Would you fancy buying a moonstone bracelet that flickers each time an important email comes through? Perhaps a “smart” jacket that connects to your iPhone? Or a tiny pliable tattoo-like patch that instantly measures your health data?
Though these innovations sound more like a crazy science-fiction fantasy than their high-fashion reality, their technologies already exist and reports show they are in high demand. Dubbed wearables, they are the ambiguous trend pieces of the 21st century.
It wasn’t until the verge of the millennium that high-tech subconsciously entered fashion’s discourse. Alexander McQueen staged an impressive finale to his SS99 show with two robots spraying paint on Shalom Harlow’s white trapeze dress. Like most things McQueen created, there was something menacing, something delicately beautiful and endlessly romantic to this performance. The event was labeled pure fashion magic.
Since then, ideas regarding the marriage of fashion and technology have evolved in a far more practical direction. Fashion merges with technology in the form of e-shops, advanced production techniques and – of course – wearables, a sector that tech giants view as a huge and unexplored market of opportunities. Since Pebble launched the very first smart watch in 2012, technology companies have clumsily fought for space on customers’ bodies. However, as the flop of the Google Glass demonstrated, when it comes to wearables neither efficiency nor ground-breaking technology is enough. In order for people to actually wear them, they must be good looking, cleverly marketed and less scary.
In an attempt to make their futuristic efforts more attractive, companies like Google, Apple and Samsung have embraced collaborations with fashion’s biggest names. Right now, Google is working with Levi’s on a pair of smart jeans that will allow the wearer to send commands to their phone just by tapping lightly on the fabric.
It could be argued that the very concept of wearables clashes with that of fashion, as the latter hardly ever intends for practicality. Rather, it is all about hype, coolness and luxury – creating an image people want to be associated with and pay the price for.
Apple, who presented its smartwatch in autumn 2013 and whose iPhone has unofficially become the “it” gadget for creatives globally, understands the importance of working with fashion designers. The company tried to garner attention from the fashion crowd by launching Apple Watch collaborations with Hermes and Thom Browne, as well as inviting industry insiders to its watch-related events. Apple even managed to secure the Watch on fashion’s most important wrist – the one of Karl Lagerfeld. The company does not reveal its sales figures for the Watch, but according to estimates from Forbes, the first version of the device did worse than expected within the company.
Criticisms against the Apple Watch are similar to arguments against the entire “wearable as device” concept: it is too slow, it requires too much attention, it is redundant and its functions are obscure. Another concern is privacy – the Google Glass, for instance, was considered too obtrusive in the way it freely used personal data. “For a consumer, it is important that fashion tech solves problems and covers real needs,” remarked a spokesperson for the Berlin-based fashion hub Zalando. “Right now, new wearable tech products oscillate around the branch of gadgets, not fashion accessories. The products that are currently available aren’t intuitive enough, and few add any actual value for the user. Another challenge is to marry the functionality of technology with aesthetic and style.”
“Fashion tech collaborations will only find success when their practical side becomes seamless and invisibly integrated in design” – Dr. Amanda Parkes
“Fashion tech collaborations will only find success when their practical side becomes seamless and invisibly integrated in design”, warns technology expert Dr. Amanda Parkes in an interview with Business of Fashion. Parkes herself has been employed by Ralph Lauren to work on integrating technology into fashion. It is also known that German-based brands adidas and Zalando are both working on their respective projects in fashion tech. Even though the wearable industry is still in its natal state, wearables are not going anywhere. Therefore, it is only the matter of time until they become better-looking and more appealing.