‘Tis the season to buy bespoke

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Annie Deakin explains why customised gifts are defying the financial downturn. It’s little luxuries in hard times that keep us sane.

The global crisis is doing its utmost to deplete Christmas cheer but it’s failing miserably. With the big day just four weeks away, financial constraint is proving no reason to buy boring as customised gifts are this season’s bestsellers.

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Fashion trends are a simpleton’s barometer of the country’s mood. During this economic downturn, shopping habits are becoming more considered as individualised designs are rocketing in popularity. The home industry is awash with personalized designs from photo-embellished cushions to bespoke map platters featuring countries of your choice.

Searching on Google for "photo mugs" throws up hundreds of pages, mostly which tout cheap and nasty products. Such a sensitive operation as splashing photos on products must be done with the utmost care. Subtle and tasteful is the artists Taylor and Wood’s interactive wallpaper called Frames; it can be painted directly onto or "filled" with family photos. Similarly chic is Sir Bernard Ashley’s bespoke fabric firm Elanbach. Punters design fabric or wallpaper using a photograph or pencil drawing and then play with colourways on the net. Prince Charles has already ordered six different patterns for his new farmhouse.

Ever since Anya Hindmarch launched her photo-customised tote bag in 2001, digital photography has invaded anything and everything. Alas, my hints that year for Hindmarch’s bag went unnoticed but seven years on, certain photo-emblazoned products still crown my wish list.

It seems contradictory to hanker after a more specialised service when talk is of less disposable income. But this renaissance in all things bespoke in the home and fashion industry is, in part, due to the new affordability of customization. Ironically, we are trading up in this downturn.

The frivolous spending of yesterday on passing trends seems wrong and ecologically unsound in this market. Instead, customers are finding a style they like and investing in a bespoke product. Be it engraving dates into your chopping board or commissioning a portrait, buyers spend time considering their design. A predicted bestseller this Christmas is Make Your Own Opoly, a custom-made version of the popular board game Monopoly where players customize the board, cards, money and box. The lengthy process behind bespoke gifts mean they are rarely a rash purchase.

Our appetite for the unique has grown beyond the realms of the imagination. Same same is boring. Deciding that I didn’t want to smell like everyone else, I commissioned "couture perfume" last year. In the same vein, I’m tempted by couture wallpaper which nobody else can buy. Photo printed wallpaper is available through mydeco.com, as are roller blinds that feature favourite holiday snaps. 55 Max can incorporate nostalgic letters, passport snaps and photos in a bespoke montage on canvas, diasec and leather bags.

Call me vulgar, but I embrace the photo-customised trend. As a wedding present, I was given a voucher for personalised placemats from Scarlett Willow. Selecting the pictures put me in a conundrum as photo products - of any realm - don’t lend themselves to understated style. My dinner guests eat off sepia images of my favourite landscapes, of friends’ silhouettes, of a lion chase on my honeymoon… Personal but not clichéd is the aim.

There is a time and a place for self-publicity. Nobody wants to be confronted with copious images of smug Boden-style pics. And, as for Snappy snap’s photo bed linen? Not on your nelly. It’s a monster faux pas to give photo products feature unflattering pictures of the recipient - my brother-in-law gave me a particularly hideous photo keyring of myself four years ago. It’s the thought that counts, apparently. At the mydeco.com launch last month, employees received photo mouse mats featuring colleagues dancing on tables. Even on a Monday morning, there’s no escaping drunken antics.

The real difference between ready-to-buy and bespoke is that anything "one-of-a-kind" comes with a great status - top of the pecking order, if you like. This year, Moët & Chandon are leading the way with bottles of champagne hand-customised with a name, monogram or date in Swarovski crystals.

Instead of feeling panicked by the state of the City, we should be indulging in retail therapy. I’ll happily not question New York psychologist, Dr Jane Greer, who insists "shopping can contribute to your psychological health in times of stress." Moët’s lovely bubbly would be fun but more affordable are the personalised crayons that my four-year-old nephew will rip open this Christmas.

Custom-made has extended well beyond the super-rich allowing everyone a slice of the action. Credit crunch? Buying bespoke no longer breaks the bank.

Annie Deakin is acting editor of mydeco.com

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