The dance between technology and fashion has always been a rather ungainly one, characterized by awkward stumbling, accidental toe-treading and unexpected knees in the groin.
Neither world is really certain what it’s supposed to be doing with the other. Products deemed to combine style with cutting-edge credibility tend to leave the public cold, whether that’s a celebrity-endorsed gadget or solutions to problems that don’t exist (Bluetooth glove-phones, rechargeable handbag chargers). But as technology shrinks, form and style start to become much more important.
The arrival of wearable technology into the marketplace has been muted by this truth. There’s little point in making wearables that people don’t find alluring enough to wear, and while technology companies tie themselves up in knots over the functionality of, say, a smartwatch, the fact is that we require very little from a watch. For most people, aesthetic appeal is more important. That’s why a team of 100 designers is rumored to be working on Apple’s much-anticipated “iWatch”: while the mass adoption of wearable technology is primarily a social battle, it’s one that can be won a whole lot quicker if the product looks cool and feels desirable.
Small wonder, then, that technology companies are beginning to court figures from the fashion world like desperate singletons at a speed-dating event. The departure of Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts for a job at Apple comes only a few weeks after Yves St Laurent’s Paul Deneve made the same move. Google, still engaged in a long-term pre-launch battle for public acceptance for Google Glass, scored a win when Diane von Furstenberg’s models wore the futuristic spectacles at last autumn’s New York Fashion Week. Samsung sent Galaxy Gears watches up the catwalk in Milan with Moschino; Kenzo designed covers for Google’s Nexus 7 tablet at Paris Fashion Week, while those on the front row at Roksanda Ilincic’s recent show in London were slipped a free pair of stylish Sennheiser Momentum headphones. With the attitudes of taste-makers so important in the often sniffy world of fashion, you can hardly blame those technology companies who suddenly find themselves plunged into the luxury accessories market for attempting such overt seduction.
But what do the fashion companies get out of this liaison? Does any kudos flow the other way? “The fashion and beauty worlds were very slow to the digital party,” says Tyler. “Until a couple of years ago there were barely any decent e-commerce websites, and luxury brands were in denial about what technology could do for them – mainly because they were steeped in heritage. But that’s changing.
That developing link with technology was highlighted at Dressed To Code, a “fashion hackathon” hosted by Glamour magazine last month at New York Fashion Week, where coders (split 50/50 between men and women) convened to merge the worlds of technology and fashion through the development of mobile apps. It’s hardly a marriage made in heaven, but perhaps the geek and the chic are finally getting it together.