Shaking Sameness: Luxury Goes Custom To Rev Up Consumers

PARIS — Luxury brands are out of control. That is, they are breaking out of the direct-control mantra that defined the Nineties.As companies...

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"Having exclusive merchandise seems like a good strategy because it offers consumers the chance of getting a product they wouldn’t find in another city and does not have the same price constraints as made-to-order," said Kent at Morgan Stanley. "We think the concept of made-to-order is a good one. However, it will probably have limited appeal because of price considerations."

Gucci’s made-to-order handbags for example, start at $1,750 and run up to $15,000, while a custom Burberry trench can run up to $2,150.

Smith, who has long sprinkled toys and vintage clothes among his collections in his stores as a way of customizing them, said one of his favorite stores in the world is Tokyu Hands, a seven-story emporium in Tokyo devoted to anything one might need for the home and beyond, from hardware and electronics to party supplies, camping equipment and stationery.

"I think most human beings love the act of discovering things," he said. "[Tokyu Hands] has every penknife, every backpack, every staple gun or pen you could ever imagine. Shops like that I find really amazing because you don’t find them anywhere else in the world."

Smith said luxury boutiques might find it necessary to add other brands as a way of spicing up their shops. "There are things that can be done," he said.

Chanel president Françoise Montenay said its 130 boutiques have subtly different architecture, a customized merchandise mix and exclusive and/or ephemeral products. "We always try to surprise the customer," she said. "When you see two of our boutiques, they really are different, even if it was the same architect and interior designer."

In terms of what’s on sale, about 60 percent of merchandise is common to all Chanel boutiques, with the balance selected by the boutique manager to best meet local needs and tastes. "The merchandise is more and more customized to the spirit of the country," she said.

In addition, Chanel offers "ephemeral" products, produced in limited quantities and offered for a short time, to spur sales. "It’s really a pleasure for the customer," Montenay said. "[Our customer] values the familiarity of our makeup, for example, but the idea is to offer a new look, too."
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