Do Fashion and Tech Belong Together?
Two very different industries keep colliding, and it could be the start of something great
It’s always weird seeing Hermès, the French high fashion brand, paired with Apple on the Apple Watch. For a cool $1,250, you can have an exclusive watch face and a $500 watch band to go with your $800 watch. It’s so infuriatingly Apple, and yet it makes no sense as a partnership for a device the company pitches more as a health device and less of a fashion accessory every year. Apple and Nike? Yeah, okay that one I get. But Hermès? Take the Coach and Fossil approach and just sell the watch bands on your own site.
The strangest part is how Hermès isn’t alone in this tech/fashion intersection. In the past decade, I’ve seen the two industries collide in a number of ways, from fashion companies introducing smart devices (like Fossil’s very own Gen 5 watch), to partnerships similar to what Hermès has, to tech companies dipping their feet into the fashion game (think of companies like Stitch Fix, Thread, and even smart mirror companies like Care OS that can show you with a new outfit on in AR).
As alien as this intersection seems to me, it can be argued to be a natural fit. Both fashion and technology center around the individual experience. They shape how the consumer lives and what they choose to wear or accessorize with every day. It shows personality. I remember the pre-smartphone days when feature phones were popular based on what color or what shape they took. The almighty RAZR was iconic: more people cared about its slim profile and the fact you could get it in a brushed pink metal than its specifications. Of course, this was in an age where specifications were nominal and near-pointless, aside from the camera. Oh, and when Apple sold a laptop with a handle?! The colorful iBook G3 not only came in five colors, but the handle made it more than just a portable computer — it became an accessory.
The partnership that sticks out the most to me debuted last year at Samsung’s annual Unpacked event. They announced the Note 10 and the first Galaxy Z Flip. The Z Flip was already a stunning phone, taking the folding technology Samsung was working on and putting it in a form factor that was consumer-ready on a mass scale. But debuting a new category of smartphone wasn’t enough for them. They immediately followed their announcement of the phone with a partnership with Thom Browne. Right alongside having a new product in two or three colors, you could shell out the extra dough for a Thom Browne edition Z Flip, featuring a silver mirrored finish and the fashion brand’s iconic red, white, and blue stripe. The same treatment was carried over to the Galaxy Buds+ and the Galaxy Watch Active2 to create a stunning line-up of fashion-centric tech.
The entire idea behind wearables as a consumer tech category is spurred on by this partnership between the two industries. Tech designed to be worn shouldn’t look like obvious technology, instead it should obey the same rules of form that are applied to fashion. Neutral colors to match poppy color palettes, materials that show value and quality, the ability to modify or accessorize for further personality… these things are applied to your phone and smartwatch more than you may think. Even when the iPhone debuted, it was treated with the same exclusivity and high regard as more iconic fashion accessories. Like having a Rolex, the first iPhone was a status symbol; you moved into the new era, futuristic and separated from the past by a piece of aluminum and glass that fit in the palm of your hand.
When you look at the fundamentals of fashion versus the fundamentals of consumer technology, the pieces start to fall into place.
(Now, I should preface this by saying I am by no means a fashionisto. My sense of style is defined by comfort. Nothing that I have on right now matches.)
Like art, I’ve always found fashion to be subjective. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on what makes something fashionable. To some, it’s defined by its individuality. To others, it’s defined by its name and time established. To others still, it’s defined by its quality of materials and palettes. I choose to see it as more of the later. To me, what is fashionable is what lasts. That isn’t to just say physically last, although that’s important. But what can last and can age well. If it can be worn over and over, day after day, and look just as good as new or develop a refined patina over the years, that is fashionable to me.
I choose my devices based on this as well. I care less about the cost if the lasting quality is present. While I may always cover the latest and greatest, very little tech in my life is brand new and I despise the practice of trading in phones or watches or computers every year. In the same sense that fashion ages well and is comparable to art, so too is consumer tech. Building a collection of watch bands for my three-year-old Apple Watch means that I don’t need to replace it for a newer product that doesn’t increase the subjective value of what I already have. My watch has developed its own history of marks and scratches just like a good leather wallet would.
I think what trips me out about seeing Hermès on Apple’s website isn’t that it’s an unusual pairing, but rather that it’s a surreal collaboration. At first, it makes no sense to have that kind of partnership. But upon inspecting the philosophy behind the two brands, it makes complete sense. It’s not a mismatch of adding fashion to a health device. Instead, it’s an agreement between two companies that share a vision on what looks good and what can last.
It makes me curious about how this intersection will evolve over the next few years. Wearables are beginning to take shape in clothes and glasses, which means we could see new collaborations between fashion icons and tech companies. The interesting relationship between fashion and tech will grow, and there will be an emergence of startups that wholly embrace the two as a single entity. Right now, fashion-tech may seem like a throwaway term for just another branch of consumer technology, acting as a buzzword for investors to ponder. But I predict fashion-tech to be a revolutionary part in defining new ways we interact with our devices and how future devices will be built with a more fashion-centric philosophy in mind.
Joe Staples is a tech writer based in Brooklyn, NY. When he’s not studying tech-in-fashion trends, he can be found going to the deli on his block for soft serve ice cream, usually in socks and sandals that don’t match his obnoxious Hawaiian print shirt. He publishes his articles weekly on Substack, along with news tidbits he finds throughout the week. He’s also usually found on Twitter, keeping tabs on what’s new in consumer tech, entertainment, and all things nerdy. And the best part: he’s for hire.
You can contact him via email or Twitter.
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