It is not every day that a customer gets the opportunity to be part of the creative process and design her own handbag. However, as big fashion and accessories brands look at fresh ways to attract customers, Loewe is raising the customisation of luxurious accessories to a new level.
Customers get inspired with the aid of an iPad showing the templates of a series of bags. Their ideas are then sent away to artisans in Spain and a few months later are returned finished, beautifully packaged and received with the knowledge that this bag is exclusive to them.
At a special event to be held in Hong Kong next Wednesday, to be attended by Loewe creative director Stuart Vevers and chief executive Lisa Montague, top clients will be invited to customise the iconic Amazona and some of the brand's other covetable handbags, such as the Maia, the Flor clutch and the Lea.
'I don't think we have ever offered as much opportunity to play with things as now. It will be interesting to see what happens,' Vevers says, adding that he is also curious to see what combinations his imaginative customers will come up with.
Tod's, the Italian accessories brand, began a similar custom-made service for its Tod's Icons - the D Bag Gommino shoe and Ballerina - 18 months ago in its flagship boutiques around the globe. It is a new move for labels pushing their luxury credentials in parts of the world that are so far relatively unscathed by the economic crisis in Europe and America. Some are focusing on the mass market; for instance, Versace, which is following on the heels of Lanvin and Stella McCartney with a capsule collection in collaboration with Swedish fast-fashion chain Hennes & Mauritz. Loewe, however, is pushing in the opposite direction, aiming special collections at its top-tier clients.
Clients, flying into Hong Kong from all over the region for Loewe's fashion event, will also have the first opportunity to privately order from the spring-summer 2012 collection, which was unveiled on the catwalk at a salon showing in Paris earlier this month.
Drawing inspiration from the architectural tiles and motifs of the Alhambra palace in southern Spain, Vevers has created geometric puzzle prints for his printed silk twill and jersey blouses and dresses. The label's signature materials, silk and leather feature in lean and elegant over-the-knee dresses, or blouses tucked into skirts, the most desirable being made of bands of grey or dark blue suede and patent on organza. There's a series of airy perforated leather skirts and suits to look forward to, and a new super-light leather that reverses to suede and is the lightest skin Loewe has ever produced.
We don't get the chance to shop for the ready-to-wear in Hong Kong as a rule, although Leather Icons - an all-black collection of seasonless staples in the brand's trademark fabric, such as the leather trench coat or motorcycle jacket from the Loewe archive - are available to order. There will also be a runway preview of the new Made To Order fashion collection, for looks available from next February. Vevers says he hopes to demonstrate that the label is not just about luxury handbags.
Although Asian consumers have a growing appreciation for craftsmanship and heritage, Vevers believes few are aware of the brand's history.
One of the first things he did when he joined Loewe in 2007, he says, 'was change our logo to Loewe Madrid 1846 because a lot of people thought it was French and dates from the 1970s.
In fact, we are the only brand at this level in Spain and there are lots of great stories to tell.'
Many brands, such as Burberry, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, have gone down the technology route, using the internet and modern social media to promote themselves. Loewe is among those taking a more intimate approach by inviting key customers to private order events that recall the intimacy of Parisian couture salon presentations of the past.
'It is something we have tried with our shows in Paris that feels very intimate,' the designer says.
Previously, Loewe held small private lunches in Madrid, London and Beijing, where customers would listen to the artisans, some of whom have worked with the brand for 30 or 50 years. 'These craftsmen and women talk about the product from a point of view that you would never get from a designer or a salesperson,' Vevers says.
Loewe has its share of celebrity fans, and actresses Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng, Lin Chi-ling and Lynn Xiong Dailin are all fans of the Amazona - Vevers' most popular design. This soft oblong-style bag was first introduced after General Franco's death in the '70s, and created as a celebration of women's liberation and an antidote to the rigid buttoned-up dress codes of the fascist dictatorship. The designer updated it last year, producing it in blond suede with fluoro coloured handles. Hot on its heels is the latest success story, the Flamenco, a colourful drawstring style with tassels.
Vevers says he's looking forward to his trip to Hong Kong. The amiable British creative director (who, with his short sandy hair and tall stature, will be easy to spot) has been living in Madrid for three years. He previously worked for Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta and then Mulberry, where he created the Roxanne and Bayswater bags.
Vevers was tasked by LVMH, Loewe's parent company, to make the label luxurious, modern and relevant. Judging by the success of the Amazona, Leather Icons and Made to Measure, he's up to the challenge.