Personally yours: monograms in vogue again
In the age of bespoke and artisanal, monograms are all that, and modern, too.
Mark your territory.
Engrave it. Emboss it. Stamp it, embroider it, applique it -- just as long as your initials are on it.
In this era of individuality and personal branding -- in which cocktails are handcrafted, milkshakes are hand-spun, jam is artisanal and suits are bespoke -- monograms are chic again.
Not that they've ever really been out of style.
"Monogramming has and will always be a way for people to stake their claim," said New York interior designer and author Charlotte Moss, "to take pride of ownership of something, whether it is stationery, a signet ring, cocktail napkins or a pair of pajamas."
But now retailers are sensing a new desire on the part of consumers to establish their individuality and not just on wedding silver. These days, people can brand themselves on running shorts, Vuitton handbags or yoga mats.
"It's all about monograms right now," said Evvy Diamond, owner of Nota Bene in Aspinwall, which will put initials not just on cocktail napkins or paper plates but wastebaskets, mouse pads and Samsung Galaxy cell-phone cases.
"It is all I can do to stop myself from stitching a tiny [monogram] on my Hanky Pankys," declared Casie Mace on her fashion blog WhippedStyle.com.
At Monogram It in O'Hara, there are two enormous sewing machines in the back room that will stitch monograms on just about anything you want, from a baby pillow to a winter coat.
At Contemporary Concepts in Squirrel Hill, which sells gifts for all occasions with a focus on bridal gifts, owner Kenny Cohen uses the services of a local embroiderer to monogram tea towels, robes, blankets or towels -- even a child's director's chair. He also uses Turner Jewelers in Richland to engrave silver.
Price points range from a few dollars to many thousands.
At the super high-end Leontine Linens ( www.leontinelinens.com ), the legendary New Orleans-based company, exquisite pillows with intricate monograms with names such as "Adelaide" and "Halpin" look like something out of Edith Wharton's trousseau.
"The monograms created and executed by Leontine are either derived from heirlooms or they are 21st-century versions, soon to become classics of their own," said Ms. Moss, who has been buying sheets for her clients there for years and uses the company's "Clark" monogram on her own towels.
A standard-sized monogrammed sham will cost several hundred dollars. The smallest boudoir pillow with an embroidered 4-inch "Abigail" monogram would be $180.
While king-size sheet sets can cost several thousand dollars, they're available for as little as $660, said Taylor Worrell, a spokeswoman for the company. Leontine isn't limited to the standard 4- to 41/2-inch size monogram, preferring to do larger embellishments, "which is rare in the monogram world," she added. "A lot of our competitors stick to the smaller monogram-sized style, without the same effect."
No outsourcing for Leontine, either: All of its monograms are done in Kentucky.
Then there's Mark and Graham, an e-commerce site launched in November by Williams-Sonoma ( www.mgram.com ), which already owns a large "personalization facility" in Tennessee that it uses along with its two other companies, West Elm and Pottery Barn.
Consumers mostly think of Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma first for their furniture and kitchenware, not monogramming, although they've offered those services for years, said Marta Benson, senior vice president for strategy and business development at Williams-Sonoma. Mark and Graham -- a play on the word monogram -- is an effort to change that perception, especially among younger consumers.
"We love tradition, but we're bringing it forward with a fresher approach," said Ms. Benson. "There are all sorts of new ways to personalize things you love. Some young people see our Helvetica font and say, 'Wow, that's so young and fresh.' "
Everything on the site -- home decor, accessories, leather goods, entertaining and bar supplies, jewelry or wrapping paper -- comes with complimentary monogramming, or "personalization experience."
Pick the item, the color, the typeface or thread and preview it online before paying. Delivery is within six to eight business days, although items can be shipped in two.
"I'm a nostalgic person," said Ms. Benson, former CEO of the storied Gump's department store in San Francisco. "I have my dad's monogrammed cufflink box and my grandmother's engraved locket. The things we personalize are the things we save."
Designing monogrammed items online isn't necessarily a new idea. Even Dempsey & Carroll ( www.dempseyandcarroll.com ), the venerable New York stationery company, allows customers to preview its monogrammed letter paper on its website before buying it.
While engraved stationery is still considered the most socially correct way to monogram, Mark and Graham will be launching its own line at the end of this month using letterpress, "which has a thick and tactile look," Ms. Benson said.
Not sure which initial goes first? Mark and Graham has a link to "Monogramming Rules," which explain the traditional ways to mark an item with your initials, or your spouse's -- and new ways, too, from "gal" and "guy" monograms to suggestions for same-sex married couples.
Don't get too hung up on rules: After all, Prince William and his wife -- the former Kate Middleton, now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge -- junked royal tradition, which called for using two initials, with the groom's first and the bride's second. Instead, they had their initials intertwined with her letter "C" first to avoid the inevitable jokes about "WC," or water closet, the British word for a toilet.
Locally, Feathers in Shadyside carries several lines of bed linens and towels that can be beautifully monogrammed, including Sferra, Matouk, Montague & Capulet and Peacock Alley. Feathers' owner Jeff Mulert said he can have them embroidered either locally, by Monogram It, or by out-of-state embroiderers such as True-Sew Fashions in New Jersey and Julia B. in Connecticut.
"Julia B. once worked for Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, giving her monograms a handmade, couture look," he said. Prices range from $135 for a small boudoir sham to $1,900 for a king-size linen duvet cover. The monogramming is additional, and while it isn't cheap -- $106 for a 4-inch monogram with two Bs, for example -- these are linens that will last for generations.
Besides monograms, there are other ways to make your mark. Nota Bene also carries the Three Designing Women line of self-inking stampers, which cost $40 and are personalized online with return addresses, book plates, even photos, and a choice of colorful inks from the psychedelic "Tie Dye" to the greige-ish "Sand Dollar."
For the anti-preppie, Ms. Diamond of Nota Bene recommends anodized metal trays and wastebaskets from the Macbeth Collection, where a monogram can be framed in prints dubbed "Mod Dot" or "Shag Malibu."
While that cell-phone case or melamine dinner plate may not last forever, who knows? They could end up being treasured family heirlooms that your great-grandchildren will thank you for (although they may contest the will over that Leontine boudoir pillow).