Tag Archives: tech

Digital snippets: Oculus, Luxottica, Wren, Asos, Nike, Birchbox, Tom Ford, Kenzo

28 Mar

The big tech story this week has of course been about Facebook’s purchase of virtual reality headset company Oculus VR. But there were lots of others to know about too. Read on for an edit…

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  • Google deal with Luxottica will bring Glass to Ray-Ban, Oakley [WSJ]
  • How Wren made a viral video of strangers kissing and increased sales by nearly 14,000% [Business Insider]
  • Asos and Nike celebrate 27 years of Air Max with first Google+ shoppable hangout [Marketing Magazine]
  • Birchbox, seller of beauty products, steps out from web to open New York store [NY Times]
  • Tom Ford joins the world of e-commerce with sexy new web store [Fashionista]
  • Kenzo’s virtual aquarium highlights the danger of overfishing [PSFK]
  • Chanel releases new Coco Mademoiselle Keira Knightley ad – She’s Not There [The Inspiration Room]
  • Lancôme ramping up digital initiatives [WWD]
  • How Yoox became the Amazon of the fashion world [Telegraph]
  • Why in-store tracking might not be as bad as it sounds [CNNMoney]
  • The Shazam of fashion is here, introducing ‘ASAP54′ [Styleite]
  • Silicon Valley never talks about the real reason you don’t own a smart watch or ‘wearable tech’ [Business Insider]

 

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.

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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.

2013: a designer meets digital year in review

23 Dec

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What a busy year it’s been…

From 3D printing taking its first trip down the New York Fashion Week catwalk, to the launch of Vine and Instagram videos, not to mention the continuing debate about the role of bloggers as influencers, the increased focus on the potential market size of wearables, and Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year as ‘selfie’one thing after another has rapidly impacted the role of innovation in this niche fashion x digital space.

Below then, are 10 of the posts you loved the most on F&M this year. It’s an interesting collection, nodding to familiar ideas like storytelling and crowdsourcing, as well as higher quality content, and a general reassessment of what it is that actually works in this space. Video content does of course also have its place, as does the continuing power of celebrity.

Thank you for reading and see you in 2014!

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

Asos wins tech award at World Retail Congress

22 Oct

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Asos won the retail technology initiative of the year at this month’s World Retail Awards, for its Fit Visualiser tool.

Powered by Swedish company Virtusize, the technology enables shoppers to see how well an item might fit based on similar pieces they already own.

As pictured, it plays out in the form of a button next to the colour and size options on a product page (at this point for Asos’ own-brand products only). By clicking on it, users are invited to add measurements of a piece they already have to compare to the one they’re trying to buy.

The tool will then display overlaying silhouettes of the two garments in two-dimensional form and pinpoint the exact variations in bust, waist and length for instance. Different sizing options alongside allow the shopper to work out which to buy.

According to reports at launch earlier this year, using such a tool is proven to reduce fit-related returns, in some cases by up to 50%. Virtusize co-founder, Peder Stubert, said: “Many virtual fitting companies have tried and failed in this area because their solutions have been too costly or inaccurate. Our positive results from the ASOS [six-month] trial signal that there is a bright future ahead for our 2D garment comparison method.”

Other retailers who have used the tool include Nelly.com and Stylebop.com. A video below loosely demonstrates it being experimented with:

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:

 

Eva Chen wearing Google Glass at #NYFW

7 Sep

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It turns out Nina Garcia isn’t the only one sporting Google Glass to #NYFW. Eva Chen, incumbent editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine, was spotted wearing a pair inbetween shows in the city today, teamed with a cropped Mickey Mouse tee.

“Ok Glass, take a video,” she said, following which she looked around the crowd in front of her, of which Samantha Aldenton from WGSN, was one. “These are the street photographers”, Chen explained, seemingly to her device.

A tweet on August 28 from Chen announced she would be wearing them:

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Photo credit: Samantha Aldenton

Giant digital installation anchors Phillip Lim for Target NYFW event

6 Sep

Target_PhillipLim_digital5

Target hosted an event at New York Fashion Week last night to celebrate the forthcoming launch (September 15) of its 3.1 Phillip Lim line.

Hosted at the new Spring Studios, the party centred around an enormous digital installation – the Stylescape, which is the longest-ever created cinemagraph in fact, comprised of multiple interactive components.

You could blow on a pin-wheel to make a gust of wind breeze across various components on the screen, pull on a cord to see fireworks light up the sky or a string of fairy lights illuminate, and even jump on a spot to get Phillip Lim to turn round from a park bench and smile for your picture. Other sections saw the crowd dancing with one of the virtual models, or giggling as a dog appeared behind a counter.

The initiative took over four months to produce, Refinery29 reported. It was created across six cities, representing a full day-to-night span from one end to the other. It kickstarts with early morning in LA, crossing through Dallas, Toronto, Chicago, and Miami, and wrapping up with a 5am cab in NYC.

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