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The ugliest wearable technology is arguably that with the worst functionality

30 Apr

Wearable tech

“Why is wearable technology so damn ugly?” I asked in a piece I wrote for The Telegraph post-CES in January.

Now I’m speaking about it on air for CBC Radio’s Spark show. In a six-minute segment, we discuss everything from smart watches to heads-up displays, as well as the big name brands involved including Google and Apple.

Exploring the focus that has been placed on design versus functionality, I argue that some of the ugliest devices out there are due to the fact such little thought has been placed into what we as consumers not only want to wear, but even use.

Check the show out here

 

Forget Instagram: what has happened to fashion week commentary on Twitter?

28 Feb

This post first appeared on Fashionista.com

Van-Noten-RF14-0930

Is it just me or has Twitter become much less inspiring during fashion week season? I say that as an avid user – both personally and profesionally. I peruse posts day to day, and particularly once the shows hit London, Milan and Paris, when I’m watching via livestream from New York. I scroll through my own feed, I consume via social dashboards attached to designers’ websites, and I go back and search using hashtags and brand names afterwards, too.

What I’ve always enjoyed is the live commentary that you gather from those in the front row, but there seems to have been very little of it for the past couple of seasons, and I for one really miss it. Not the tweets that tell me what show they’re waiting for, the fact the first model has appeared/the last model has walked out, or even what color they’re seeing. Those still exist, and I can gather all that from home.

No, what I really want back, is actual commentary. I want to hear from the editors –- the experts no less — about the 1930s theme emerging at Prada and the influence Miuccia drew from film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, or the details of the new Bloomsbury-inspired, hand-painted florals at Burberry Prorsum. I want to know what is sashaying down that runway that, from my own 13-inch screen, I can’t quite see.

The images that are posted can be nice, of course, and on occasion insightful (if not blurry, but that’s another issue). But what happened to a wonderfully descriptive annotation along with it? Or better yet a real-time opinion, a review-on-the-spot even? Here are some of the highlights from the Lanvin show Thursday:

Lots of pictures naturally, but did you gather much about the line really? Navy, white and feathers. It’s a start.

Now it’s not that everyone has put their smartphones back in their handbags to focus on the clothes as they come out of course. So what’s going on?

First up, quite obviously: Instagram. During London Fashion Week there were a total of 266,767 mentions on Twitter, and 316,359 posts on Instagram, according to Bell Pottinger, a British public relations and marketing firm. So arguably, much more time is being spent there.

It goes without saying there’s huge benefit in that space of course. But when someone is at at home watching a livestream, or has access to high-res images in near real-time — not to mention backstage ones from the brand themselves — Instagram shots from the front row don’t necessarily offer all that much. They’re a nice-to-have, and for a feel of fashion week in general, a fantastic stream to follow. But for those really wanting to know about the collections themselves, there’s still a gap — an information gap.

The skill of an editor who has worked in the industry for 10 or more years is to be able to quickly deduce what a collection is about, to analyze its importance for trends, to bring contextual knowledge of its applicability to the commercial market and to offer a clear understanding of the technical side (i.e., garment construction and fabrications).

Portraying that over Twitter is no mean feat. I attempted it as a guest Tweeter on behalf of my employer, WGSN, for the @mbfashionweek account during New York at a number of shows and it’s entirely consuming.

But I don’t think the fact few editors or publications seem to be offering anything like this anymore comes down to just not having the time. With social media now reaching maturity, there’s inevitably becoming a greater push in terms of strategy for organizations and individuals alike on what to do and what not to do to achieve audience engagement.

So here’s my question: Is this lack of Twitter commentary as simple as editors just becoming more obsessed with Instagram? Or is there actually a direct decision being made not to give away too much there and then? (The knowledge of these men and women is a valuable commodity — why hand it out on a free platform, when you can rather store it up and post it on your own site for traffic generation later?)

Then again, maybe it’s just as simple as the fact we’re also all just a little bit over it. Or overwhelmed. Or lazy. Still, I’d like it back.

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

Why street style ‘peacocks’ are critical to the fashion industry

11 Sep

This article first appeared on Mashable

AnnaDelloRusso

The streets of New York City can frequently be considered a runway in their own right, a veritable feast of people-watching — but never more so than when fashion week rolls around. Twice a year, the world’s leading editors are pitted against an ever-increasing crowd of style bloggers, each surveyed by a mob of photographers outside Lincoln Center and at various other venues along the city’s west side.

Last season fashion critic Suzy Menkes, writing for T Magazine, referred to the scene outside fashion week venues as a “circus,” a “cattle market of showoff people waiting to be chosen or rejected by the photographer.” She called out offending peacocks, including Filipino blogger Bryanboy and Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo (pictured above). The piece elicited swift rebukes from the likes of Leandra Medine of Man Repeller and Susanna Lau of Style Bubble, both frequently photographed themselves for their outfits in such settings.

Menkes’ message last season was not forgotten. Leading into this fashion week, Oscar de la Renta announced in WWD that he would be cutting his invite list in half in order to better facilitate those attending his show with a legitimate professional purpose. He’s trying to help his guests avoid the dozens of people who attend a show to photograph or be photographed, those without any connection to the collection shown.

Amid all of this pushback, there has been little mention of the value of street style imagery for the industry itself. Notions that trends “trickle down” from the runway or “bubble up” from the street are certainly not new. But the explosion of digital and social media has truly helped magnify the latter. 

Now, a shot of someone on the street wearing Alexander Wang is just as likely to gain online traction as his runway image might — if not, more so. Smart brands, particularly in the mainstream market, are taking note. Look at the current obsession with baseball tees or football jerseys in retail outlets like Forever21 and Asos — those started, of course, on the street.

Identifying tastemakers and trends

Tracking such movements plays a more integral role to designers, product developers and buyers in their business process than ever. So says Jami Krampel, who researches what’s happening on the street for the Vince Camuto design team.

“We use it as inspiration,” Krampel said. “Whether it’s details or silhouettes, even color trends, it helps us have a view on what seems to be the new hot items.”

Rachel Zeilic, owner and designer of directional juniors’ line, Style Stalker, agreed.

“For us, street style is really important; it just shows how people adopt the trends into real life,” she said. “You can’t draw inspiration from runway; it’s not how you’d actually wear it. So it’s interesting to see how girls appropriate it and make it work in real life, it gives you a lot of ideas. As a designer you get so caught up in colors, fabrics, trims, the little details, but at the end of the day it’s a look you want to create. It goes out on the street and gets worn by real girls.”

By providing a global view into both the here and now and the future of trends, street style can serve designers with both inspiration and confirmation. Trend services like WGSN (full disclosure: my employer) accordingly forecast two years ahead so brands can plan their products and assortments well in advance. But those same trend services also report on what people are wearing now for the same reason. That means shots not only from New York Fashion Week, but also key events like Coachella or SXSW, as well as major sporting events, fashion schools and daily life in urban centers like London, Tokyo, Rio and Melbourne.

Street style chroniclers can’t just supply an endless amount of images to be useful to designers and retailers — they must also identify key trends. Stephanie Solomon, former fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, says

the best street style photographers don’t just shoot anything, but have their finger on the pulse of what’s new.

“It’s not about what’s out there and making that the trend, it’s about analyzing what’s new, and that’s where it’s important an authoritative voice comes in,” Solomon said. “The cool girls for instance aren’t wearing denim anymore, they’re wearing sportswear. They’re not seen in torn and ripped denim jeans or shorts, but in Alexander Wang’s knit drawstring track pants. That’s the bottom, that’s the new jean. It’s a strong diversion from what people expect.”

Krampel says that even if a street style look might seem incredibly wacky, it can still have an impact on design teams. “We’ll also compare it back to what we’re seeing elsewhere, in store reports for instance. By doing so, even if it’s totally crazy we’ll be able to work out the aspects of it that will trickle down to the mass market,” she said.

Yes, fashion influencers and early adopters might be “peacocking” this week (to use Menkes’ phrase) — but so too are they providing creative inspiration for teams around the world planning their next collections. Interpreting which of those peacocks are true tastemakers is the real skill.

Why narrative needs to beat product showcasing in fashion films

12 Aug

 

Prada recently released its new Real Fantasies film for autumn/winter 2013/14. The short spot is an abstract meander through both the men’s and womenswear collections – a showcase of a “distorted normality”, as the brand refers to it, which sees a series of domestic moments randomly assembled together.

The majority of coverage off the back of it has highlighted exactly that. But certain titles have knocked the spot’s “disconnect with the product”. Despite the fact the models are fully decked out in items throughout, one particular article suggests the user is “conflicted with understanding the story instead of noticing the collection”.

It then refers to the idea of the film being distracting through being too heavily focused on narrative. Wow.

Actually, the one thing fashion DOES do, and as I’ve written about substantially before, is push out ads based on selling product rather than campaigns built around selling ideas. The seasonal focus of such work means more often than not they’re tied heavily to the aesthetic of the collection, rather than the core concept of the brand. To fit with the pace of consumption in today’s digital world, it’s this that needs to change.

In other sectors the opposite is the aim. Nike strives to convince us we’re all athletes; its campaigns accordingly about personal performance over buying product for instance. Meanwhile Dove shares the idea of real women and their beauty rather than the fact it sells soap. Beer, electronics, automotive… they all do their own version of the same.

Storytelling, though not a new phrase for advertisers by any means, is THE key buzzword in marketing today. With the volume of content out there, it’s about connecting with consumers in a way that goes beyond pushing individual items in order to even get their attention – we’re all savvy enough to know we’re being sold to, so offer us something extra to make us love you. Fashion has a phenomenal ability to achieve that with the tied in emotion, or aspirational appeal we all feel for such brands, yet it’s not really explored it so far.

Of them all, Prada should be given credit for attempting to do this. In fact I’d argue the Real Fantasties spot in question, being as abstract as it is, doesn’t push as much of a narrative as it could (though this is undoubtedly the point). Its main autumn/winter 2013/14 womenswear campaign does a far better job in comparison, focusing on nine hopeful young actresses auditioning in front of a ruthless casting director.

In the past it’s done even more so – its three-minute short, A Therapy, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley, directed by Roman Polanski in 2012, is a particularly strong example. In that instance, it’s the story that is the focus – it draws the viewer in, engages them as true entertainment should, yet through a subtle twist places the jacket as the thing everyone walks away remembering.

A lot more fashion films could do the same.

Could this be the year fashion makes its mark at Cannes Lions?

15 May

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There was a great article written by Rei Inamoto, chief creative officer of AKQA, for AdAge last year about why Cannes Lions, the international festival of creativity – otherwise known as advertising’s biggest global awards – trumps SXSW in terms of content.

“At events like SXSW, there is a lot of information. And information can become useful knowledge for marketers. However, what really moves people is inspiration. And that’s where Cannes keeps its edge for marketers. While SXSW may be about informing and finding that Next Big Thing, Cannes’ focus has been about pushing this industry of ours forward,” he says.

It reflects my own sentiments exactly. I’m well versed in both, but Cannes likewise wins for me* largely because of both the curation and the quality of its content. This is the place where true leaders come together to share not only best in class work, but overarching ideas and thoughts for the future of this space.

It’s a week where inspiration is utterly abound (alongside copious vats of rosé of course). Speakers over the last couple of years have spanned former US president Bill Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Redford, Sir John Hegarty, Alain de Botton, Patti Smith, Aaron Sorkin and more.

Yet it’s SXSW that the fashion industry has managed to get a good grip on in terms of its relevance to them – all manner of luxury brands and major retailers have been in attendance these past couple of years, as I’ve previously covered, to source both content and opportunities for partnerships within the largely tech-focused world. Of course at SXSW there are now huge volumes of agency folk too, and at Cannes an increasing number of technology companies.

Two years ago I wrote this article about the significant lack of fashion presence throughout Cannes. It focused on the fact that fashion communications remained largely about print ads selling product over campaigns selling ideas, a viewpoint I still hold at large, but certainly one that is beginning to shift. In doing so, it’s sparking more relevance than ever for these brands to start making an appearance at Cannes, both on the delegates list and in those nominated for awards.

The great news is, 2013 looks like the year that might take shape.

Just announced is news that Burberry CCO Christopher Bailey will take to the stage on the Friday of the festival (it runs from June 16-22) to talk about “digital’s creative revolution” with Google’s head of marketing, Lorraine Twohill. From the write-up, as well as prior news from Google, that event will be the kick off for another impressive digital project from the brand.

Burberry is one of a number, alongside adidas and Volkswagen, involved in Google’s Art, Copy & Code initiative, a follow-up to its Project Re-Brief last year. This is “a series of projects and experiments to show how creativity and technology can work hand in hand”.

The write-up for the session at Cannes adds: “How do you engage your audience when ad views are voluntary? What happens when the physical and digital worlds intersect? How can data enable creativity? What if ads didn’t have to look or feel like ads? The only way to find the answers is through risk taking and experimentation.”

[Side note here as to Google’s subtle but increasing infiltration into the fashion industry across all aspects of its business – way beyond just search].

Elsewhere at Cannes there are other fashion types in attendance too – Vivienne Westwood speaking with SapientNitro to “de-construct the narrative behind some of the most innovative stories of all-time”, and photographer Annie Leibovitz as part of a panel discussing the “genesis, evolution and continued success of the global ‘Disney Dream Portraits Series’.”

Watch this space…

And do also keep an eye out for the free daily live-streams being offered from the festival for the first time this year… there will undoubtedly be some good ones to choose from.

*Full disclaimer: I am employed by the same parent company as Cannes Lions. My opinion would stand regardless.

How digital innovation is changing the face of fashion

8 May

Interested in some key thoughts on where the fashion industry is at with social media, mobile and digital strategy? My knowledge has just been tested by Poq Studio, a company making apps and mobile sites for brands and retailers in this space, and posted in the form of a Q&A over on their blog.

Do check it out – I would love to hear your feedback.

Thank you in the meantime to the team over there for both the invitation and the kind introduction in the piece!

An inspirational note: fashion needs to take risk

27 Apr

Despite the significant number of start-ups there are in the fashion space today, the propensity with which the fashion industry in its more ‘traditional’ sense – its brands namely – is open to taking risk, remains very small. There’s a lot to be learnt from the tech world’s “failing fast” mentality to ultimately achieve reward.

So here’s a friendly reminder for the weekend. A touch of inspiration from poet Christopher Logue:

“Come to the edge
We might fall
Come to the edge
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew”

As told by Steve Zades, creator of the Odyssey Project on Imaginative Intelligence, during a talk on the role of technology for the future of apparel at the Museum of FIT’s tech syposium in New York this week.

 

Yet to be seduced by shoppable advertising

8 Nov

There’s an interesting debate about shoppable videos in this week’s issue of Marketing Magazine in the UK. In it, I comment on why I’m not yet sold on the idea in its entirety.

Read the full story here – Branded content: watch before you buy – or see below for my extract…

Click-to-buy videos have grabbed the headlines as the industry tries to cash in on the growing appetite for highly creative and beautiful films, but I am unconvinced.

Most consumers do not want to watch a video, especially those any longer than 30-60 seconds, if they are trying to get something out of it. There’s a disconnection between viewing for entertainment and for purpose.

Shoppable content aims to capture consumers at the point of inspiration and the moment of intent, but to do so, it has to work – and easily.

This is not always the case, as one luxury brand learned last year when its shoppable ad simply didn’t work – there was not enough time for the user to move the cursor to click on the item being advertised before the frame changed.

Perhaps Target’s short-film series, Falling for You, provides a better example of where this trend is going to go. Its column running alongside the content featuring items from its collection is like a digital update on product placement.

The concept of the shoppable film is novel, but to work in the long run, it has to be fast, seamless and closer to the nature of online behaviour to have true and lasting cut-through.

Fashion industry can still learn from big winners at Cannes Lions

11 Jul

You may well have already seen that Nike+ FuelBand scooped the biggest awards at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – a week-long event held in June celebrating the best in advertising from around the world.

A wristband that measures your everyday activity, it won the coveted Titanium and Cyber Grand Prix for the way in which it goes a step beyond technology and inspires consumers to act.

As Stefan Olander, vice-president of digital sport at Nike, said during the festival: “Technology is no longer remarkable, it’s what we do with it and how we do it that’s unique.”

That comment is a nice follow up to an article I wrote for the Huffington Post last year calling for the fashion industry to be more creative in their campaigns; to produce work worthy of winning at Cannes.

“Fashion – an industry with creativity at its very core – needs to shake off its seasonal collection focus and start thinking instead about campaigns built around big ideas,” it read.

Since then, there’s been a lot of innovation from brands and retailers, especially when it comes to technology; quirky Pinterest campaigns, multiple app launches and much play with augmented reality.

But, as essentially suggested by Olander (and in my Huff Po piece), there still needs to be less focus on technology for technology’s sake, and more on overarching campaigns that solidify brand purpose.

Paul Kemp-Robertson, editorial director at Contagious Communications, emphasised the same during Cannes: “Normal people don’t care about the technology, they care about what comes out of it: the experience.” He suggested marketers need to forget about the “dude we should…” philosophy; “dude we should do an app”, or “dude we should launch a QR code” for instance. There’s little benefit in becoming obsessed with doing something just because everyone else is, he explained.

Accordingly, it’s all very well launching on Pinterest, so too is it understandable to push out a seasonal video, but when those initiatives just end up as another example of products over ideas, it not only gets boring for the consumer, but ultimately unsuccessful in terms of ROI.

Some are doing it right. For one, the increasing focus on film has resulted in some outstanding creative work. The new Roman Polanski-directed short for Prada is a great example – despite the fact focus is so heavily on a jacket from the recent collection, the viewer is entirely distracted by the storyline.

I also love Dior’s Secret Garden Versailles spot; it fits beautifully with the image of the brand, even though strictly speaking it has little in the way of a tale to go with it.

The rest of the autumn/winter 2012/13 ads are also just starting to drop, so here’s hoping there’ll be more that push the envelope beyond the typical product focus of print imagery. Unsurprisingly, Burberry is already proving a great example with its multimedia campaign, celebrating both its brand and London through “imagery, film, music and weather”.

The question is, were any of them to be entered at Cannes, would they win? I for one would love nothing more than the likes of a Calvin Klein or Marc Jacobs or even a Chanel initiative sweeping the ceremonies at the Palais one day… here’s hoping.

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