A new stamping ground

Monogramming with creative zeal is bringing new refinement to personalisation. Avril Groom finds gifts with signature style

Smythson leather Panama bag, £550 (gold-stamping £6.95 per letter)
Smythson leather Panama bag, £550 (gold-stamping £6.95 per letter)

Logos are currently déclassé while initials are increasingly highly prized. Surely there’s some inconsistency here, you might think, when some of the most recognisable logos are composed of initials, however disguised and convoluted. The difference is between wearing someone else’s initials and wearing your own, applied at your request –which is now a fast‑growing service at brands both long established and new, and found on handbags and coats alongside the traditional wallet or diary.

Clockwise from far left: Penelope Chilvers silk/satin bespoke bridal slippers, £349. Carolina Bucci gold, labradorite and diamond initial rings, £3,900 each. Anya Hindmarch bespoke Maud bag in satin with suede lining, from £450
Clockwise from far left: Penelope Chilvers silk/satin bespoke bridal slippers, £349. Carolina Bucci gold, labradorite and diamond initial rings, £3,900 each. Anya Hindmarch bespoke Maud bag in satin with suede lining, from £450

There is still inconsistency – not so long ago initials were seen as undesirable, too. “It’s very different from the 1980s when men had initials embroidered on their shirt pockets to show they could afford a handmade garment,” says Iain Burton, chairman of Aspinal of London, where 40 per cent of online sales now include a request for embossed initials. Five full-time staff work on the service at the company’s Haslemere headquarters and there are on-the-spot embossing machines at five of their London stores for Christmas. “Now it’s not about ostentation but the personal pleasure of a top-quality item that you have had marked as yours and which you will keep for years. Or a thoughtful gift that someone has taken the time to get engraved for you.”

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Personalisation is undoubtedly a sought-after antidote to mass “luxury”, but from the growing army of designers providing it come other words – “memory”, “sentiment”, “heritage” – which indicate a different customer mind-set. Bespoke items offer more than initials – personal messages in the giver’s handwriting at Anya Hindmarch (from £40), family crests (from about £150) at fifth-generation leather-specialist firm Tusting, and Victorian quotations on reworked vintage jewellery at Annina Vogel. Initials are not always the owner’s – jeweller Carolina Bucci recently made a necklace with the initials of a client’s grandchildren.

Personalisation of a Burberry bespoke trenchcoat, from £1,295
Personalisation of a Burberry bespoke trenchcoat, from £1,295 | Image: Burberry

Such display is new for the British. From her Italian viewpoint, Bucci, whose diamond, gold and labradorite initial rings (£3,900 each) are a modern classic, says, “only the British see wearing initials as boastful. When I was a child, such pieces were part of the handmade tradition, and I see my own “C” ring as my style signifier. But it must be beautiful and fun, not an ego stamp. It can be passed on as a symbol of self – how lovely to wear your mother’s initial, for instance, in memory of her. It also represents stability in shaky times.” Sentimentality lies behind Loquet, launched in June by Sheherazade Goldsmith and the model and writer Laura Bailey. “My young son gave me a little Perspex heart with dried flowers inside and I thought how great it would be if I could open it and put in my own mementoes,” says Goldsmith. They design initials (£70), precious birthstones sourced from India (£20-£430), and charms (from £20, “each of which has some significance to us or tells a story but also has wide appeal”) that float free in a round or heart-shaped locket (from £599 and £450 for 9ct gold; from £2,000 and £1,650 for 18ct) that comes in three sizes. Bespoke gold charms can be made on request.

From left: Aspinal calf-leather Marylebone bag, from £795. Annina Vogel original Victorian signet ring with hand-engraved Victor Hugo quote, £350. Emma Logue cashmere and leather tassel shawls in blue, £395, and beige, £325 (£10 per letter)
From left: Aspinal calf-leather Marylebone bag, from £795. Annina Vogel original Victorian signet ring with hand-engraved Victor Hugo quote, £350. Emma Logue cashmere and leather tassel shawls in blue, £395, and beige, £325 (£10 per letter)

Nostalgia is also in the mix. “It plays a big part with monograms,” says Trevor Pickett, whose eponymous store has long added initials by request on items from cashmere stoles to briefcases. It has just introduced fetching embroidered initials (£25 per letter) on various leathers, which are especially popular on python clutch bags (£349). Pickett finds that customers today are “confident enough to want their own monograms rather than a brand logo”. Director William Tusting, whose small Buckinghamshire factory hand-makes leather items from wallets through to bespoke bags and sofas, believes that the growing interest “relates to the idea of provenance, of knowing where and how something was crafted. Adding your initials helps you feel it’s worth treasuring for the long term.”

From left: Fendi made-to-order woven leather Adele bag, £5,610. Louis Vuitton leather Mon Monogram Neverfull GM bag, £840
From left: Fendi made-to-order woven leather Adele bag, £5,610. Louis Vuitton leather Mon Monogram Neverfull GM bag, £840

For firms like his, the current revival is a little déjà vu, though the benefits are palpable. Anya Hindmarch opened her bespoke-only store in Pont Street in 2009 – it offers a wide range of personalisation, from simple initials through an engraved copy of a handwritten message to completely custom bags (Maud clutch, from £450). “I took no notice of the accountants, who told me I was mad,” she says. “At the time there wasn’t much bespoke, but I could see the idea resonated – to give something lovely with a memory that you’ve helped create is more than the sum of its parts – it’s today’s true luxury.” Accelerating interest means she has added bespoke departments at her new Madison Avenue flagship and Bond Street store. She is philosophical about other brands now offering monogramming, but cautions on quality. “With a personal item every detail needs to be to the same handcrafted quality,” she says. Tusting agrees. “We work mainly with waxed leathers, where gold or silver stamping might eventually rub off, so we predominantly do plain stamping [from £28]. Within that we can do anything – a crest or motto; unlike standard initials, it’s expensive, but the plate is then the owner’s, to be used again.”

Olivia von Halle silk pyjamas, from £330 (Hand & Lock monogramming, from £11 per letter)
Olivia von Halle silk pyjamas, from £330 (Hand & Lock monogramming, from £11 per letter)

Newer brands also seek out top quality. Emma Logue, who began by designing tailored, silk shirtdresses aimed at working women, started offering monogramming and personal messages in 2012 on leather bow-belts (from £75) and cashmere shawls (in cornflower blue, £395, and beige, £325). “I eventually tracked down two ladies in north London who do excellent embroidery,” she says, “I thought machine embroidery would be more even but their handwork is perfect. A huge colour range means you can have a discreet colour match or a tiny pop of neon.” Initials on a belt or shawl are £10 per letter. Similarly, Olivia von Halle works with 250-year-old embroidery house Hand & Lock to create monograms (from £11 a letter) on her classic 1930s-style piped silk pyjamas (from £330).

Loquet’s round and heart-shaped lockets, £599 and £450 for 9ct gold; £2,000 and £1,650 for 18ct. Superdry Timothy Everest wool/nylon Town coat, about £250 (plus £45 for up to three letters)
Loquet’s round and heart-shaped lockets, £599 and £450 for 9ct gold; £2,000 and £1,650 for 18ct. Superdry Timothy Everest wool/nylon Town coat, about £250 (plus £45 for up to three letters)

Choosing a monogram is an exciting voyage of discovery, whether in store or online. Take Louis Vuitton, which has done stamped or hand-painted monograms since the 19th century. Hot-stamping is available on any of its small leather goods and luggage tags, and the Haute Maroquinerie (from £4,500 for leather; from £23,000 for crocodilian) is a fully bespoke, hot-stamped monogrammed bag. Its Mon Monogram service offers a striped and initialled, trunk-style trim on five styles of bag and luggage (such as the Neverfull GM bag, £840). You can plan your Mon Monogram online or, better, in one of its flagship stores or the new three-storey department in Selfridges. Leafing through paint and lining shades (magically, nothing actually clashes) can be daunting, but solicitous advice is on hand. The bag is then handmade and finished in about six to eight weeks.

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Penelope Chilvers’ new Notting Hill store offers a “live” version of her previously online-only, Spanish-made, monogrammed velvet slippers (£349 with three letters), which allows you to choose body, trim, lining, and even monogram colour. Chilvers has just introduced a bridal-slipper service, with ivory and pastel satins (£349), and points out that her monograms, though ornate, are not obviously letters. At Avenue 32, a high‑fashion website that specialises in personalised services, monogrammed slippers by Scho Shoes (£280 with two letters) sit alongside initialled cotton poplin pyjamas (£125, plus £46 per letter) monogrammed in fluorescent shades on white, and bags (£450) by Claire Vivier that include a specially designed letter stamp that the customer keeps (£60). Some monograms are unexpected: Burberry’s design-your-own trenchcoat service includes a monogram option inside the coat front, while Fendi’s London flagship, opening next spring, will include made-to-order bags from their Selleria collection, such as the woven leather Adele with the owner’s initials (£5,610) – available in Paris and Milan.

Monograms are a comparatively affordable way to add a personal touch, and sometimes a quick one. Smythson, another firm that has had plain- or metallic-stamped, small leather goods for almost a century, has in its main flagships traditional machines and expert stampers which are, as global retail director Xavier Rougeaux puts it, “a quick, efficient means of personalisation; except in busy times, we do it while you wait [£6.95 per letter]”. This includes initialling the luggage tag of the brand’s sleek new tote, the Panama (£550), its grained leather echoing the traditional finish on Smythson diaries. Messages or initials inside bags can also be done in store. Aspinal offers a similar while-you-wait service on small leathers, though discreet initials on the side strap of the customisable Marylebone bag are applied in its workshop (from £795, including monogramming; from £1,950 for fully bespoke). Jewellery can be equally speedy – Annina Vogel makes contemporary rings and pendants from original Victorian seal and signet rings, on which a favourite quotation, message or initials can be expertly engraved in tiny script at her Liberty shop-in-shop while the customer looks on.

Cheeringly, personalisation is no longer the exclusive preserve of grand brands. The sharp middle market has been quick to realise its added value; the ever-alert Jane Shepherdson, CEO of Whistles, offered monogramming on a varsity jacket to invited customers a year ago and found it so popular that it was introduced on clutch bags (from £55), with simple, modern-looking initials hand- screen-printed on the leather (£40). “Customers love a considered purchase,” she says. “We have monogramming pop-ups in six stores. The order takes two-and-a-half weeks and we plan to increase the range.” To mark Superdry’s upgrading with its capsule range of quirkily detailed jackets by Timothy Everest, the brand has introduced monogramming on its topically masculine, finely tailored Town coat (about £250), with up to three letters (£45) jauntily placed near the hem, available only at its London Regent Street flagship. “You can choose a discreet or bright colour, but we have chosen the distinctive font,” says design director James Holder. “Sophisticated clients prefer their own branding to a logo.” Which is really a modern-day version of the advice commonly attributed to Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – more of a mantra today than in the 1890s, and still gathering pace.

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