In the glittery world of luxury, limited edition pieces and bespoke items are now essential status symbols. Yet, as fierce fashionistas, fabulous and famous know, that extra opulence comes down to personally personalizing the most coveted items.
Few people in the country – if any – have refined this trend as Tara Martin, who started his hand-painted luxury personalization business, DTLAcustom, in 2015 out of sheer necessity.
Since then, the avid Newstonian and native of Los Angeles (she arrived last year) has become a celebrity customizer: her famous clients include Lady Gaga, Madonna, the Kardashians, Elton John, Gwyneth Paltrow (and her company, Goop ) and John Mayer.
Thanks to DTLAcustom, no customer items are banned – a waitlisted $ 30,000 Birkin handbag, Louis Vuitton luggage, sneakers, boots, hats, even everyday household items – can be hand painted with initials, personalized images (pets are a favorite), logos, slogans, alma maters, and more.
Business is booming: Martin, who made Houston his corporate headquarters, has a local, national (Dallas and Austin count as major markets), national and global reach.
Quick to avoid name losses (especially with celebrities) and with a (fairly Houstonian) deviation of praise, Martin is quick to point out that it all started with a perfectly script-worthy origin story, including included a “bag-shaming” incident at Trader Joe’s and later an inspired business plan scrawled quickly on napkins in the most toned bar in Paris. Very perfect indeed.
Bags of wealth
As is the case with so many successful entrepreneurs, the story of the origins of Martin’s business begins with sheer need. The USC graduate (she studied international relations) has worked in high-end women’s fashion, cultivating brands and learning all aspects of the industry. A random trip to an LA Trader Joe’s led to her being scolded for not bringing her own bags.
“No really, she yelled at me,” Martin laughs now, remembering the moment. Slightly embarrassed, Martin went in search of stylish tote bags. Frustrated and finding none, she launched My Other Bag, a range of trendy and eco-friendly handbags, in 2011. In no time, My Other Bag could be found in 60 countries, with 15 showrooms across the world.
Years later, Martin spotted a woman carrying a Louis Vuitton bag personalized with stripes and initials with the interior dyed. âI saw that and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to do this to my bag,’â Martin told CultureMap. A friend informed her that the LV personalization in the Beverly Hills store was not easy and could take 10 weeks – and included ordering a brand new bag from the brand.
It didn’t suit the serial entrepreneur. The great global traveler quickly found herself in Paris, at the headquarters of Louis Vuitton, where she was once again stranded. His quick Google search for luxury customization didn’t come up with anything (it was 2014, after all), so the industrious Martin was on a mission. âEverything I have done commercially was born out of necessity,â she says.
Martin found herself furiously scribbling the business plan for her new venture on cocktail napkins at the chic bar at the iconic George V Hotel in Paris. She returned home to Los Angeles, where the business idea haunted her “for a whole year”, and launched DTLAcustom on January 1, 2015.
The personal touch
Personalization is everywhere now, from Adidas and Nike shoes to Jimmy Choos. This was not the case in 2015 when Martin was launched. âWhen I started I was even scared,â she recalls. âI thought to myself: who just painted on a $ 30,000 Birkin bag? Even my artists told me “what!” ? “
Faced with the problem of delicate painting on exquisite – and extremely expensive – products, Martin realized that the best artists would be tattoo artists. But even his team of craftsmen were intimidated. Martin calmed artists’ nerves by testing designs on his entire Vuitton travel bag and a Goyard bag. She posted the works on social media and they immediately sold.
Perhaps his most prized work is for the legendary Elton John. Louis Vuitton commissioned DTLAcustom to make a hand-painted trunk for the Rocketman in honor of his 70th birthday, the full-dress representative of the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of an adoring crowd at Dodgers Stadium.
DTLAcustom (which stands for Design Team LA) is inundated with requests for customization of all kinds of luxury and design goods. The 10 artists’ boutique in LA hand painted on all kinds of clothing, shoes and accessories, but also valet trays, pillows, ottomans, bar trays, decorative trunks, jewelry cases, cases cosmetics, hat boxes, mirrors, party supplies and champagne bottles.
Martin guides customers through the design of their favorite product, although she is quick to point out that she is not an artist herself. âWhen I give a Post-It to my artists, they tell me: ‘What is this sketch? She laughs. “I run the business – thank goodness I have talented people doing the rest.”
Customers can choose from DTLAcustom’s impressive stable of renderings and options via Instagram or submit photos or images of their choice. Artists return a mockup to start the process, which can take an average of two to four weeks, depending on the type of work and the workload in the studio. The next day’s items are available – for an urgent fee, of course. Customers ship or ship items or order products online and ship them directly to the DTLAcustom store.
Prices start at around $ 250 for small items and can go over $ 7,500 for larger, more complex, and more detailed jobs.
A-List stars and everyday fashionistas aside, DTLAcustom has been inundated with corporate inquiries – many of which are cold calls. Herbalife regularly requests hundreds of items for its employees. Luxury brands such as Jimmy Choo, Vogue, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Neiman Marcus, Stanley Korshak, Nordstrom and Far Fetch use his store. Martin and DTLAcustom work in glamorous affairs such as a Jimmy Choo and Vogue summer party in the Hamptons and a Vanity Fair Oscar party.
Live painting of luxury items, Martin notes, is especially popular – for luxury-style homes that draw discerning shoppers to stores for special events and private affairs. A generous personal customer took his teenage daughter and friends from New York City to the Beverly Hills Hotel for a private, live personalization of the lucky group’s Nike sneakers. (Dad of the year, indeed.)
The queen of custom in Houston
The exuberant and charismatic Martin is now taking the town of Bayou by storm with his effortless elegance and a sincerity that seems a lot more Houstonian than typical Angeleno. Leaving a pandemic-stricken New York last year, she recalls that while she enjoyed trips to Dallas and Austin, Houston “felt good”, especially since she had made new friends. âWhen people here say they’re actually going to do something for you, they do it,â she says.
Unsurprisingly, the queen of custom wasted no time in collecting the best local partnerships. DTLAcustom’s hand-painted champagne bottles at Cotton Holding’s Cotton Ball were a hit, as were the custom cowboy boots she presented to the CEO, which featured images of her alma mater, brotherhood. and more. Martin partnered with Zadok Jewelers and the McNair family, who personalized 28 pairs of Alexander McQueen sneakers for a summer wedding. The decoration work planned by DTLAcustom with Cityboots will certainly be a success for the rodeo season.
The next level of luxury
âWhen you get that customer who has it all, it’s the next level of luxury,â says Martin. That’s how I’ve always seen him. “
So what’s the hottest luxury personalization this year? Easy, says Martin: dogs. She jokes that her business is now a “dog art studio”. Customers can’t wait to splash their furry baby’s face on their luxuries. (Who wouldn’t want their Golden Retrieiver’s smiley face on a clutch or wallet?) Monograms and stripes are also important, as is highlighting certain brand logos and making them particularly pop.
Custom sneakers are also all the rage and “are definitely spending their time,” Martin says, creating an intersection where “luxury meets the street”. A surprise market is for men, who are happy to make gifts for their wives and daughters, but also happy to create their own boots, wallets, briefcases, golf equipment, etc.
Like any good business owner, Martin will not refuse any personalization order, even if it is not a normal service. DTLAcustom has worked on bike helmets, headphones, mirrors, and bedroom walls.
His dream custom job? “A plane,” she replies happily without missing a beat. âI will totally cheat your plane – or your yacht. I have so many renderings, maybe Houston is the place.
A yacht is certainly ringing in the lane of Tilman Feritta. Maybe a custom Landry superboat? âYes,â Martin exclaims, ideas clearly racing. âTilman, call me! “
While working with Houston’s billionaire buyer seems almost doomed at this point – given his list of clients who’s who and his effortless ability to mingle with Houston’s elite – the tight-lipped Martin doesn’t. will not reveal the hordes of partnerships already underway this fall, both local and national.
Speaking of fall: Gala season is almost here, providing a perfect customization opportunity for these looks and accessories. Then comes arguably its busiest season, the holidays. A New Year offers Houstonians the opportunity to create a unique look for the rodeo season, with custom hats, boots and even saddles. Nothing is too exaggerated, Martin recalls.
âI love what I do,â Martin says with what could be described as a glimmer of zeal in Houston. âI love art, I love fashion, I love luxury, in all facets of my life. And I really like it here.
The feeling, it seems, is mutual.
Contact DTLAcustom by phone (310-617-2672), email ([email protected]), online or Instagram.