Fashion DIY: Design it yourself

Gucci's signature flower motif on a jacket shown at the men's spring/summer 2017 fashion show in Milan, Italy, last month. A service at the label's flagship store in Milan allows customisation of jackets, tuxedos, coats and shoes.
Gucci's signature flower motif on a jacket shown at the men's spring/summer 2017 fashion show in Milan, Italy, last month. A service at the label's flagship store in Milan allows customisation of jackets, tuxedos, coats and shoes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Just in time for the couture shows this week - couture being, perhaps, the original customisation art in fashion, the one in which a customer goes to the atelier, chooses her dress and then, because it is being made only for her, has it altered as she so desires - Jimmy Choo plans to unveil its latest innovation.

It is not a new heel height or shape, but a collection of crystal clip-ons, buttons and bracelets that can decorate pumps and clutches and peep-toe ankle-laced stilettos (even slip-on skater shoes), the better to luxe up an otherwise simple pair of shoes according to individual desire.

"People want to show their personality and have something a little different," said Sandra Choi, Jimmy Choo's creative director.

This follows the introduction of Gucci DIY stage 2, a service in the brand's flagship store in Milan that allows customisation of jackets, tuxedos, coats and shoes.

Then, there is Opening Ceremony's new "embroidery station", a sewing machine tucked away in the SoHo store where customers can personalise shirts and jackets with patches and graphics. The service will soon expand to hand-painting, airbrushing and hand embroidery.

It is the dawn of a new era of fashion DIY. Not do it yourself, but design it yourself.

If personalisation has been a growing phenomenon for a while, with brands such as Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Nike and Fendi offering products for the tweaking, these programmes take the practice to another level, empowering customers to make their mark on their clothing in a more elemental and idiosyncratic way.

Many industry insiders think it is just the beginning.

Ask about the future of fashion and the answer that is likely to come back - along with the importance of Instagram and the transformation of shows into entertainment - is personalisation.

Consider Alessandro Michele's rationale for his Gucci service: "The way you dress is the way you feel, the way you live, what you read, your choices. That's what I want to put into Gucci and that's why I decided to give our customers the possibility of customising and creating their own Gucci products."

However, there is a fine line between giving consumers a voice and facilitating cacophony.

Before everyone gets carried away and rushes down to seize power for themselves and start decorating, it is worth pausing and acknowledging that there is a risk to all this.

Not just in making a bad colour choice - there is a reason designers are designers and everyone else is not: They have an understanding of fabrics and colours and what works and what does not that has been honed over time - but in revealing your lapses in taste or judgment.

Everyone has embarrassing clothing choices hidden away in his closet. DIY simply raises the ante.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when I designed my own Fendi Peekaboo bag for an article.

I have rarely experienced as much anxiety as I did when faced with all those leathers and hardware options.

And I did not even have to live with the results of my choices - someone else did (it was auctioned for charity).

Nevertheless, I was racked with self-doubt. What if I messed up? Seeing little squares of suede and nappa and trying to imagine them supersized on a tote bag was almost impossible.

I spent hours hemming and hawing and even with the advice of the extraordinarily patient Fendi Made to Order expert, I was unconvinced it would all be all right in the end.

Maybe that simply reveals my lack of imagination - those who cannot do, critique - but I doubt I am alone here.

It is one thing to do what my friends and I did in high school: Take your old jeans, chop them off at the knees, slice them up at the seams and make them into "new" denim skirts by inserting assorted fabrics into the middle.

It is an entirely different thing to do something similar with an investment garment you will have for years.

What you love today - what expresses your attitudes and obsessions at this political and social moment - you may find excruciatingly embarrassing tomorrow.

This is especially true of things such as the patches available on Gucci and OC jackets, for example: It could seem completely apropos to decorate your bomber with, say, bees and snakes, or emojis, hamburgers and pizza, at the moment, but in two years, it may just seem laughable.

Theoretically, there are protections built into the customisation process, in that the options have been approved by the designer and there are advisers on hand, although I wonder how they might steer a would-be buyer away from a mistake in a world where the mantra is "the customer is always right".

When it comes to the Jimmy Choo offering, nothing is irrevocable as everything is removable.

The buttons come with coverings in the same fabric as the shoe or bag, so they look more like three- dimensional polka dots. Although it is more than possible to go over the top attaching the sparkles.

Gucci has preselected the places where DIYers can choose to put their desired patches or initials or embroidery and Carol Lim of Opening Ceremony said she and her co-founder, Humberto Leon, believed that their varsity jacket was recognisable enough on its own, no matter the decoration.

Still, she said: "If someone wanted to go crazy and embellish everywhere, would we say, 'You can't do that?' We haven't so far."

There is a lot of upside to individual expression, but do not forget: The mistakes you make will be your own.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline 'Fashion DIY: Design it yourself'. Print Edition | Subscribe