Monogrammed gifts, a mainstay for holiday retailers, gets updated for modern living. Elizabeth Holmes reports on Lunch Break. Photo: F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal.
Monogramming, the reliable standby of wedding and baby gift shoppers, is reinventing itself for the holidays.
Retailers are stepping up their personalizing game, offering more objects with new fonts and creative typography to attract a new generation of shoppers. And they are offering more single-letter products to help monogrammed gifts become impulse purchases.
Consumers, meanwhile, are coming up with more ways to be identified, whether it’s their nickname, Twitter handle or home address. “Or the name of their boat,” says Valerie Smith, owner of The Monogram Shop in East Hampton, N.Y.
“The whole idea of monogramming has morphed from something patrician dudes did on their cuffs to ever-more-creative venues,” says designer Jonathan Adler. “People are mad for personalized anything.” Mr. Adler’s home goods assortment includes single-letter needlepoint throw pillows ($110) and monogrammed crystal paperweights ($42.50).
Williams-Sonoma Inc. WSM -1.70% this week is launching Mark and Graham, a home and accessories catalog and e-commerce brand centered around monogramming, with personalization included in the product’s price. Options for people with hyphenated names and couples with different last names include two-letter monogrammed napkins (four for $45).
Gift site RedEnvelope this season has added personalization options for blended families and same-sex couples, including a customizable family drawing with different combinations of adults and children (starting at $79.95).
Specialty brands like C. Wonder are stocking shelves full of “pre-monogrammed” gifts that boast a single letter, improving last-minute shopping odds.
Retailers are hoping monogrammed merchandise will sell well this holiday season. The average U.S. shopper plans to spend some $550 on gifts this holiday, or nearly three quarters of his or her total holiday budget of $750, according to the National Retail Federation. Individuals’ spending on gifts is expected to increase by more than 6% this year, outpacing the expected 4% rise in holiday spending overall.
Monogramming, though, can be a shopping turnoff. It usually means an additional charge, a week or more of delay in delivery and very little option to return or exchange. The process also challenges retailers because it requires specialized machinery or skilled handwork to emblazon the moniker on the merchandise.
F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal; Stying by Ann CardenasLeather wallet from Mark and Graham ($79) is suitable for Dylan, Diane, Mr. and Mrs. Davis, and virtually every other dude and dudette.
But monograms have strong psychological appeal, retailers and shoppers say. A monogram suggests that time and thought went into selecting this present. “There’s just this higher perceived value,” says Kevin Rooney, vice president of merchandising for RedEnvelope, owned Provide Commerce. “It’s a nicer gift.”
While a traditional monogram is three letters interlocking to form a single symbol, shoppers now consider any arrangement of initials, including a single letter, to be a monogram, Mr. Rooney says.
When a full name or motto goes on an item, RedEnvelope considers it “personalization.” “Customization” is when the item has personal text plus other features, such as the brand’s “pet silhouette” wall art, a print available in several sizes and colors, and 20 pet shapes. Buyers add the pet’s name and a message.
“It used to be that you bought the gift and you’d put something else in the card,” Mr. Rooney says. “Now things are actually moving onto the gift itself.”
Monogrammed items have renewed purpose in the digital culture. “There’s so much technology and yet we crave typography,” says Laura Alber, Williams-Sonoma Inc. chief executive. “We crave things that are sentimental to us.”
Mark and Graham, aiming to feel nostalgic yet also keep up with the times, set out to address modern family types and name combinations, whether it’s a married woman who doesn’t use her husband’s surname or a same-sex couple.
“We really wanted to play the idea of monogramming forward,” says Marta Benson, senior vice president of strategy and business development at the parent company, who oversaw the brand’s creation.
A section on monogramming etiquette on Mark and Graham’s website suggests the two-letter monogram is appropriate for couples with different last names, one letter for each name. There are 10 ways to pair the letters, whether with a plus sign, an ampersand or intertwined.
The brand offers dozens of fonts and monogram styles, and techniques from embroidery to laser-engraving to sandblasting. Most of the catalog’s 500-plus items are fairly simple in design. The monogram is meant to be the focus—and change the personality of the product, Ms. Benson says.
The script font called “Cezanne” makes a set of brass coasters “really romantic,” says Ms. Benson. Meanwhile, a block font used in a three-letter diamond-shaped monogram in the “Duke” font makes the same item feel “very masculine.”
Some products have space for an entire word or two, which the brand hopes will lead customers to more “irreverent” options. A water carafe might say “sparkling” or “still”; a sleep mask might say “good night.” “You can put your family motto or a key date,” Ms. Benson said. Swear words aren’t allowed.
Addressing the speed challenge, Mark and Graham is using machinery the parent company has in place at a distribution center in Tennessee for its other brands, including Pottery Barn. As a result, Mark and Graham offers standard delivery of five to seven days, with a rush option of two to three days.
Branded products are looking to monograms to keep their appeal fresh. Luxury department store Neiman Marcus now offers personalization on Ugg boots, Toms shoes and Longchamp handbags. For the holidays, the chain set up a “Monogram Shop” on its website, where shoppers can order initials on items like cellphone covers and leather coffee cup sleeves.
Pre-monogramming appeals to shoppers who don’t want to wait. C. Wonder, which launched last fall and now has nine stores, has expanded its pre-monogrammed selection in response to strong consumer response, says President Amy Shecter.
Items pre-monogrammed with a single letter include coffee mugs, jewelry boxes and belt buckles. And pre-monogrammed merchandise can be returned. Although most items are available in every letter of the alphabet, some letters are far more popular than others, the company says. Custom monogramming is also available in all its stores, although only some locations have an embroidery machine on site.
Heidi A. Dooley, a 33-year-old Boston resident, plans to give several of her friends wooden cheese boards from C. Wonder emblazoned with a single letter. “You can just buy a gift for a host or a stocking stuffer with their first or last initials on it,” says the commercial real-estate manager.
She likes monogrammed merchandise and appreciates that she doesn’t have to wait. “When it comes to the holidays, not everyone starts their shopping on Dec. 1,” Ms. Dooley says. “I don’t have three weeks for it to be made.”