Categories
Comment Editor's pick technology

How the fashion press critiqued the all-new #applewatch

AppleWatch_anchor

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.”

applewatch2

  • 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.

applewatch3

  • 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.

Categories
Comment technology

Why is wearable technology so damn ugly?

This piece first appeared on The Telegraph

Rachel Arthur, a fashion business reporter, was dismayed by the wearable technology on offer at CES last week. Not only were most devices useless, they were also utterly unwearable by any self-respecting woman

ces-pebble

Stick 150,000 tech people in the middle of the Nevada desert and what do you get? Well for one thing, no queues to the ladies room I can assure you.

I hit Las Vegas last week for my very first experience of CES, the consumer technology tradeshow, and wasn’t in the least surprised at the ease to which I could nip to the bathroom in between traipsing around the exhibition halls. This wasn’t ever going to be an event for battling my way through any kind of female crowd, unless you include the countless number of “booth babes” hired to help sell the gadgets (sporting a variety of rather oddly sexual mermaid, kangaroo and nursing costumes).

Gender observations aside, like everyone else; I was hitting Sin City for the products. I work as a business reporter and trend forecaster in the fashion industry, but largely cover technological developments. So CES for me was all about one thing: wearable technology.

After all, if it’s ‘wearable’ it must mean fashionable right? Wrong. More of that later. But first up, let’s deal with a big myth: women don’t buy technology. Also wrong. Women are more likely than men to purchase tablets, laptops and smartphones. We also use any internet-connected device, not to mention social networking sites, our mobiles and GPS more than our male counterparts, according to a 2012 report from Intel researcher Genevieve Bell.

Now most of you may not care about wearable technology very much, just yet. But its overwhelming presence at CES, usually a great place to figure out ‘the next big thing’, is telling. This is the annual showcase where the latest and hottest devices are revealed – that you and I will soon start using. (Aside from wearable tech – you can look forward to watching telly on curved TV screens, the chauffeur experience for all with the advent of self-driving cars and become your own newsagents with the dawning of 3D-printed sweets. Believe they taste good, I tried one.

The ‘wearables’ space is already burgeoning, but remains for the time being an enthusiasts’ market. Think early adopting sports fanatics who like to quantify their own data with the Nike FuelBand, the FitBit or the Jawbone. Outside of that niche there are also smart watches like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear or the Pebble, as well as items like Google Glass.

The fact is, wearable technology is predicted to leap from a $1.4 billion industry in 2013 to $19 billion in 2018, according to Juniper Research. So it’s pretty safe to say, a lot of us will be buying it and sporting something tecchy – beyond our watches.

However, the big gap between what was on show at CES and what consumers will be willing to buy is quite simply design, especially if these companies want to attract female shilling. At the moment, all of the aforementioned devices are unbelievably masculine. I mean I do like my sportswear, but I also like delicate accessories. A big chunky (and by that I mean, ugly) cuff (digital or not) on my wrist is not something I enjoy wearing, meaning a couple of weeks into owning something like that, I am likely forgotten to have forgotten about it. The novelty has worn off.

A friend said to me as we walked around the show that most tech companies aim their product at men in the hope that women might still buy it, rather than aiming it at women knowing that men will never buy it. This pal was a bloke. And an honest one at that.

Naïvety won’t pay off

In part, that may be true, but it’s a naïve and short-sighted strategy by these companies, hoping to crack wearable technology.

First of all, let’s consider the real estate opportunities of the human body. Without delving into the realm of clothing and soft accessories, men are – broadly speaking – limited to their wrists and to eyewear. Most women on the other hand, will wear a watch, bracelet, ring, necklace, earrings and glasses, and often multiples of all of those at the same time. The female form, simply put, is far more valuable.

So where has this disconnect come from? Why were vibrating pants one of the most memorable ‘female’ bits of wearable tech on offer? Is it as simple as men designing wearable technology for men?

Jennifer Darmour, design director of user experience at product design firm, Artefact, has recently been working with a large brand (which she cannot name) that is about to launch a whole line of wearable devices aimed at women. “I went to meet with them recently, and was shocked that not one person in the room was female despite what they’re aiming to do.” It’s not that encouraging is it?

Female designers anyone?

We’ve been saying for a long time we need more female engineers, computer scientists and coders. Well how about the tech industry focuses on recruiting some female designers too? Of course the issue might also be that design hasn’t been a consideration for wearables full stop so far, rather an afterthought to the technology. But turning that on its head is precisely why the likes of Apple have done so well. The technology and the design of its devices are both equally impressive.

As Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit Wearables, tells me: “Wearables is a bit of a misnomer, because not many of them [the devices] are that wearable.” His company’s fitness tracking tool, Shine, is the closest there is to elegant on the market right now.

The development of Shine, unlike many others where pastel coloured straps are the typical nod to a female consumer (pur-lease – do they think we are children?) has focused on what people actually want to wear and will feel good wearing, he explains.

Others at CES this year looked to be tackling jewellery, but most of it was sorely disappointing (and again by that I mean unsightly). Think human Christmas tree – as with one company trying to sell the idea of a ‘crystal necklace’ which with just a click of a button makes these puppies light up.

Design, or lack thereof, was a big debate throughout the week. Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Devices Group, said: “If we want the premise of wearable technology to come forward we really have to think about going back to the drawing board with the hardware, moving beyond the idea of a square block on your wrist.”

One of Intel’s announcements at the show was a smart bracelet launching later this year designed by Opening Ceremony and carried by Barneys New York. This could, for the first time, suggest fashion or aesthetics have been a consideration from the outset rather than an add-on. As Liza Kindred, founder of Third Wave Fashion, says: “In order for people to adopt wearable tech, the tech must disappear and the item must be beautiful.”

Let’s focus on purpose shall we?

Of course we also need a device that we – as women – want to use. It needs to have a purpose that we’ll genuinely buy in to. Vibrating pants, USB bracelets or tweeting shoesjust aren’t going to cut it, but actually things we want. Jennifer Darmour refers to the necessity of “meaning”; not just something we want to wear but something that will add value to our lives.

There are endless possibilities in terms of functionality as wearable technology continues to evolve, but it needs to feel useful and worthwhile. It can’t just be a gimmick if women are going to buy into it. June by Netatmo, which also launched at CES, is one such example – it’s a bracelet that measures sun exposure, tracking UV intensity and advising women on skin protection on a daily basis. The design isn’t totally there, but it’s not half bad either.

Personally I would totally buy into a wearable device that would automatically adapt the heating in my house based on my body temperature, alert me to retail sales I would be interested in based on my location, or detect what nutritional value I’m missing from the day and suggest a recipe for dinner on my way home.

In this billion dollar industry, I can guarantee the brand that manages to make wearable technology beautiful as well as incredibly useful, will be the one with the key to women’s wallets the world over.

Categories
technology Uncategorized

London Fashion Week: young designers must embrace technology or risk shutting the door

London Fashion Week’s young designers must use the power of technology to promote themselves, rather than taking a leaf out of Tom Ford’s book and shutting the door completely.

For a city known for emerging fashion creative talent, the news that American heavyweight designer Tom Ford was intending to show his womenswear line during London Fashion Week (LFW) this season, instead of New York where he first launched it last September, was quite a surprising one.

Before a flurry of brands returned to the UK’s capital around LFW’s 25th anniversary in 2009, there were few big designer names that chose to show their latest collections here. Even now, those that do – Pringle of Scotland, Burberry Prorsum, Matthew Williamson – are predominantly, and quite understandably, British.

Tom Ford’s presence therefore, makes a statement. Quite simply it says that London is truly back on the international scene, holding its own against its European counterparts as a go-to destination for fashion. This is in stark contrast to a mere few seasons ago, where LFW was skipped by many press and buyers entirely.

The former Gucci designer and Hollywood film director broke the mould in New York last season when he opted for an intimate fashion show event for just 100 guests.

In an age where the catwalk is live streamed online around the world, enabling consumers to feel like they themselves are on the front row, he also only invited one photographer (his own), turned away all the bloggers, and set a strict embargo on information about the collection so as to relate it more closely to the date the garments hit store.

“[Today] you see the clothes on the runway, and within an hour or so, they’re online,” Ford said at the time. “They’re overexposed… I wanted to pull everything back.”

It was a daring move, but it worked for him. Accordingly, he’s opted for the same strategy with his autumn/winter 2011/12 collection in London. Today, Ford will present his latest designs to a handful of monthly magazine editors only.

But I question whether his method is really suited to this city at all.

Given the current dire financial state of the country, this alternative to the lavish and extravagant productions fashion shows have become, is certainly no bad thing; it’s more Ford’s strict restrictions around any detail being released in real-time that doesn’t quite fit.

Turn to the strategy currently being employed by the British Fashion Council (BFC) for instance, and the complete opposite approach can be seen.

Aiming to reach a wider audience than ever before, the council’s dedicated digital policy will see a total of 37 shows live streamed by the end of the week as well as a series of fashion films.

And it’s not just online – an LED screen currently dominates the wall of the tent at the official home of LFW at Somerset House, which, when it’s not showing the live streams, displays daily video highlights as well as tweets from the @londonfashionwk feed.

The same is happening on various screens on the London underground – in Oxford Circus, Holborn and Charing Cross stations to name a few.

Meanwhile, later today Burberry will become the first ever brand to stream live on the Landmark 32m digital screen at Piccadilly Circus.

In doing all of this, both Burberry and the BFC are helping to pioneer a new fashion landscape where democratisation, or put more simply, fashion for the masses, is key.

“It’s about reaching out to broader audiences,” says the BFC’s CEO Caroline Rush. “Showcasing digitally is a fantastic opportunity for our designers to reach global audiences without obviously having to have those big advertising budgets.”

At a time when convincing consumers back into shops is crucial, she’s hoping the outdoor initiative will also help generate a sense of excitement about LFW with the public and eventually lead to sales too.

Ford’s argument however, as many of his counterparts would still agree, is that it goes against the notion of luxury to make yourself so accessible.

It’s for that very reason many designer brands have been slow on the uptake of digital in the first place – in some instances still not having their own websites, let alone pushing forward through social media.

But then Ford is now a big established brand, and the bulk of those on the LFW schedule are not.

“The luxury Tom has is that he’s had the opportunity to develop his name, reputation and audience through the likes of Gucci… most of the designers we have in London haven’t got that grounding and so [digital] gives them the means to reach much further,” says Rush.

Save for its hero returnees, the city remains largely a home for emerging talent. Putting a collection together, let alone producing a show, is expensive business, and having any cash left over for marketing is fairly unlikely for these small companies. In utilising technology, the very best of London Fashion Week can be catapulted around the world no matter what financial backing it has.

Only by taking advantage of the true power of technology will these new fashion designers build their future. By shutting the door to the digerati, these rising stars will jeopardise their careers before they have even taken off. Therefore I encourage them to follow more in the footsteps of digitally enlightened fashion houses like Burberry, and not, though it’s wonderful to have him here, Tom Ford.

This piece originally appeared on fashion.telegraph.co.uk