New York designer Marc Jacobs isn’t interested in technology becoming a part of the fabric of his fashion collections, he explained to a crowd at SXSW earlier this week.
The idea of tech-enabled clothing, or indeed wearable technology, doesn’t feel important to him at all, he noted – making him an interesting choice for a festival focused on, indeed, tech.
But the self-proclaimed luddite believes the industry at large doesn’t see this view as the future either. “When fashion talks about the future, it usually ends up silver… and that’s not a new conversation,” he explained.
He is of course right about that fact, as so referenced at the gala for the Costume Institute’s Manus x Machina exhibition last year, where the primary outfit for the night really was silver-themed.
But Jacobs’ talk at SXSW, which focused primarily on his personal use of Instagram for the past two years, nods to somewhat of the old guard of designers heading up the industry. Where he was once known for reading culture and society better than so many of his peers, the gap between traditional dressmaking and new technology is making that feel further away than ever.
Admittedly, the vision for a future of intertwined fashion and technology is still a ways off. We are early on this train, and we’ve been intensely distracted by many of the more hardware-focused devices put out there so far, not to mention the lacking value around use cases.
But, what if we were to turn those ideas on their heads, and instead think about technology in fabrics that could provide true purpose aligned to what a designer looks to achieve? What if they could result in say making outfits more beautiful, more relevant to life, more empowering for the woman wearing them, or even to provide her with an easier means of getting dressed in the morning?
That sounds like a big leap forward from wearable communications tools to replace our phones (yet synced to our phones) or even fitness tracking opportunities, let alone the myriad of options that have enabled items to light up. And the point is, it’s also where we’re likely headed.
In reality, that sort of progress is not going to come from the designers, mind you. It will be from the R&D teams of big tech organisations, textile companies and emerging start-ups. Think about where the likes of Lycra came from, and then think about what Google is doing with Project Jacquard. Whether you like the initial jacket launched in partnership with Levi’s or not (focused heavily on communications no less), this does suggest a significant opportunity for the mass implementation of conductive yarn within our garments down the line.
Where designers will need to eventually play a part is in the buy-in of this world. Advanced fabrications aren’t new in luxury, which bodes well for the long-term uptake of this even more developed space. But these brands should at one point be leading this, not following it.
Jacobs, by his own admission in comparison, is “quite cynical about it”. He explained: “I like shirts and dresses and pants, and until people think about covering their body in a different way, it still doesn’t feel that important.”
He does, however, believe technology at large is relevant to the fashion industry if we’re looking at digital and social media. “I find it hugely important, but I don’t know how to engage with it as much as I wish I did. I don’t have a block because I’m against it; it’s just not the way I’m wired. It’s such a foreign language to me… I don’t have [the] ability to absorb or comprehend how it works.”
It’s for that reason he did indeed only take up Instagram a couple of years back too – until then, he was completely against the whole idea of it, preferring instead to be “in the real world”. It took an interview with journalist Suzy Menkes for him to change his mind. “Being the person I am… as soon as that was recorded and documented, I decided the next day I was going to join Instagram.”
If history teaches us anything then, there’s hope yet for a Marc Jacobs fashion and technology collection. At some point, the tide will turn, it’s just a question of what will convince him, and perhaps more importantly, who will beat him.
This story first appeared on Forbes