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2 Custom Designers Whose Brand Is Quality

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If selling luxury items is about making buyers feel like they're part of a glamorous, exclusive club, Joel Storella and Salvatore Vitiello just made that club more exclusive.

Storella and Vitiello are part of a breed of designers offering something many brands lost touch with in pursuit of worldwide sales and success: bespoke or custom items made in small studios in consultation with a client. When finished, the pieces do not come with a conspicuous designer label or look so well known the designer is recognizable immediately.

Buy a Coach bag and everyone knows it's Coach. The same holds true with Louis Vuitton bags and the ubiquitous LV logo or Tommy Hilfiger clothing or Lacoste.

For many, the status-boosting label is part of the attraction. But not so for some who are gravitating toward a different form of luxury, which is where designers such as Storella and Vitiello come in.

Storella, a Boston leather accessories designer, specializes in hand-stitched bags for men and women.

You would never know a Storella bag if you saw one. And in many ways, that's the point.

"I saw a need in the world for something that's unique," 35-year-old says Storella during a recent telephone interview.

When Storella makes a bag for a client, he never repeats that creation. His process is more akin to commissioning a single painting from an artist. He meets with clients face to face, crafting pieces based on their ideas.

"What I'm making ... is a single client's vision. I'm creating what only existed in their head," says Storella, whose grandfather was a salesman for Jantzen and whose parents owned a clothing manufacturing business.

The reason Storella works this way dates back to his days as a sales associate at the Hermes store in Boston's Back Bay. Working at Hermes from 2004 to 2010, Storella developed a to-die-for client book. On good days he'd do upward of $240,000 in sales, not bad for a small-town New Hampshire boy so green when he entered the business he didn't even recognize Vuitton bags.

"I remember having conversations with people saying 'What are all these brown LV bags women are wearing?' That was 2002," says Storella, whose background is in finance and marketing.

Years serving clients at Hermes, watching customers spend five or six figures on handbags, opened Storella's eyes. He saw a niche he felt he could fill.

"Customers were subject to only what they were allowed to order. Then that order may or may not go through. You wait a year to get it. And it costs $55,000. And you may go to a party with your bag that night and see someone else with the exact same bag," Storella says.

Storella eventually cashed out his 401(k), left Hermes and started his business with the mission of providing customers exactly what they want, not just what a large fashion house deems desirable. The orders for his custom bags started coming in within a month, and he has never looked back. Storella's clients include athletes, athlete's wives, CEOs, artists, dentists and finance industry professionals.

He works on about 10 bags each year, hand-sewing each one, spending an average of a month on each project -- talk about a small, exclusive club.

And the price for entry into this club? Storella's bags range from around $10,000 for a backpack to more than $25,000.

Still, at least for this small-town boy, it's not about the money. Storella believes a designer handbag is a work of art. He's not interested in mass producing, or having dozens of minions in his employ.

"I talk to financial people and investors, and they say 'You have to have scalability, you can't just be you.' But the reality is, I don't see why not. I don't want to have anyone else work for me," Storella says. "I will just be like an artist who paints and when that artist passes away ... the people who had a chance to work with them got that chance and those who didn't, didn't. I think that adds to the intrinsic value of the client relationship. There's a story that's there, instead of just going to the store and buying something."

Vitiello, a luxury women's clothing designer in a small 38th Street studio in New York City's fashion district, works with similar inspiration. He left Wall Street to pursue fashion after seeing an unmet need.

"I found that people couldn't buy quality clothing and have a great fit without having to get the clothes tailored after their purchase," Vitiello explains. "And doing that ends up costing people double."

The grandson of a clothes designer and a seamstress, Vitiello decided to create his own line of women's clothing under the name M. Bottiglieri. Recognizing that as a tiny startup he would not be able to compete with mass-marketed clothing, Vitiello decided he needed to offer something more than just ready-to-wear.

His solution was a bespoke line of clothing for women, a service Vitiello says is rare among even the most highly regarded luxury women's brands despite a growing demand.

"For the up and coming executive, the manager and VP-level professional woman who is in the market for truly luxury bespoke, custom-made and fitting garments and a personal experience, the options to date are extraordinarily limited to the haute couture specially-designed highest of the high brands like Chanel making one-off pieces for a very wealthy customer," Vitiello says.

Like Storella, Vitiello's success is arriving quickly. Days after his website went live last month, Vitiello received nearly 20 inquiries, one or two celebrities among them. Major fashion publications have been in touch.

Prices for items in his capsule collection range from $400 and $1,000. The cost of the bespoke clothing will about double that range, Vitiello says.

And like Storella's approach, the M.Bottiglieri labeling is discreet. "Inside each piece there is an embroidered ladybug. It's located somewhere different on each style. It's not like a other brands that display their logos in your face," he says.

Have Storella and Vitiello struck upon a growing trend? Perhaps. But both prefer to see what they offer as something more lasting, based on value. Vitiello recognizes that designer labels and big designer brands still appeal to many who want to make it clear that they've arrived -- he's just not among those, and neither are his clients.

"As a man, I won't wear something that has a label on the outside of it. I will not wear a brand. I think it's tacky. Wear the quality and let the quality speak for itself," he says.

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