The upper echelons of society are getting a little more exclusive. Even in these demure economic times, luxury consumers need more than money to set themselves apart: patience and good taste are now more important in determining what’s haute and what’s not. The new frenzy of buying what is not just expensive but highly exclusive is being called hyperluxury, and key players are those in search of what no one else has. Much of Europe’s hyperluxury sector is being devoured by China, one of the fastest-growing emerging markets.

“I think that as the world becomes more and more impersonal and clothing and objects become increasingly mass produced that there is a longing for the ‘rare’ and ‘exceptional,’” American fashion designer Tom Ford said. “I detected it in my own life. I could not find clothing, accessories or the service that I wanted in the market and so decided to create what I wanted to find as a consumer.” Ford adds that while the economy may appear to be stalling, there has still never been as much wealth in the world as has been created in the past 10 years.

Still, hyperluxury is not just about one-upmanship in the face of recession. Rather, it is economic uncertainty that has spurred consumers’ demands for value and – for those who can afford it – exceptional products, including cars, real estate, clothing, and accessories.

“People are moving away from throwaway consumerism, from buying things that don’t last and that they don’t really care about,” said Tomas Maier, creative director at Bottega Veneta, the Italian luxury goods house known for unparalleled leather products. “Perhaps the financial crisis has made us all consider our purchases more carefully. There will always be people who seek out exceptional luxury products. Maybe the next stage will be an even greater demand for artisanal craftsmanship, to balance our increasingly digital daily life.”

Maier’s “next stage” seems to be occurring already, especially in the handbag industry. In response to the demand for one-of-a-kind designs, Chanel endeavors to keep exceptional bags, including some flouting Lesage embroideries, in all its boutiques. “The sales and number of pieces significantly increased, with numerous new markets such as China,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion.

Fendi now sells roughly one in 10 of its coveted Peekaboo bags on a made-to-order basis— at prices that range from 2,900 euros up to 31,000 euros, about $4,140 to $44,275 —to customers willing to pay a premium of at least 25 percent while allowing four to six months for delivery. Each comes with a handwritten note from Silvia Venturini Fendi. Peekaboo’s bespoke service has become unexpectedly popular, particularly among China’s sophisticated clientele. Buyers want unparalleled craftsmanship, rare materials, and extreme personalization. Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz summarizes the next generation of luxury consumption the best: “If a handbag is the price of a house, the customer wants to make sure she’s the only one who’s got it.”