When it comes to one of the most popular forms of decoration, people are making it personal. Whether with patches on bags, embroidery on jeans or customized art on leather jackets, personalization is moving beyond the dusty monogram and into a smattering of standout symbols that make the wearer look like a walking, talking emoji.
In this increasingly digital age, when a text message or email can be finished with a dollar sign, dancer or hysterical smiley face, it makes perfect sense that people have started personalizing their pieces.
"People ask themselves, 'How does this translate to online and digital?'" says Eric Rivera, publicist and social media expert at Purple PR. "How do you make the whole world your personal brand?"
Literally putting your name, symbol, sign or slogan on clothing is a good start, and it's increasing across social media and IRL (as "in real life" is known these days).
"We live in such a social media age, and people are constantly looking for something interesting so they have something to talk about," says Jessie Willner, founder and designer of Los Angeles-based the Mighty Company, which makes leather jackets, some of which she has personalized for celebrities. "More and more brands are trying to do social-media-friendly pieces."
When Willner sent model Gigi Hadid a black-and-white leather jacket with "Gigi" emblazoned at the chest, the paparazzi pictures exploded across the Internet, and Hadid's 1950s look was the subject of plenty of posts on the Web that week. And it didn't hurt that the model was wearing a full set of rollers in her hair and a pair of oversize sunglasses to up the glamour factor.
After Hadid's picture went viral, the jacket immediately sold out on Willner's website, with about half the orders being requested as custom.
Beyond supermodels, personalization is popular among varying groups in fashion as an easy and everyday way to add more individuality and flair to one's style.
Madewell has been a popular resource for embroidered denim jackets. Celebrities such as Emma Roberts and Diane Kruger have been sporting their monogrammed toppers for months now, and the brand did a six-city tour customizing customers' denim jackets with flash art and initials all season long.
"There's so much out there, and these days you can really buy anything," says Joyce Lee, creative director of Madewell. "Personalized pieces are something that are special to you, and people are looking to do something unique and have something different than what everybody else is wearing."
Madewell offers customization on denim, bags and select dresses, on its website and in Madewell stores. The brand partnered with an Austin, Texas-based collective called Fort Lonesome to do the custom embroidery on the personalization tour. Lee says that one of the most unusual design requests they received was for a panda surrounded by flowers, wearing a pair of Warby Parker glasses. Self-expression, indeed.
"The customized pieces become conversation starters," says Jonathan Cheung, head of design at Levi's. "It makes the clothing somehow more human."
Levi's started offering customization, alterations, repairs, patches and embroidery in 2010 at its Tailor Shop inside the brand's San Francisco store. Tailor Shops have since rolled out globally to Levi's locations in London, Paris, Tokyo and Melbourne.
The recently launched accessories collection Pop & Suki, created by British television personality Poppy Jamie and her best friend, model and actress
"Our generation is drawn to creative forms of self-expression and wants to make things their own," says Waterhouse about the inspiration to start a customized brand.
Options are also a crucial part of the customization game. Pop & Suki is offering various fonts and colors to be emblazoned on the bottom of bags, and for many, personalization doesn't stop with lettering.
Marlien Rentmeester, founder of the blog LeCatch.com, sticks to more classic forms of personalization but still manages to stand out among the fashion crowd. "My best friends like to call me Laverne [from 'Laverne & Shirley'] because I monogram everything I possibly can," says Rentmeester.
From a nickname scrolled across a jacket to pandas wearing sunglasses, the possibilities for personalization are increasingly imaginative. And, luckily, it's a much less permanent way to express oneself than, say, a tattoo.
"It's a great way to memorialize your style and personality," says Willner. "I wish I was personalizing jackets in my teenage years rather than getting tattoos."