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There's a truly sickening photograph of three Auckland women, all social page regulars, floating around somewhere. It has never been published.

That's a good thing, because for the average follower of fashion it's a sight as hideous and shocking as Britney having her head shaved.

Brace yourselves. In that photo the women are all wearing the same distinctive, expensive black and white printed Chloe dress.

Yes, the same one. Oh, the horror.

So perhaps it's no surprise that some canny shoppers are doing their utmost to avoid this sort of situation. Most Viva readers will have heard of the services provided by people such as Liz Mitchell, Adrienne Winkelmann and Kevin Berkahn, local designers who specialise in made-to-measure clothing and you'll often find in their ateliers wedding and ballgowns being fitted on quivering brides-to-be and debutantes.

In menswear, particularly in suiting, quality-conscious locals like Crane Brothers, Strangely Normal and Working Style have also been providing this kind of service for a long time, with some going as far as bespoke suits, where a whole suit can be made especially for the client.

But now this made-to-measure philosophy, and the idea of getting something special made just for you, is spreading beyond the traditional wedding gown, cocktail frock and business suit.

Everything from sweatshirts to T-shirts to office clothes, accessories and jewellery can now be personalised in some way, whether it's design, aesthetics or the fit.

For instance, cult Parisian cashmere label Zadig & Voltaire has just launched a range of sweaters that can be customised. Fans of the label can choose from two silhouettes, 17 colours and any word of up to 12 characters. And Hollywood favourite Giorgio Armani started his own made-to-measure service last year.

Fashion journalist Suzy Menkes, of the International Herald Tribune, says: "The unexpected surge in made-to-order also stems from an industry-wide search for personalisation and a revived interest in tailoring."

Back in little old New Zealand, designer Vicki Taylor, the woman behind the Taylor boutiques, is as happy to adjust clothing in her collection for customers - just as Armani does.

She started doing this because, "I couldn't believe how many women would come in and try clothes on, love them, and say, 'This looks fine'.

"Whereas I was thinking, 'But the waist doesn't fit you properly'. So I would offer to make it fit properly."

When customers buy from Taylor's collections they can use the store's made-to-measure service, paying from about $50 on top of the normal retail to get a custom fit.

"We started doing this eight years ago and now we alter up to 100 garments a season, so there's definitely a growing demand," Taylor says.

Heather Docherty of label Docherty Wilkins, who offers a similar service to her select client list, agrees that demand is growing.

"It's all too easy to buy something off the internet or from a chain store, but when you have that personal side to it there's more emotional attachment to a garment."

Dunedin-based designer Tanya Carlson is also enthusiastic about more personalised garments, except hers are not so much of the made-to-measure kind but one-off, special items.

It all started because of the "amazing" collection of fabrics she's built up over the years. "And I can't make them all into dresses for me," she jokes.

"So what I really love to do is just put a piece of fabric on a mannequin and cut it with no pattern and no preconceived idea, with a good seamstress next to me, and make something really special."

So far Carlson, whose label is already known for excellent workmanship and tailoring, has made only four of these one-offs.

"They cost between $2000 and $4000 each but we've sold them all.

"People have just loved them, even though I'm sure for some buyers they really blew their budgets."

Carlson believes her everyday customers are happy to invest in these clothes because there's only one of them and they can't be replicated because there's no pattern.

And while she'll be producing only a few of those very special dresses, she intends to do limited editions of certain garments every season.

"I think demand for this sort of thing has grown for various reasons," Carlson says.

"All those social pages and events where everything is photographed give more of sense of pageantry and make people want to dress up.

"And with the whole fashion world constantly recycling and regurgitating everything, getting something special just for you, that nobody else can have - whether it's perfume or makeup - has a great appeal."

Clothing is not the only area in which such special treatment is prized. Jewellery and accessories - for instance, local designer Yvonne Bennetti will adjust the shoes she designs to suit her clients' feet - are another option for personalisation.

And for years people have been commissioning their own wedding rings but now, with so many fantastic New Zealand jewellers making original pieces of wearable art, you can have a piece made specially for you.

Although jeweller Jane Dodd, who is based at Workshop 6, mostly prefers to focus on her own work, she has accepted the occasional commission.

Clients who like her landscape miniatures in silver have asked her to recreate landscapes that are special to them.

Dodd says a commission means the buyer is investing more than money.

"In general, people are becoming more aware of the difference between the handmade and the mass-produced item and why there is so much difference in the price.

"If these things are important to them and they have the financial resources, the bespoke item has an extra level of individualism."