fashion tech Y-3's space apparel for Virgin Galactic
Y-3’s space apparel for Virgin Galactic

Fashion and technology are increasing bedfellows, but at no time of year do we see experimentation between these two worlds integrate more than during fashion week season. In the past, we’ve been welcomed by drones flying overhead at Fendi, virtual reality adopted at Topshop Unique, and Google Glass (ahem) walking down the catwalk at Diane von Furstenberg. More often than not, such moves are part of an elaborate scheme to generate press headlines and consumer interest as the shows become re-engineered to appeal to the public rather than the trade audience they once were.

Meanwhile, in the technology realm, corporations are turning to the fashion world to a greater degree than ever before too. Apple teamed up with Hermès to launch a special luxury edition of the Apple Watch in 2015, while Virgin Galactic announced a partnership with Y-3 (the adidas and Yohji Yamamoto line) to create the outfits for its future astronauts, pilots and passengers (as pictured above).

So all of that got us thinking: If budget were no issue and innovation truly knew no bounds in the traditional fashion houses of New York, London, Milan and Paris, what dream technology tie-ups would we really love to see hit the catwalks? Read on below for everything from artificial intelligence to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop playing a part.

Call them all a gimmick, but they beat another Instagram takeover or Snapchat reveal… no?


Burberry and the invisibility “poncho”
fashion tech - blue Morpho butterfly
A blue Morpho butterfly (Photo credit: YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Wearable technology has been pretty disappointing from a fashion perspective thus far. Smart watches and fitness tracking devices aside, the only thing that’s ever really stood out is Hussein Chalayan’s animatronics-based show in 2007, which presented the idea of clothes that changed shape. The question on everyone’s lips now then, is when will tech advancement actually hit the design of our clothes? Fibre science is the key, with smart textiles evolving so they’ll eventually be able to do everything from alter colour to indeed shift shape as Chalayan imagined. The one to really be excited about though? Scientists are exploring the way refracted light creates the bold colour of the Morpho butterfly in a bid to understand how we can create that much-desired invisibility cloak. Given the success of Burberry’s monogrammed ponchos, our first technology wish would be for such a collaboration on the London Fashion Week catwalk. Magic.


Alexander McQueen’s global holographic show

Speaking of illusions, we’ve seen a number of holograms being used in fashion shows in the past, from Polo Ralph Lauren’ 4D water projection for spring/summer 2015, to Alexander McQueen’s Kate Moss trick (as per the video above) in 2006. But these concepts are improving all the time. What if we took the idea further and had tele-presence technology in place so that when McQueen’s show occurred in Paris, it could also be seen in Shanghai, Dubai, Moscow and São Paulo at the same time – with a different audience but the same models, looks and experience portrayed. A win for VIP customers around the world.


Louis Vuitton as sponsor of the Hyperloop
fashion tech - Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride and Jim Lovell in Louis Vuitton's Core Values campaign
Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride and Jim Lovell in Louis Vuitton’s Core Values campaign

Transport around fashion weeks is constantly troublesome for attendees. Heavy traffic, poor weather not to mention high heels makes for a laborious experience, especially if you’re in it for the full month of shows. If only there were some speedy way to get from one venue to the next? Or one city to the next even. Elon Musk is who we need, and more specifically, his vision for the Hyperloop – a high-speed transportation system enabled thanks to a reduced air pressure tube that could carry pods at up to 700mph. Originally imagined to run between Los Angeles and San Francisco (with an average travel time of 35 minutes), we quite fancy a short version of it like the High Line in New York to take us from say Milk Studios to the new Hudson Yards. Or from Milan to Paris perhaps. As far as luxury travel goes, Louis Vuitton inevitably springs to mind. Even more appropriately, it already ran a campaign with Buzz Aldrin some years ago (as pictured above), so has an interest in space travel, meaning its team is bound to get along like a house on fire with Musk, who does of course also run SpaceX.


Alexander Wang and data visualisation
fashion tech - The Unseen's EIGHTHSENSE scupture
The Unseen’s EIGHTHSENSE scupture

Last year, fans of Swedish designer Ida Klamborn were able to watch her Fashion Week Stockholm show from home via virtual reality using Google Cardboard. Better than that, they were also able to leave feedback on their favourite looks, providing data that showed in real-time on robots put in place to represent them on the front row. Those sorts of insights are hugely valuable for a brand, but what about if they could be gleaned from the audience of influencers actually present too? London-based science and design company, The Unseen, unveiled a sculpture called EIGHTHSENSE in 2015 that changed in colour based on the wearer’s brain patterns. Created in collaboration with digital studio Holition, it read EEG data through a headset and reflected different signals accordingly. That sort of sentiment analysis could make for a beautiful visual feast during a fashion show (albeit potentially a controversial one), if the audience were looped up in the same way. This one’s got Alexander Wang written all over it.


Gucci’s downloadable dreams
fashion tech - Gucci's spring/summer 2016 show at Milan Fashion Week (Photo credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Gucci’s spring/summer 2016 show at Milan Fashion Week (Photo credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

While we’re on the subject of the brain and data, dream reading is another science being explored. What could we do if we could not only understand dreams and be able to re-watch them, but also share them from one person to the next? By monitoring electrical activity in the brain it’s not impossible we’ll get to that stage; even a future where we can interact with what we’re experiencing too. Apply that to fashion week and perhaps we’ll have a future show taking us one step on from virtual reality and instead able to enter the dream of the designer and eventually manipulate what they see. We’ll take an Alessandro Michele at Gucci dream tonight; perhaps a Miu Miu one tomorrow.


Net-a-Porter and the 3D printer
fashion tech - Net-a-Porter
Net-a-Porter

One of the most concerning issues with fashion weeks as they stand, is the distinct separation between the digital experience consumers have with such events, and the lack of ability to buy the actual products shown. Usually it takes up to six months for the collections to hit the shop floor, by which point the hype generated at the reveal has all but died. Numerous brands are now looking to release items in-season in a bid to capitalise on the engagement achieved, but it’s a complicated model. Which is why 3D printing could be interesting, particularly as such tools become more able to create materials as soft and supple as what we’re used to wearing. Imagine a future where Net-a-Porter, as the luxury e-commerce giant in the space, can offer looks from the catwalk (rightfully gained from the designers) ready “for print”. Customers would be able to download their styles and customise them as they go.


Tommy Hilfiger’s shared deep learning
fashion tech - Models backstage at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer 2016 show at New York Fashion Week
Models backstage at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer 2016 show at New York Fashion Week

One thing always missing from fashion weeks in my humble opinion: live commentary of the shows, preferably from the designer themselves. Short of ruining the experience of the event – the music, the set, the lighting – a lot could be achieved by sharing the thoughts of the creative director relevant to each piece as it comes out, especially if such insights could be personalised. Enter artificial intelligence. If Hermès is working with Apple and thus perhaps they’ve got Siri, then how about Tommy Hilfiger and Google Brain? Imagine a process of deep learning enabling the machine to understand what every audience member has bought, featured in their mag, mentioned on social media, reviewed positively or otherwise in the past. From there, it would be able to temper its commentary accordingly. By knowing the new season inside out too, it would be able to provide live intelligence to the viewer via in-ear headphones as the show takes place, helping them do their job better and enjoy the experience all the more as it goes.


Chanel’s robot plant
fashion tech - Alicia Vikander as AI in Ex Machina
Alicia Vikander as AI in Ex Machina

We’re used to elaborate and theatrical sets during fashion weeks – with everything from a supermarket to casino or airport terminal playing out at Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel in recent years. In a well-rounded view of future tech, and one step on from its data centre last season, the French fashion house will turn to robotics for it’s next endeavour. Imagine a robot plant ready to create the dystopian future of man versus machine we’re so used to seeing from Hollywood. Conveyor belts would circle around the floor churning out next generation robots created as lifelike as in film Ex Machina, but this time kitted out in next season Chanel of course. There’d be the Cara, the Kendall, the Baptiste… even the Karl. While this sort of humanoid artificial intelligence is somewhat of a controversial move (have you seen the end of that movie?), there’s a lot to be said for also having a robotic version of Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette. It doesn’t, after all, get more Instagram-worthy than that.

This post first appeared in Forbes in 2016.