Once the symbol of royalty and refinement, monograms are showing up at all levels of fashion and home décor, signaling a renaissance of customization.
As the holiday gift-giving season works into a fever pitch, merchants know that personalizing a gift — whether it's a foam beer can koozie or a designer cashmere scarf — provides an instant status upgrade. Monograms have been seen on recent runways, in high-profile accessory collections and as the must-have option for gifts.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market researcher NPD Group Inc., predicted that this holiday season will be a watershed moment for sales of monogrammed items, which can give customers a psychological lift and retailers a sales boost.
"Personalization has become critical. The stores want to differentiate themselves," Cohen said.
Designer logos are no longer enough to earn admiration or envy. Cohen says that adding a monogram to a recognizable designer bag sends a message: "This is my bag. Look at what I've earned."
Louis Vuitton, the company famous for its monogram logo, celebrated its 118-year-old signature LV mark this fall by elevating it to art. Celebrating Monogram, a combination ad campaign and special collection, handed creative reins to six design icons, including artist Cindy Sherman, architect Frank Gehry and Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld. They recast Louis Vuitton's coated canvas into everything from Sherman's studio-in-a-box trunk, to Gehry's askew-angled handbag to Lagerfeld's boxing gloves, punching bag and their respective carrying cases.
"If you're going to buy a product, you want to feel that you have one of the few, not one of the many," said Cohen. "And tweaking a bag to make it just yours makes a big difference when it comes to spending bucks," he said.
Vuitton makes it easy: Online shoppers can configure custom monogram colors and accents on 26 women's and 16 men's items.
This holiday season, Burberry offers the option to engrave initials on $125 bottles of My Burberry fragrance or embroider them on $435 cashmere scarves for a $100 fee. At its fall runway show, it signaled the monogram's new covetability with a color-block poncho with initials large enough to read several paces away. The poncho sells for $1,395, plain, or $1,695 when personalized.
Monograms have become such a hit that Neiman Marcus has upgraded its online options, said Gerald Barnes, the store's executive vice president. Though monograms are in demand all year, Barnes is lately seeing a stronger trend for personalizing wearable items, especially jewelry, shirts and boots and shoes. The store is the exclusive supplier of monogrammed Uggs Australia and Toms shoes, and the three-year-old program has proved popular.
"About 70% of the Ugg boots we sell online are monogrammed, and it has grown every year," Barnes said.
Thanks to automation, creating a monogram is easier than ever. Everything from Jonathan Adler serving trays to car floor mats can be monogrammed, which in the end may devalue the specialness that the marks used to signify.
Yet, not all monograms have given way to the modern age. A few customers are willing to pay $2,500 for an E. Braun and Co. bed throw with a three-dimensional monogram hand-embroidered with 16th century techniques.
"Monograms have been very traditional in fine linens," said Liz Barbatelli, owner of the West Hollywood store. "But the world is catching up to us."