How the fashion press critiqued the all-new #applewatch

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It’s somewhat hard to imagine the scene in Cupertino earlier this week – savvy tech journalists alongside a bevy of Apple employees, a handful of celebs and some of the world’s most-established fashion editors.

Like a who’s who of Angela Ahrendts’ fashion contact book, everyone from Olivier Zahm, founder of Purple magazine, to Vogue editor-in-chiefs including Alexandra Shulman of British Vogue, Angelica Cheung of Vogue China, Emmanuelle Alt of Vogue Paris and Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia willingly took a break from their New York Fashion Week schedules to fly in especially. When Apple calls…

But what all did the industry’s critics think of the much-anticipated Apple Watch? Here are some choice highlights:

  • Lisa Armstrong at the Daily Telegraph suggested if the Apple Watch is to seduce us, first it must be able to woo us with its looks rather than its brains. Was she impressed? Ultimately, yes. Like others, the customisation factor particularly resonated: “Where Apple’s watch leaves others standing is in the almost infinite ways it can be further individualised.” Indeed to many, this was the surest sign of Apple attempting to align itself with the way the fashion industry treats accessories.
  • It was this very focus on customisation, however, that led to Time magazine giving one of the toughest reviews out there. Author Misty White Sidell referred to the launch of the Apple Watch as an attempt to kill the joy of personal style. “In a worst-case scenario for fashion, Apple will not only attain a monopoly on the timepiece market, but also the confidence to wield a larger impact on how we dress ourselves each day. The watch is no doubt an indication of how Apple will approach future fashion products, offering the masses a constrictive framework in which to dress themselves, all under the guise of customizable ‘self expression’. And that places personal style in its purest form at risk—inhibiting a consumer’s right to varied choice.” She referred to every additional fashion creation from Apple as inadvertently likely to create a less diverse shopping landscape. “The more Apple invades the fashion market, the more it will look to create a robotic consumerist culture (something it’s already done with tech)—in turn manipulating the greatest enjoyments of style and personal expression.”

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  • Vanessa Friedman at The New York Times, though providing a positive review overall, went in relatively hard as well. “It’s definitely a step forward,” she wrote. “But does it rewrite the rules of our aesthetic expectations? No.” On that customisation element, she added: “The funny thing is, while I understand why they find this sort of choice extraordinary in the tech world, it’s par for the course in fashion, which points up some of the gulf between the two sectors; What they find revolutionary makes us want to yawn.”
  • Over at Vogue International, Suzy Menkes wasn’t overly fussed by the design either. “From a fashion point of view, the external aesthetic seemed neutral: neither super-stylish nor repellent. I would imagine that geeks would love it more than aesthetes,” she wrote. But she peppered her story with what feels almost like conceding to its inevitability: “Yet smartphones have already transformed the fashion world in a way we never imagined, bringing backstage to the wide world and turning shows into a forest of phones and instant images and videos. The phone and the computer have been responsible for bringing fashion to everyone. I suspect that I, as a non-digital specialist, would fail to use this device to its full capacity. But I like the idea of setting the visual aspects according to my mood. And perhaps my wardrobe.”
  • In comparison, Fashionista very openly referred to the Apple Watch as one of the best wearable tech offerings out yet. It also praised its design, associating it very smoothly with the luxury market. “We may have just been imagining things, but the combination of the display’s smooth gradients, the leather band and the high-shine metallics gives the watch a distinctly Burberry feel. Not that Apple changed its design philosophy based on hiring Angela Ahrendts, but the vibe is there. In any case, all those luxury hires seem to have paid off.”
  • WWD [subscriber access] questioned whether Apple’s marketing savvy and brand reputation would be enough to beat out the more accessories-focused brands like Swatch group (due to unveil its own smartwatch next year), or even Will.i.am, who is plotting his own for introduction in 2015. But the fashion trade publication also highlighted an important point for retailers — the fact Apple has created an entire platform that provides new methods of interaction in the retail environment. “The Apple Watch allows a consumer to confirm a purchase via fingerprint with iTouch and now with the release of Apple Pay, there is a financial system and a platform that allows developers and retailers to integrate this into their payment transactions,” wrote digital news and features editor, Rachel Strugatz.

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  • The Business of Fashion provided a comprehensive overview of the device, outlining six underlying principles it believes form the foundations of the company’s strategy for “igniting and dominating the rapidly emerging wearable technology market, just as the iPod did for music, the iPhone did for smartphones and the iPad has done for tablets”. In doing so, it likewise highlighted some other areas of consideration beyond design, one of the most interesting ones of which was in its analysis of the need for new selling spaces for the more luxury version of the watch. “Can Apple really expect to sell a luxury-priced Apple Watch Edition in crowded stores staffed by personnel in blue t-shirts and khakis?” editor-in-chief Imran Amed asked. He expects Apple’s hire of Angela Ahrendts to lead to the brand rolling out a unique selling environment that lives up to the new product – perhaps a luxury Apple Watch shop-in-shop or a standalone deemed high-end and tailored enough to support it. From a design perspective, he also said he didn’t expect the impact on the fashion and luxury watch market to be too significant just yet. “Having seen and touched Apple Watch in person, I think traditional Swiss luxury watchmakers can rest easy — for now,” he wrote.

That “for now” comment from the BoF is particularly pertinent. As I myself wrote for WGSN [subscriber access]: “Apple has, time and time again, taken a category that already exists (mp3 players, smartphones and tablets as the most obvious examples) and redeveloped it in such a way, with design so succinctly at the heart of it, that it becomes a game changer. Comparative to all the other options out there in the wearable tech / smart watch / fitness tracking device market, this absolutely feels like that again.”

Indeed to return to Amed: “This is just the beginning for the Apple Watch and like its iPod, iPhone and iPad predecessors, I’d expect the product to evolve significantly over time.” Down the road, there’s a wealth of disruption looking likely, especially when you turn to the Millennial market (and under), who are no longer used to wearing a traditional watch, but rather relying on their smartphone. Here’s betting Apple doesn’t have too much trouble getting them back to looking at their wrists.

As Sir Jonathan Ive, SVP of design at Apple, narrates in the video: “I think we’re now at a compelling beginning – actually designing technology to be worn and to be truly personal.”

Let’s not forget, this is just version 1.0.