Life in Mono(gram)
On London’s Jermyn Street, the long-standing bespoke practice of having one’s initials embroidered onto a garment is enjoying something of a renaissance. “The problem with classic menswear is that, from a distance, it can all look much the same," says Emma Willis, founder of the eponymous shirt-maker. “Putting your initials on a shirt, for example, is a way of taking a kind of ownership of it. It’s a form of self-expression."
Indeed, although a shirt cuff or pocket may be the more traditional place to find an embroidered monogram, initials are cropping up in other more unlikely places too. For £10 (RM55.50) a letter, Turnbull & Asser will hand-embroider your initials onto your pyjamas, “although our titled customers tend to have their family crest done", adds managing director Stephen Quinn. While monogramming has yet to find its way onto shoes – though new laser etching systems may soon allow it – shoemaker Crockett & Jones can put your initials onto a pair of its slippers.
According to Philippa Jones, director of Crockett & Jones, members of social clubs like to have their emblems stitched on too, with fancier gold or silver threads adding to the rather grand effect. The company offers a catalogue of standard designs and letter fonts, but will also draw up artwork of any design a customer might bring in. It embroiders some 200 pairs a year, and more since velvet slippers became something of a fashion look.
“Embroidered slippers are popular especially in the US," notes Jones, “perhaps because it’s regarded as an especially English look." Winston Churchill favoured a pair – during the Second World War it made him feel more respectable when he had to dress in a hurry at night to get to an air raid shelter. President John F Kennedy always had his shirts and ties monogrammed – and even presented monogrammed umbrellas to his groomsmen on his wedding day.
That pyjamas and slippers are popular choices for a monogram also suggests something else: that having one’s initials put onto one’s clothing is not always just indicative of a healthy sense of self-admiration. “Of course if you have a family crest it’s nice to show it off," says Jones. “But I think for a lot of men it’s more a bit of fun and because, as with all things bespoke, the process of picking a design is a pleasure."
After all, notes Quinn, night attire is only seen by a few intimates.
“It’s true that it is a service that finds most favour with older customers, simply because it requires a degree of confidence to do it," he argues. “If younger customers have a garment monogrammed, it tends to be more discreet – placing the initials not on the pocket but in the back of the collar, for example. It’s something that’s just there for them. And the same goes if you place initials on your pyjamas – it’s just your own little bit of luxury", akin perhaps – anecdotally at least – to a similar increase in demand for monogrammed homeware, from napkins to towels.
Of course, discretion does not necessarily mean subtlety. In jewellery, for example, cufflink maker Deakin & Francis sees 60 per cent of its sales engraved in an understated fashion, “because people want to be a little different", says owner Harry Deakin. “It used to be the case that only the occasional person would want their initials put on, and suddenly it’s become a huge part of the business." Emmett Smith, owner of signet maker Rebus, adds, “There’s a trend for customers to move away from the traditional script style of initialling towards a style that is more abstract. In fact, it’s more akin to a logo – it’s a form of personal branding."
But then take the work of Monte Carlo-based family jeweller Stardust. The company’s Prive service replaces the buttons on a shirt or jacket with hones made from gold and covered with gemstones – with those arranged in the shape of one’s initials a popular choice. “Customers have included those who want the buttons for a special occasion, like a wedding, but also those who just really like to show off," concedes bespoke department director Alex Siffredi. But then it does bring the button to the fore as a largely unclaimed site for self-expression. “We wanted to find a way for men to wear gems that didn’t mean a watch or another pair of cufflinks," explains Siffredi.
At €1,500 (RM7,078)-plus a button, these are not the kind you would want to lose.
But at least, with your initials on them, you would have a small chance of them being returned.