October 14th, 2012
Last month Diane von Furstenberg included Google Glass in her New York Fashion Week showcase. The photos showed supermodels in fancy and fashionable clothing catwalking around in Glass, the now not-secret but not yet publicly available Google product.
And although there was a lot of commentary around the event itself, I kept waiting for a discussion to pick up around what the union symbolizes for the future of gadgetry in general. It’s certainly not the first time that the fashion and tech paths have intersected, but the significance here, regardless of your feelings on Glass, is potentially larger than simply an entertaining pairing. Instead, I see it as the beginning of a merging of paths – gadgets are becoming stronger identity markers like clothing, and as such the two industries will begin to overlap in new and interesting ways.
It reminded me of that part in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) where Meryl Streep chronicles in ice-cold terms the path that Anne Hathaway’s bargin-basement marm sweater took from runway to mass market. For someone who knows next to nothing about fashion, this point actually made sense. It was the technology adoption curve, just for clothing. And it’s also the best scene in the movie:
Actual lifecycle of fashion trends and cerulean history aside (another topic for probably a different blog than this one), the point of the rant is clear: “you think this has nothing to do with you”. Many of us who stand firmly on the technology side of this worlds-colliding trend believe a pairing like this is perhaps comical but otherwise insignificant to us. That this move from DVF doesn’t imply more fashion/tech pairings in the future or a general uptick in technology as differentiating accessory.
And after giving it some real consideration I think that’s wrong.
There has been some overlap in the past but the lines were always clear – fashion on one side, technology on the other. Get together when it’s lucrative to do so, otherwise keep to yourself.
Never before though, has there been as strong an impulse around gadget as identity piece — from your headphones to your smartphone case to your laptop stickers, electronics personalization is becoming more and more mainstream. Look at the indicators in the market. Personal electronics are cheaper and easier to make, and cheaper and easier to personalize. Urban Outfitters has transitioned most of their front section away from random liquor-related knick knacks to electronics. Beats by Dre is a $500m business and they are *everywhere*. Case and accessories companies are growing like weeds. The Internet of Things meme means we’ll have more connected devices than people as soon as 2020 (7.6 billion vs. 50 billion), and that study didn’t come from crazies but from Cisco and Ericsson. And on and on.
The proliferation of devices means more opportunity to differentiate and be creative in all sorts of ways that don’t involve specs and pricing — things like customization, storytelling, software, etc. Couple that with the fact that barriers to entry in consumer electronics are coming way down as the market becomes more democratized. This is going to create an explosion of new creativity in consumer electronics.
So the lines will continue to blur. There will be more collabs and more overlaps in either direction, and either personal technology will become more fashionable or fashion will become a little geekier, though I wonder if we look back at this particular collaboration in a few years and look at it as an indicator of change to come. Regardless of your feelings on whether that’s a good thing for either industry, change like this always has interesting and unpredictable results.
And the video that they made with Glass was undeniably pretty awesome: