When everyone else owns the same thing, how do you stand out from the crowd? With personalisation, of course.

Enter marquage. Pronounced “mah-cash”, it describes the art of literally making a mark in French and is taking the world of luxury goods to a whole new level. 

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

Cherin Sim has been specialising in marquage since 2009, conceptualising and hand-painting art on leather goods to create one-of-a-kinds for clients. She has never painted the same design twice, and, although she charges from $1,000 for a wallet, she has a two-year waiting list. We find out more about this art form Cherin practises and the intricate process that goes into it.

How did you fall in love with marquage?

I love the idea that anything, even mass-produced items, can be made precious and priceless with unique hand-painting. Even if we may not be able to afford a Charles and Ray Eames lounge chair, we can always have an IKEA one with marquage!

Why marquage instead of other techniques?

I have a Masters in Fine Arts where I majored in painting. Marquage is an art form I am very familiar with and excel in. I feel empowered when using it as a tool as I believe I can paint anything. When I work on clients’ personal belongings, their story can be told. Every marking has a story to tell.

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

What’s your working process like?

Casual chats with clients are an essential preliminary design process for me. Since it’s informal, they usually open up and share personal things. From there, I get a sense of the design that will best interpret their personality and style.

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

Throughout the years, I’ve realised that such sensibilities cannot be replicated, and this makes me treasure them. In return, my clients are always pleasantly surprised by what they receive. As I do not share design drafts of what’s in store for them, clients will simply have to trust me when they commission me to paint for them. 

Do you think the demand for personalised items has been increasing in the last few years?

Most definitely! In the past, having a Birkin on your arm was something of a luxury, a reflection of one’s affluence and influence.

PHOTO: NATALLI KWONG

Nowadays, with more and more people being able to afford high-end items, owning such a designer bag is no longer unusual. With a stronger emphasis on individualism and empowerment, most people naturally want to stand out and be different. Personalisation is part of such a natural evolution.

Have you ever had requests to dress up home accessories?

A couple of years back, I was flown to Hong Kong to work on two large Goyard humidors for a private client. I worked back-to-back for three weeks, and my client loved the results. I believe these have become living room conversational pieces. Your house becomes a home when it’s designed with you in mind. I would love to paint on more home accessories or furniture. It would be fantastic.

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

What’s the most challenging request you’ve ever received and how long did it take you to complete it?

I have a waiting period of two years. Some things take that long. It’s not so much about the time required to paint an object, but the design process.

The more personal it is, the more difficult the design is to work out. If I’m unable to finalise a design that I love and know the client will love as well, I will not start painting. I only want the best for clients and, sometimes, inspiration comes with patience.

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

I am currently working on a piece for a very special client that I have been designing for almost two years. The central concept is family and female empowerment. Such themes are very personal and the design has to be very specific. 

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

It requires a lot of life experience and personal growth to truly understand and represent these ideas. Not only must it be meaningful, but it also has to be aesthetically pleasing and have a splash of fun. I’m excited to complete it soon. It might be one of my favourite works yet. 

Has there been a popular image or icon that’s been requested frequently?

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai, also widely known as the “Hokusai Wave”. I’ve paid homage to this classical piece of woodblock print after falling in love with it during my time in Japan.

To me, this beautiful work is more than an icon; it profoundly represents the circle of life as well. Having spent years in Japan and learning the language and crafts, I was – and still am – deeply influenced by the Japanese way of life. Their cultural idea of longevity and eternity are deeply embedded and strongly influence their way of life. 

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

The Japanese understand and appreciate quality, where utmost attention is given to the finer details and layers of perfection are built from the core. It is only when a strong foundation is achieved can creation be long-lasting. Similarly, my marquage works are lovingly painted in subtle layers, where paints are slowly built up until completion. This process ensures the longevity of my works. 

How does marquage hold up to wear and tear?

My hand-painted work is relatively permanent and durable with normal wear and tear – if you don’t take into account hard key scratches or those from gravelled surfaces. The paints used are made specifically for leather. They are flexible and malleable and able to withstand everyday bending.

PHOTO: CHERIN SIM

What’s your favourite part of the process?

The smile on the faces and utter delight in the hearts of my clients when they eventually see their finished piece. 

For more information, visit http://instagram.com/simcherin.