Tag Archives: new technology

Digital snippets: Wren, Gucci, John Lewis, Lord & Taylor, Kenneth Cole, Sephora

18 Mar

A bit of a catch-up post today in light of several weeks of travel… here then all the latest stories to know about surrounding fashion and tech from the past fortnight or so:

 

  • “First Kiss” film (as above) goes viral with 63 million views – is ad for clothing label Wren [NY Times]
  • Gucci launches own Spotify music hub to promote short film ‘The Fringe’ [The Drum]
  • John Lewis looks to digital innovation as next big thing in retail with ‘JLab incubator’ [The Guardian]
  • Lord & Taylor now accepting bitcoin [CNBC]
  • Kenneth Cole challenges consumers to do good deeds and prove it via Google Glass [Creativity]
  • Sephora launches ‘Beauty Board’ social shopping platform [USA Today]
  • Bergdorf Goodman makes Instagram shots shoppable at SXSW with 52Grams [5th/58th]
  • Dolce & Gabbana crafts love story around perfume to appeal to consumer emotion [Luxury Daily
  • adidas launches gaming platform powered by social media starring Lionel Messi [Marketing Magazine]
  • Can Instagram save ageing teen retailer Aeropostale? [CNBC]
  • Which big brands are courting the maker movement, and why – from Levi’s to Home Depot  [AdWeek]
  • How beacon technology could change the way we shop [Fashionista]
  • On Instagram, a bazaar where you least expect it [Bits blog]
  • What Google’s wearable tech platform could mean for the fashion industry [Fashionista]
  • Smartphone payment system to be unveiled in UK [FT]
  • Alibaba ramping up efforts to sell US brands in China [WSJ]
  • What does WeChat’s new e-credit card mean for luxury? [JingDaily]
  • Op-Ed | Are camera phones killing fashion? [BoF]

Looking back at SXSW: wearables, privacy and avoiding bandwagons

14 Mar

This article first appeared on The Business of Fashion 

Rachel Arthur recaps the highlights of this year’s SXSW Interactive conference and identifies key takeaways for the fashion industry.

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AUSTIN, United States — The marketing and tech crowd hit Austin, Texas, once again this week for the annual SXSW Interactive conference, bringing with them more members of the fashion industry than ever before. There were representatives from long-time attendees like Burberry and Bergdorf Goodman, alongside a flurry of first timers from Parisian fashion houses and UK department stores alike, a sure sign of technology’s increasingly pervasive impact on fashion retail.

Thought of as an incubator for tech-enabled creativity which aims to provide a “view on the future,” the annual event is overloaded with keynotes, panel discussions and pop-up events, not to mention a trade show floor. But, as usual, much of the action also happened off-piste, in spontaneous conversations at hundreds of events and parties.

Here, we’ve compiled some key takeaways, on themes ranging from wearable technology to consumer privacy.

The State of Wearables

It was clear wearables — an emerging category of personal accessories with embedded sensors, displays and other digital technology (such as Nike’s FuelBand, Google Glass and Apple’s rumoured iWatch) — were going to be a key topic even before SXSW began. They’d dominated the scene at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January and over 60 sessions addressed the topic, up from a mere handful last year.

Speakers unanimously agreed that the category is advancing rapidly. American basketball star Shaquille O’Neal even made an appearance to discuss his new interest in wearable technology with Rick Valencia of Qualcomm. Yet despite predictions that the market for wearables could reach $30-$50 billion over the next 3 to 5 years, the growing consensus was that mass adoption was still a ways off. On Google Glass, Robert Scoble (author and startup liason officer of Rackspace) said: “This is one of those products you know is the future, but it’s so unfinished at this point that it’s frustrating. It’s three to five years away before it’s really useful.”

And indeed, it was the word ‘useful,’ more than design or aesthetics — which the current crop of wearables are widely thought to lack — that came up the most. Jennifer Darmour, user experience design director at Artefact, said she has a drawer full of wearables that she had worn for just a week or two each before abandoning them. There was too much focus on novelty, she said, rather than on creating real functional value. “We’ve been taking a technology and trying to find a problem for that technology, instead of the other way round,” she added. “We need a more human-centric approach.”

Q Manning, chief executive of app design company Rocksauce Studios, agreed: “We need to solve problems. Just because we can build it, doesn’t mean we should. We need to pinpoint will this actually be useful? Is it beneficial? Will it help me live my life better?”

Jay Morgan, digital creative director of Havas Worldwide, added: “When wearable tech becomes [part of our] normal clothes and we don’t have to [actively] interact with it, it’s not then going to be about whether people care about it, it’s just going to be a part of your life. That’s what brands need to think about it now.”

Managing Privacy

Privacy was another key topic at SXSW this year, perhaps unsurprisingly as whistleblower Edward Snowden gave one of the headline talks. Appearing via Google Hangout from an undisclosed location in Russia, Snowden called on the technology community to help protect privacy rights by building them into technical standards. “There is a policy response that needs to occur, but there is also a technical response that needs to occur,” he said. “It is the development community that can really craft the solutions and make sure we are safe.”

Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, added: “I really think that consumers need to rethink their relationship with many of the companies to whom they entrust their private data. I really think what this comes down to is if you are getting the service for free, the company isn’t going to be optimising your experience with your best interests in mind.”

While Soghoian was referring to Internet services like Facebook, the issue of consumer privacy should be of concern to retailers as well, as they increasingly collect and leverage personal data.

“The bottom line is data should not be collected without people’s knowledge and consent,” said Snowden. “If data is being clandestinely acquired and the public doesn’t have any way to review it and it is not legislatively authorised, it is not reviewed by courts, it is not consonant with our constitution — that is a problem.”

For others, the issue of privacy and personal data was seen in the context of a value exchange, with consumers increasingly willing to reveal information in return for benefit. “The more utility you get, the more you’re going to have to give away your privacy,” said Scoble, adding he’d happily do so himself in return for more useful and personalised experiences. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, agreed: “I’m excited about data being about me. The marketer gets a certain amount of value in the stats on my demographic, but the real value is for me.”

Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, said the way forward was giving consumers control of their data. “We are now developing technologies to give people control over who manages their data and how. We are ensuring privacy, so it will be very easy and very comfortable for them to give their data over and get something out of it.”

Avoiding Bandwagons

Elsewhere at SXSW, conversation swirled around everything from “embeddables” (technology emebedded in the world around us, such that “virtually any human activity we can think of is going to be modified and amplified with an invisible mesh of data and processing that we will drift through obliviously,” according to one panel) to bioengineering. But ultimately, “good technology is no excuse for a bad idea,” said Paul Kemp-Robertson, co-founder and editorial director of marketing consultancy and magazine, Contagious. “It’s easy to jump onto bandwagons just because a new technology looks cool. Everyone enjoys feeling like that little kid chasing after the bright, shiny tool in the distance. But in this age of service design and living data, if a marketing idea is not useful, relevant or entertaining, then really there’s very little point in letting it loose on the world.”

Kristina Simmons, a partner at leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, agreed. Wearable technology, for example, should not be a priority just because everyone is talking about it. “It needs to be something that makes sense for your business. It’s about thinking about your top five priorities, versus saying I want to do something with wearables.”

“Innovation isn’t just giant leaps and bounds and the sexy stuff — it’s also about the basics and thinking about how we do things better. Incremental changes can make a big difference too,” said Will Young, director of Zappos Labs.

“Being first has always been a big thing,” said Ben Malbon, Google’s head of creative partnerships. “But the future is here already. We should use the existing tools we have on the table. Innovation doesn’t need invention.”

Fendi drones: tech for tech’s sake or smart #MFW move?

20 Feb

Fendi_drone

The big story coming out of Milan Fashion Week today was of course about the Fendi drones.

Referred to as a sign of the luxury house’s commitment to “innovation and creativity”, the initiative saw four drones installed with cameras recording its autumn/winter 2014/15 show. As they flew above the runway, that footage was beamed back to those watching online at home.

“The main reason for doing this is to be able to offer impressive images and an experience that even surpasses being at the actual show,” Pietro Beccari, president and chief executive officer of Fendi, told WWD ahead of the event.

So a couple of key thoughts…

First off, Beccari also said the drones – which were powered by Parrot and in collaboration with the creative department of Google – wouldn’t be at all disruptive. “They are small, and we will increasingly get used to such technology,” he said. That might well be the case, but we’re not used to them yet, which meant most people actually in attendance in Milan focused predominantly on the bots over the collection.

Note several of the below Instagram posts, and this tweet from the FT’s Vanessa Friedman:

As far as publicity goes, that’s not a bad thing of course (more on that in a minute) – fashion shows as entertainment are by no means a new concept, after all.

What should have been spot on though, was the experience for those at home. Beccari said it would be completely “immersive and unprecedented”, thus far better than watching in person from the front row – so what was expected was a high-definition, up-close view.

A dashboard on the Fendi website hosted both a classic stream of the show and the “Drone Cam” to choose from. Like Topshop has done in the past, viewers could take snapshots of whichever they were watching and then share those collection images with their Facebook and Google+ friends and followers.

Unfortunately, the quality of the drone recording was, for all intents and purposes, awful. Up-close and personal? It was not. The shapes of the pieces the models were wearing could barely be made out, let alone the finer details of the line. The snapshot tool did work, as you can see in the screengrab below (which also documents the blurry runway), but the share function didn’t; merely clicking through to Facebook, before just getting stuck.

That was both the case with the live-stream version and the on-demand recording that has been on the Fendi site since. In fact, the recording that is up there now is actually a slightly better version in terms of the drone camera used – a switch was clearly made post live event.

Fendi_dronecam

But back to the question in the title of this post, were the Fendi drones merely tech for tech’s sake or a smart Milan Fashion Week move? The answer, I’d argue, is both.

It goes without saying this was absolutely tech for tech’s sake. And by that I mean technology that is essentially pointless (the traditional live stream providing a far more detailed and therefore beautiful view), but is employed on the grounds of the fact it makes for a great, albeit gimmicky, story. This is how most big-budget retail technology launches currently operate.

And a great story it was. Given drones were already buzzworthy thanks to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ December 2012 announcement, this was a topic top of mind and tip of tongue for many people, not to mention key members of the press. Fendi captialised on that (smoothly avoiding anything along the lines of privacy or security concerns), and won key coverage in everything from The Guardian to Bloomberg as a result, with New York Magazine’s The Cut, The Times and Fashionista inbetween. The only angle otherwise hyped was the Karl Lagerfeld doll that model Cara Delevingne carried to both open and close the show – and even that also had a Big Brother camera in it.

Let’s not forget this is a big coup for Milan Fashion Week – hardly the epicentre of fashion and tech stories any prior season. Fendi, under the creative direction of Lagerfeld, is also not the first brand you’d think of to lead in this space. Burberry maybe. Diane von Furstenberg perhaps. Even Dolce & Gabbana at a push, but not likely Fendi.

Beccari referred to the company’s investment in the development of its digital content as a bid to speak to a younger customer base. One thing’s for sure, there’s a whole raft of tech (and journo) types who have at least now heard of that brand called Fendi. And on that basis, yep, it was a pretty clever move too.

Remember that time when…

Why Topshop is focusing on shoppers in-store with virtual reality #LFW experience

12 Feb

TopshopLFW_AW14_Inition

What’s interesting about Topshop’s digital plans for London Fashion Week this season, is its focus primarily on the store – on shoppers rather than showgoers.

The British retailer is partnering with a company called Inition to offer consumers a virtual reality experience from its Oxford Circus flagship. Specially commissioned Oculus Rift-based headsets will enable individuals to see its catwalk event taking place in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall on Sunday, February 16, through a 3D virtual world – from VIP arrivals and backstage sneak peeks, to the Unique collection show itself. The telepresence technology will make them feel as though the models are walking in front of their eyes, and the celebrities sat right beside them.

This is substantially more advanced than Burberry’s 3D streaming to customers in its stores in 2010. Wired has a great write-up explaining why: “Those wearing the [Inition] headsets – incorporating headphones and the Oculus Rift – will be able to see the live catwalk unfold if they look straight ahead on one virtual screen as well as the celebrities they are sitting ‘next to’, thanks to an 180-degree wide angle on the stream. If they look behind them at a second virtual screen they’ll get a view into the backstage area, where models will be having their hair and makeup done. If the wearer happens to look up, they will ascend into a higher level, where they will be able to see the rafters and a number of 360-degree images of, for example, celebrity selfies. All around the virtual screens and other elements, the environment has been designed to look like the Turbine Hall, with concrete and large girders.

“On top of the live stream will be built a number of animated elements that reflect the theme of decay that characterises the autumn/winter collection. So there will be leaves, flowers and crows that fly around on top of the space. Tweets using a specific hashtag will emerge in the virtual world as petals dropped by the virtual crows.”

Andy Millns, co-founder and creative director of Inition, said: “Virtual reality is the ultimate interface to the digital world with the power to transport the user to another place as soon as they put on a special display. This unique technology has the potential to open up fashion shows to the consumer at home and we believe this will be the first of many executions of this kind.”

Last season, Topshop partnered with Chirp, a start-up that enabled the sharing of content via sound. It was a cute idea, and was fun to play with for those who tried, but the truth is (according to those involved) it wasn’t all that successful. Very few people at the show actually downloaded the app you had to have, let alone then had it open ready to collect the specific sounds emitted as the show took place. The Chirp Garden hosted in the store was no doubt a smarter move in terms of engagement. That said, it led to content shared, rather than an immersive experience.

The headsets for this coming weekend, as abstract as they might look and feel to wear, go back to what opening up show access is really about: making consumers feel involved. And not just via the web or social media, but in the brand Mecca that is the flagship store. Topshop Oxford Circus is arguably one of the best global examples of this – a tourist destination, an immersive consumer experience, and a space that has played host to all sorts of other campaigns; a shoppable Pinterest wall, a series of talks and events for those interested in the industry, a Tweet Shop for Halloween and more.

The one downside with this virtual reality initiative of course is that it’s restricted to just a few. A competition is being held in the run up to Sunday’s show via social media, which will result in five winners who will be the first to experience it. The installation will then be available to further visitors – we presume those who sign up, or queue for it – on-demand, for three days.

But as mentioned, that’s only at the Oxford Circus location, and not any of the other 400+ Topshop stores – directly owned or otherwise – around the UK and the rest of the world.

And that’s part of the issue with in-store tech innovation at present. It’s a costly move, it’s also an experiment most of the time, so it tends to be limited to one place. This campaign specifically is quite a unique example, and undoubtedy one best suited to the flagship on the basis it’s the theatrical homeland of the brand. With most other initiatives, however, the technology – no matter how far away from being a gimmick it is – won’t become more than a PR story if the majority of consumers don’t ever get to see or experience it.

Topshop is referring to this virtual reality installation as not just transporting the viewer, but providing an insight into how we will consume media in the not so distant future. This fashion week, it’ll still largely be an exclusive experience, but the potential is there.

Why is wearable technology so damn ugly?

14 Jan

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

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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 shoes just 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.

More detail on what the Opening Ceremony x Intel smart bracelet may look like

10 Jan

OpeningCeremony_YokoOno

While the exact details of Intel’s new smart bracelet, created in partnership with Opening Ceremony and carried by Barneys New York, are yet to be determined, a few hints were revealed during CES as to what it might be like.

Speaking at a press conference during the Vegas show, Susan Barber, art director at Opening Ceremony, said: “We want to emphasise the tech aspects of the bracelet but so that it doesn’t feel like hardware. It has to be something we’ll be excited to wear [ourselves].”

This fits in with a broader theme at CES this week for more appealing design in the wearables space. Speaking on a separate occasion, Mike Bell, VP and GM 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.”

While Intel reportedly has a rough prototype already developed, Opening Ceremony will have full input on both the functionality and the design to go to market with. Barber said work is yet to truly start on it, but ideas are percolating.

The team will be looking to both the past and the future for inspiration, she revealed. The aesthetic for instance will be informed by other partnerships the company has been involved in, including a project with Yoko Ono based on a series of her drawings titled ‘Fashions for Men” from 1969 (as featured above).

The recent capsule collection Opening Ceremony created for Spike Jonze’s new film, Her (as featured below), will also serve as inspiration. Said Barber: “This product is supposed to make your life more seamless and more effortless, and be beautiful at the same time. If technology and design are totally separate you don’t get to bridge that gap.”

Matthew Woolsey, SVP digital at Barneys, agreed: “A lot of functionality is very appealing, but the design elements are going to be paramount in terms of how our customer engages with it. The product needs to stand on its own, and the Opening Ceremony creative vision will be incredibly important to making that happen.”

As for who it’s aimed at, Barber said they are exploring all options at the moment, but are unlikely to make it gender specific. “It certainly won’t be pink or purple,” she said, mocking the stereotyped approach the technology industry often has to appealing to women. The goal with the device is also to speak to a broad generational audience. It is expected to hit in the autumn.

OpeningCeremony_SpikeJonze3 OpeningCeremony_SpikeJonze1OpeningCeremony_SpikeJonze2

Wearables key message at CES, Intel leads fashion charge

7 Jan

Intel_wearables_OpeningCeremony_Barneys

If there’s one key theme at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, it’s wearables. Smart watches, fitness wristbands, earbuds, the works. Functionality is being heavily discussed, but even more so is design. The tech industry, it seems, has finally figured out that aesthetics are what’s going to make the difference when it comes to something people actually want to wear if we want to move this sector forward. An obvious statement to those of us in the fashion industry, but arguably not something anyone has yet done something about.

Enter Intel, who is aiming to change all of that, and with any luck in a beautiful way. It’s launching a smart bracelet later this year in partnership with Opening Ceremony and carried by Barneys New York.

Rather than “fashion” being an afterthought, as is more common with technology partnerships – a bit of branding slapped on, or some neat product placement during fashion week – Opening Ceremony will play an integral part in what the item looks like as well as how it functions using Intel’s tech.

“Our shared vision is to accelerate wearable technology innovation and create products that both enhance peoples’ lives and are desirable to wear,” said Ayse Ildeniz, vice president of business development and strategy at Intel’s New Devices Group. Speaking at the press conference today, she added: “The smart wearables we see on the market today are very much led by technology companies. But what we wear are personal things, reflections of ourselves and we often get emotionally connected to them. The fashion industry must therefore be in the driving seat. Without the aesthetics and the design, wearables are not going to become a big thing.”

Daniella Vitale, COO of Barneys New York agrees: “One of the greatest opportunities for wearable technology as a concept to be successful is fairly simple – to design a beautiful accessory that our customers would desire.”

Intel’s initiative will not be exclusive with Opening Ceremony and Barneys, suggesting further brands are being approached. The CFDA is accordingly also involved, having entered into a strategic collaboration with Intel to create a community for technology developers and fashion designers to network, match-make, cultivate and exchange ideas on wearable technology.

Interestingly Ildeniz said the most important thing for all those involved was to be humble. Once the egos go out the room, there’s a good chance technology and fashion can work pretty well together, she suggested.

Press may have pushed “tech” angle of new H&M store, but less than a week since launch, nothing seems to be working

20 Nov

H&M tech store, Times Square

H&M’s deserted digital catwalk in its new Times Square store

I’ve been looking forward to visiting the new H&M store in Times Square since it opened last Thursday off the back of the tech innovation it’s supposed to house. As per the headlines that ran:

I finally got there last night, but unfortunately was sorely disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, from the moment you walk in the space feels fantastic; it’s high energy and it looks beautiful. Three floors and 42,000 square feet of great design, only enhanced by the huge volume of fluorescent signage throughout. But the technology story that’s dominated the press, well… none of it was working.

In the first instance, there are mannequins with screens in front of their faces supposed to play videos, display photos and showcase special deals. Screens that on a busy Tuesday night the week before Thanksgiving in the US, were switched off (as pictured below). All of them.

Then there’s the fitting room checkouts. Not a high tech initiative, but certainly a forward thinking one to help bust queues in a store that’s on one of the most trafficked corners of New York City – 42nd Street and Broadway. Again, closed. And the store was busy.

H&M tech store, Times Square

The blank digital screens in H&M’s new Times Square store

It was the mezzanine level with its dedicated DJ booth supposed to “spin music continuously”, and digitally-enabled runway, that I was most looking forward to. There, shoppers should be able to pose for a series of photos in pieces from the H&M line, and then see themselves displayed on one of the other LED screens around the store (there are 7,000 square feet of LED screens in total, including two 30-by-20-foot ones on the outside of the building).

As per WWD: “Shoppers choose an outfit in the nearby dressing rooms, enter their e-mail address into a computer and await the signal: ‘Walk’ on a red flashing sign. Each ‘model’ is told what time his/her image will be on view on the screens inside and out. Images sent to shoppers’ e-mail accounts can be used on social media.”

When I arrived on that level at about 5.30pm last night, there was no one to be found, not even the DJ (as the top picture shows). A lone sales associate clearing up behind the desk said she hadn’t seen anyone on the catwalk all day so she presumed they weren’t using it. I asked another on the ground floor who said she wasn’t sure but assumed they just had it turned off for the day, and another who said it was broken so she thought they weren’t able to use it. None of them were 100% confident about what was going on.

The computer next to the runway also displayed an error message regarding potential damage to its battery life if left plugged in (as pictured below). I was in the store for about an hour and nothing changed, though I didn’t overly expect it to as the story was the same on Monday night when a colleague of mine also visited.

The disappointment of all this for me is nothing to do with the fact a few glitches mean things aren’t working right now, but more that it’s such a sign of what retailers are achieving at present across the board – aiming too high and delivering too low. No wonder there’s constant push back from senior management about ROI.

There’s a huge amount happening with in-store technology, and a lot of it really exciting stuff that garners an enormous amount of press coverage, but does it really mean anything at all if it doesn’t work merely a few days after the big launch party when most of the journalists have walked away? A classic tale of smoke and mirrors.

I’ve had other experiences recently where I know something is working in a department store but it’s supposed to be a guided experience and without a sales associate on hand to demonstrate it to me I can’t participate in it. That’s essentially the same issue; an attempt at tech integration failed at the first hurdle, that being enabling the consumer to even use it.

There are a lot of arguments about the pros and cons of retail technology these days – from making it feel seamless to the shopper rather than gimmicky and unrelated to the persona of the brand, to ensuring staff are rightly trained to use and demo it – but I would argue the most important thing of all, and I think you’ll agree, is that there needs to be a commitment toward it working for longer than just on opening night.

H&M tech store, Times Square

The empty mezzanine level of H&M’s new Times Square store

H&M tech store, Times Square

H&M’s empty DJ booth in its new Times Square store

H&M tech store, Times Square

An error message on the digital runway screens of H&M’s new Times Square store

H&M tech store, Times Square

An error message on the digital runway screens of H&M’s new Times Square store

H&M tech store, Times Square

A blank digital screen in H&M’s new Times Square store

H&M tech store, Times Square

H&M’s new Times Square store

Vogue promotes new iPhone 5C as major fashion accessory

17 Oct

Vogue_iphone5C

Vogue is continuing its focus on tech with a series of online editorial shots this week dedicated to the new iPhone 5C. Titled “How About Them Apples: How To Match Your Outfit to the New iPhone 5C“, the post sees the four new shades of the latest Apple phone coordinated with looks from this season’s resort collections.

“We already know we spend an inordinate amount of time with our iPhones—talking to them, sleeping with them under our pillows—and now, it turns out, we can even dress like them,” it reads. “If we were Angela Ahrendts (former Burberry CEO and newly appointed senior vice president of Apple), we might think of incorporating one of the season’s new shades—which include Day-Glo pinks, yellows, greens, and blues—into our first-day-of-work wardrobe.” The models pose in looks from the likes of Nina Ricci, Michael Kors, Versace, Dior, Reed Krakoff and Ralph Lauren.

The initiative seems like a massive advertorial, or Condé Nast’s attempts at sponsored posts (native advertising) à la Buzzfeed, but the lack of any sort of disclaimer suggests otherwise.

In which case, this should be seen as a pretty huge coup for Apple; it is after all just a plastic coloured phone, now cross-promoted on key Vogue properties including its .com site, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Vogue_iphone5Cgreen Vogue_iphone5Cpink Vogue_iphone5Cblue Vogue_iphone5Cyellow

Latest Topshop innovation will see #LFW content shared via sound

12 Sep

chirp_topshop

Topshop is partnering with a start-up called Chirp for its upcoming Unique show at London Fashion Week in order to share pieces of content via sound with those in attendance. 

Chirp is an iPhone app that refers to itself as a “magical new way to share your stuff”. Essentially it encrypts pictures, notes or links as a type of “digital birdsong” – users post their content, then hit a big yellow button to emit a unique 20-note chirp, which other devices running the app nearby can pick up.

Here’s its own explanation of how it works: “You can think of a chirp as a tiny piece of music. Each chirp lasts about two seconds. The system listens out for a couple of dozen notes played rapidly in a certain order, within a certain range, at a certain speed. The audio engine tries to decode the sequence of notes into a sequence of letters which our server understands. The server then returns a link to the user so they can go wherever the short code points: to a webpage, say. This decode all happens in realtime on your phone.” A more technical introduction can also be found on its website.

What all this means is that users don’t need to login and follow Topshop to be able to receive the content, rather by being in proximity (i.e. at the show) they will be able to simply “hear the data” when they’re running the app. The retailer will be sending out images from several Chirp locations around the site, ranging from shots of the pattern room where the clothes were made, to the collection backstage, the hair and make-up tests, and the models walking down the catwalk. It has also added a new and unique aspect to the application whereby tapping on each image will flip it around to reveal more info and extra content.

Further reading shows Chirps can also work over PA systems, as well as in YouTube videos, meaning Topshop could potentially share the same pieces of content with anyone listening from home.

Its website however will host a gallery of the images so anyone tuning into the live-stream can also see them. As below, they will sit atop additional content pulled from Twitter from both the brand’s own account and from key fashion insiders it has asked to contribute from front row and backstage.

Topshop_Homepage214_Chirp_garden

Meanwhile, its Oxford Circus store will feature a Chirp and Twitter Garden full of digital content for shoppers to explore (as the picture above demonstrates).

“Each season, we set ourselves the challenge to innovate and excite in a different way with the Unique show; not only in terms of our collection and show space, but also how to engage with and involve Topshop fans worldwide. The link with Chirp is fun and we love the fact that it allows people to discover new aspects of the collection and what goes on behind the scenes at Unique through creating iconic images to story tell,” said Sir Philip Green.

Topshop has of course previously made its mark in the digital space by teaming up with mega-tech companies including Google and Facebook around its collections. But it says this move is all about supporting emerging talent – taking the same approach it has with burgeoning young designers for instance, to what it believes is a pioneering new app.

Its team members told me they’re “experimenting with something that’s new”, “just having a bit of a play” and “seeing what they can get out of it”.

The brand will also be continuing its Customise the Catwalk and Shoot the Show initiatives, as well as offering followers the option to download the show’s soundtrack from iTunes and click to buy the make-up looks. Check out its trailer for the event below:

 

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