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December 2016

The Guardian

Vicki Loomes, who studies fads for the agency TrendWatching, thinks “consumers’ experiences on apps that learn purchasing behaviour are driving expectations around personalisation”. She adds: “Manufacturing technologies that allow ever-shorter production times and made-to-order products are allowing the physical world to catch up.”

How Christmas presents got personalised – from selfie champagne to bespoke Nutella

by Susie Mesure

Working out how much someone loves you at Christmas used to be so simple. Was the present expensive? Or did the giver sweat blood to make it?

No more. If, come 25 December, your gift doesn’t arrive branded with your initials, name or grinning face, or with a meaningful haiku, you can forget it – that relationship is as good as dead.

Pork pie with your name on it? Selfie slapped on a bottle of Moët & Chandon? The title of that tortuous first novel you still plan on finishing seared on to one of those Penguin mugs? All these, and more, could be yours.

“The thoughtfulness can show the gift has come from the heart,” says Vita Woods, creative manager at Selfridges, which is wall to wall with concessions offering to customise your goodies. John Lewis is also in on the act, as is Liberty, Debenhams and House of Fraser. Woods thinks personalising presents makes them “special to the individual and for the giver”. After all, nothing says “you’re the one” like a jar of bespoke Nutella that costs double the price of a normal one.

Some items have been personalised for ever. Think of pocket squares, shirt cuffs or pyjamas. It’s a lucrative business. A Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 bag, for example, costs £295 more with a monogram than without. But, thanks to technology and cheap bespoke labels, personalisation has gone mainstream – and it is proving a nice little earner for the shops and brands able to offer it. Vicki Loomes, who studies fads for the agency TrendWatching, thinks “consumers’ experiences on apps that learn purchasing behaviour are driving expectations around personalisation”. She adds: “Manufacturing technologies that allow ever-shorter production times and made-to-order products are allowing the physical world to catch up.”

So, who is to blame for the trend metastasising? Coca-Cola, perhaps, for those Share a Coke bottles in 2013, which reversed falling sales? Or Apple, which offered to personalise iPods (remember those?) in 2007? But the phenomenon goes back further. At the luxury end, accesories designer Anya Hindmarch has let customers add messages to her handbags ever since she started, nearly 30 years ago. She employs a “bespoke craftsman” at each of her flagship stores, in London, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

“I have always loved the Oscar Wilde quote: ‘Be yourself, the other places are taken.’ Our bespoke offering embodies this. You can emboss any handwriting, drawings or naughty messages into the leather to create the product you want. It is the very opposite of seasonal fashion and logos,” says Hindmarch.

If you can’t face the queues for the special in-store services, or miss the cut-off dates to order something online, you could always get hold of an electric engraving pen for as little as a quid and get to work yourself. Possibly the ultimate in personalisation.