Moynat's creative director, Ramesh Nair, often wonders whether proud owners of his creations are aware of all the "invisible" details that contribute to the maison's subtle luxuriousness. The French leather goods brand's signature smooth-edge finishing requires an artisan to hand-polish the leather fibre before applying a layer of paint, a process that needs repeating seven or eight times.
"Simplicity does not mean a lack of complexity," says Nair at Moynat's atelier, a few blocks from its flagship store on the bustling Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. "It highlights the workmanship, the materials used and the harmony between the different elements."
Luxury bags and shoes are evolving into exclusive, customised objects of desire that are treated with artisanal techniques, from hand-painting to stone setting. Such accessories are quickly becoming prized collectors' pieces.
Christie's luxury handbags and accessories auctions have set record sales for iconic bags such as Hermès' Birkin. Its Hong Kong spring sale on June 1 featured more than 300 luxury bags. Other auction houses taking luxury accessories more seriously include Sotheby's, Poly Auction and Heritage Auctions.
"Collectors are looking for pieces that nobody else has," says Matthew Rubinger, Christie's international director of handbags and accessories.
While the charm of mass-produced "it" bags and shoes is wearing off, sophisticated clients are drawn to quality accessories that highlight craftsmanship.
"I emphasise the importance of a design philosophy that is timeless and will enable us to evolve and adapt to changing times while retaining the core of what makes the brand special," says Nair, who previously worked at Hermès and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Nair works at the Parisian atelier with eight artisans, many of whom use tools that were inherited or which they invented themselves rather than relying on hi-tech machinery.
The hand-finishing touches honed by years of experience make the products special.
"Rather than counting how many hours go into the making of a shoe, we talk about how many generations of knowledge you need to produce it," says Edoardo Caovilla, creative director and CEO of luxury shoe brand Rene Caovilla.
The Venice-based brand, famous for glamorous evening footwear, produces bejewelled shoes lavishly decorated with diamonds and other precious materials for orders that could cost more than €100,000 (HK$861,780) a pair.
Similar techniques are embraced by other luxury brands for their most exclusive series, and the services are often reserved for VIP customers. Caovilla takes no more than 100 bespoke orders a year.
Roger Vivier also decorates customised shoes with precious stones. The brand's famous creation for Queen Elizabeth II, featuring a ruby-inlaid heel and upper pattern was reinterpreted in 2012 for a diamond-encrusted version featuring 55ct of diamonds.
Couture-level techniques are being applied for one-of-a-kind creations. French shoe label Christian Louboutin takes special orders for evening and bridal shoes featuring crystal embellishments embroidered onto lace shells.
Artisans from Italian men's accessories brand Berluti hand-paint bags and shoes for a special gradient finish and patina. Berluti also offers a "tattoo" service that requires veteran artisans to directly paint on shoes, belts and leather accessories using tattoo ink guns for dramatic effect.
"As master shoemakers with time-honoured skills, they don't deploy their technical ability to reproduce identical shoes, but to drive the creative process forward," says Berluti's artistic director Alessandro Sartori.
Collectors and connoisseurs who covet quality, timeless and classic designs appreciate such subtle details. It takes a veteran craftsman more than 20 hours to complete Moynat's signature Rejane bag. One of the details that could easily be overlooked is the design of the ring where the snaps of the shoulder strap are attached. The ring is designed so the snap hook doesn't touch the body or the handle in order to avoid damaging the leather.
Nair says: "A small detail like this - that most clients won't even notice - is equally important from a performance as well as aesthetic point of view."
Other iconic handbags from niche brands such as Le Brilliant bag of Belgian label Delvaux that combine more than 185 years of know-how are popular with customers who shun so-called status brands.
The bespoke and customisation of traditional couture are also evident in luxury shoes and bags today. Simple personalisation such as initial engraving, customisable colours and materials are now basics for luxury brands. More complex options such as hand-painted individualised motifs, customised shoe lasts and entirely bespoke styles are offered.
Personalised lasts for Christian Louboutin's A-list fans such as Dita Von Teese and Angelina Jolie line the walls of its made-to-measure atelier in central Paris as if they are trophies.
Each style requires different lasts as the inclination of the feet is different in flats, stilettos or platforms. About a dozen key points of the client's foot will be hand-measured to complete the order.
The same approach is adopted by men's shoes so that the client will have a say in aspects of the design. Berluti takes about six to 10 measurements to decide on a personalised shoe last.
"Menswear is all about the fit," Sartori says. "A bespoke shoe perfectly adapted to the customer's body shape and weight repartition to ensure total comfort - that's all modern men need for their wardrobe."
The made-to-order process can take months. Christian Louboutin takes about one year to complete it while a Berluti bespoke order takes six to nine months.
Handbags might have fewer concerns on the comfort-to-wear perspective than footwear, however, customisations can be highly complex - think an entirely personalised print hand-painted on to the bag or bespoke style tailored to a client's individual taste.
Brands with roots in classic trunks such as Moynat and Goyard have expanded their customisation expertise to handbags. Both brands can be commissioned to create illustrations and hand-paint on handbags - think personalised options. The commissioned work needs to be in line with the values and spirit of the maison.
Customised styles can be specially ordered at Moynat. This takes three to four months. Prototypes of the bags will be produced for fine tuning. Special leathers and customised colours can also be ordered.
Christie's Rubinger says customised bags fare exceptionally well at auctions. "Collectors are really looking for rarity," he explains. "Custom Hermès, with unique colour and leather combinations, are auction darlings."
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