The art and craft of customization is, of course, nothing new. Clothing – the choice to wear what you want – is a form of personal customization that distinguishes you from the crowd or helps you to fit in with your friends, workmates or team.
Logo-embossed work dungarees, Scottish tartan and your favourite band T-shirt are all forms of customization for a given time and place, and so are the tweaks and tucks we make – to a tailored prom jacket or a pair of Levis – that alter fit, determine the level of formality or simply give (alternative) life to an otherwise tired look.
The New York and European catwalk is also a shop window for customization. It should be – most budding designers begin penniless with a bag of cloth and tailoring tools, and a vision that informs their later, famed designs based on the need to cut, fold and sparkle on a budget.
The need to design great clothes that stick to changing but respected shapes and materials – but show originality and panache – is the essence of good fashion.
And culture has now become more important to the way fashion operates. The immediacy of current media pushes brands to be constantly on their game in terms of innovation and customization – Nike’s sneaker template is the prime example: collaborations with sports and design stars and the option to customise. Likewise Ralph Lauren empowers customers to customize its signature looks with tools inspired by cut-and-paste sites like ShopLook.
These changes (and the increasing popularity of casual and sports apparel) have affected the aesthetics of all fashion presentation, even at the couture end. Vivienne Westwood’s Spring 2019 Ready to Wear collection has a distinctly casual feel that – like Comme des Garcons – incorporates pop- culture commentary as an audacious riff on the state of the world.
At Le Fruit Defendu customization is complementary to the brand’s unisex approach. Differing from the approach taken by Chitose Abe’s Sacai label -where male and female silhouettes are offset to create new definitions of the role of the sexes – Le Fruit Defendu aim to quench sexual parameters, thus promoting the simplest but most radical form of customization: the ability to change yourself.
Personalisation is at the heart of this approach, including the inclination for fashion brands to work with other businesses. What began as a fashion-only affair (big brand collabs with upcoming or progressive designers via pop-up events at Dover Street Market, for example) has blossomed into events like the Beyonce/Coachella/Balmain charity project that is an opt-in for consumers. Customization and collaboration pieces are a way for brands to counter fast fashion by offering one-off items with a shorter, more exclusive run, or by letting customers tweak the look to make it their own.
Stella McCartney’s designs for the British Olympic Team in 2012 or Le Fruit Defendu’s work with XY Gaming Electronic Sports Team for the recent PUBG Games in Asia are examples of fashion taking the template beyond its own world. LFD utilizes the letter X featured in both the sports team’s name and its own unisex approach for a sport-casual vibe that is clearly gamer friendly.
Whatever the future of customization, this much is clear: brands aren’t about to hand over all responsibility for design (a move which threatens the loss of brand identity and loyalty), but they do have to be in tune with the the customers’ desire to be different, which lays at the heart of customization and fashion itself.