such as those employed by global boutique Farfetch to create individualised footwear – lets you view your creation before it's submitted, toying with details such as stitching and colour. All without having to leave the house.
It also requires customers to pay for products before they are put into production, which eliminates the risk of excess inventory – a major advantage for businesses operating in trend-driven sectors like fashion.
Just did it
This model for customisation owes much to footwear giant Nike, which launched the first mass customisation platform back in 1999 with NikeID. This revolutionary-for-the-time service blended the benefits of traditional craft production with the efficiencies of modern industrial processes.
According to David Bush, one of Australia's most sought-after fashion and retail consultants, the mass customisation concept is one perfectly suited to the digital age. In order to stand out from the crowd, brands must continue to find new ways to connect with their audience on a global scale.
"The development of the digital retail means the consumer can access brand and product anywhere anytime around the globe," explains Bush.
"[They're] also trying to slow down the purchase journey in this age of fast consumerism, finding ways to spend more time with their customers, and I think personalisation is a clever way to deliver a new, slower and intimate journey."
Unique New York
Mass customisation also offers a solution to one of the biggest paradoxes in the fashion industry. On the one hand, purchasing luxury fashion is ultimately about being "in fashion" and participating in a group movement.
But on the other, it's about expressing uniqueness - consumers are able to buy into a brand they feel connected to, while making it their own. This interaction gives the consumer something that fast fashion ultimately cannot – a sense of personal value, because the consumer has played an important role in designing it.
"The consumer, particularly the luxury consumer is tired," explains Bush.
"Tired of the same, they are seeking more personal experiences. They're seeking brands that replicate their personal values, brands that are thoughtful and considerate of their individual needs and desires."