New York Times: Want a Great Gift? Put Their Initials on It.
LONDON — In certain social circles, Anne Singer is something of a monogramming legend.
The French-born Ms. Singer, whose husband’s great-grandfather Isaac Singer invented the sewing machine, established the Monogrammed Linen Shop four decades ago on Walton Street, an enclave in the Chelsea/Kensington area that’s lined with upscale shops. For everyone from Hollywood celebrities and European royalty to expatriates and the posh British set, her sweetly designed and monogrammed baby pillows, personalized linens and home accessories became gift-list perennials.
Even though she sold the business to the French linen company Fremaux-Delorme almost a decade ago — Ms. Singer continued as a consultant until 2018, when she started her own monogram linen brand — fans have said that her design legacy lives on.
“I think what Anne did was bring the idea of monogramming out of the back rooms of ateliers in Portugal and France and Italy, where sweet old lady artisans in, I’m certain, black dresses toiled with needle and thread into today’s world of a computer-generated monogramming machine,” Valerie Smith, the owner of the Monogram Shop, in East Hampton, N.Y., wrote in an email. (Ms. Smith was a customer of Ms. Singer’s shop in London.)
The change, she continued, “made monogramming seem more hip and made it possible to deliver a monogrammed whatever — baby pillow, bathrobe, christening present — somewhat on the spot.”
Monogramming, Ms. Singer said in a recent video interview from her home in Paris, is “a very simple thing, but it’s very effective,” noting that customers must choose the monogram style, font, color and size. “Monogramming shows the time and effort the person put into organizing the gift.”
Many reference sources trace the practice of monogramming back to the time of the Greeks and Romans, as early coins bore the initials of leaders or towns. By the Middle Ages, such combinations of letters had commercial, religious and artistic applications, and as technology improved through the industrial age, the execution of monograms moved from human hands to machine production.
“There have been two clear trends in retail over the past decade, personalization and the provision of ‘experiences,’” Marie-Claude Gervais, a social psychologist and the research director of the Foundation, a Britain-based consultancy that helps companies better understand their customers, wrote in an email. “This has been the case especially among wealthier people, those who already have everything they need. Monogramming is essentially a deeply personal experience, the experience of ‘status,’ a kind of insignia for the common man, so it powerfully combines these two trends.”
In a way, the appeal of monogramming might have been heightened by the climate crisis, Dr. Gervais wrote. “Carving or embroidering a name adds considerable value to a gift at very little environmental cost. But, less consciously, it may be a way of ensuring a sense of perennity in a world that feels fragile and finite.”
It’s likely that monogramming and personalizing of gifts will be ubiquitous this holiday season. These personalized presents might run the gamut from luxury luggage to bespoke furniture, with prices that range from a few dollars to a significant amount for an elaborate service.
But specialists say the price will be well worth the result. “A monogrammed or personalized piece has always had an heirloom quality to it, to be cherished and passed down from generation to generation,” wrote Jaime Jiménez, vice president of marketing and communications for the linen brand Sferra, which recently acquired the luxury brand Pratesi. “Monogramming has always been associated with royal crests, royal houses and the nobility, thus it feels like luxury.”
Linley, a British design company whose products include personalized luxury items, actually has royal connections. Its founder, the Earl of Snowdon, who is known professionally as David Linley, is the son of Princess Margaret and a first cousin of King Charles III.
The earl’s London-based company has a well-established bespoke division that creates items such as jewelry boxes and dining room tables that can be interlaid with mother-of-pearl insignia. (The company also does marquetry that can depict favorite landscapes, portraits or even clients’ yachts). “If somebody wants an engraving on a plaque in handwriting, embossing on leather, etching on glass, we can do that,” said Jackie Cox, the head of bespoke at Linley, who added that creating custom pieces can often be a journey with a customer. “So, the world is your oyster, because the only thing that restricts you is probably imagination.”
Handbags and luggage have long been popular items to monogram. The London department store chain Selfridges, for example, offers a leather accessories monogramming service. And chic fashionistas from Boston to Beijing have long swung around resin-coated linen bags from the French leather house Goyard, featuring their initials applied in the color of their choice.
Many major fashion houses also do custom work. Gucci has a personalization service for a number of their handbag designs, including the Jackie and the Diana, and it also will emboss leads and harnesses for pets. Louis Vuitton not only sells luggage and handbags that can be monogrammed, but also perfume travel cases, passport holders and watchbands.
And the British handbag designer Anya Hindmarch said she has “forever” done bespoke bags, wallets and key rings. “Creativity, modern craftsmanship and personalization have always been at the core of the brand,” Ms. Hindmarch wrote in an email. “There are so many amazing stories of proposals, landmark birthdays, births, marriages and secret messages in our bespoke order books, and it feels important to be able to mark these moments in a special and thoughtful way.”
Stationery, of course, has also long been a popular item for monogramming, and few have been doing it longer than has Pineider, in Florence, Italy. The company dates to the 18th century, and its offerings include bespoke sealing wax sets and personalized thank-you cards. The French company Benneton Graveur, which has been doing printing and engraving since the late 19th century, specializes in book plates, personalized signet rings and hand-painted pebble paperweights.
Another heritage brand, the British brand Smythson, not only does personalized stationery, but also gold stamping on items such as leather diaries, computer bags and photo frames. “The precious skill of gold stamping is in and of itself a thing of beauty, a way to add value to a product,” wrote Luc Goidadin, the creative director of the company, noting that the printing and engraving skills used for personalized stationery “have been honed in our workshops over generations.”
Monogramming has also spread to more contemporary items. The online business Initially London personalizes yoga mats, water bottles and coasters, while the Monogram Shop, Ms. Smith’s store in East Hampton, does storage baskets, linen cocktail napkins and tissue box covers. The shop said one of its best sellers was a teddy bear with a monogrammed sweater, often given as a baby gift. The sweater can be worn by the baby, until the time comes that it has to go back onto the bear.
Monogramming, Ms. Smith said in an earlier interview by phone, “is such a recipe for enabling someone to look like a hero when they show up at a christening with a pillow that has that baby’s name on it.”
“It’s something unique,” she said, “that the silver rattle can’t compete against.”
Photo credits: Photo one: Julien Mignot for The New York Times; Photo two: Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times