Earlier this month tech giant Apple finally launched their highly-anticipated latest gadget, the Apple Watch. The key difference between this and any other much-hyped Apple product? The watch represents the company's first foray into wearable fashion. Straddling the fashion and technology industries like no other product ever has, it was only fitting that the first person to lay hands on the device was none other than designer Karl Lagerfeld. Naturally, the Kaiser's version of the gold tech timepiece was customised especially for him and was estimated to have cost somewhere around $25,000.
Australian industrial design connoisseur Marc Newson helped Apple to create the watch, which couldn't be more appropriate, given that he is married to stylist and i-D's longtime fashion director Charlotte Stockdale. In conversation with Suzy Menkes at Condé Nast's inaugural International Luxury Conference, Newson said that "the wrist is and has always been for hundreds of years one of the best places on the body to put an object… so wanting to put something in that place is simply evolution really." At the same conference, Apple's senior vice president of design, Sir Jonathan Ive pointed out that Apple's focus in developing this product "has been on trying our very best to develop a product that is beautiful and useful." In a world where technology and expediency is increasingly king, Apple is naturally keen to appeal to the digital generation. That said, the key distinction between the Apple Watch and, say, the latest iPhone–whatever–model is that the emphasis on beauty and materials is even more important than ever. "[Marc and I] both grew up making things ourselves, and I don't think you can design in materials without understanding their exact attributes," Ive added during the talk. "For the watch, we developed our own gold because we loved how it felt. It's that love of the material that drives so much of what we do."
The introduction of the Apple Watch is just the latest chapter, though, in the ongoing relationship between technology and fashion. From sewing machines to distribution channels, fashion as it stands today simply wouldn't exist without technological innovation. That said, as an industry that moves even faster perhaps than the cycle of global fashion trends, technology can also place undue pressure on the industry. One of the key examples of this can be found in the ever-increasing speed of manufacturing processes. As technologies continue to develop all the time, clothing corporations find that it becomes possible to keep up with rampant consumer demand, but at what cost? This means, of course, more clothes in our wardrobes at any given time, but this isn't always necessarily a good thing.The ability for brands to constantly speed up their processes creates unrealistic consumer expectations and this can, in turn, place downward pressure on wages and negatively affect the working conditions of those people crafting our $20 jeans behind the scenes. Likewise, this process can also have a negative impact on the environment, as farmers contend with the pressure to produce and process crops faster all the time.
On the other side of this environmental discussion, though, is the fact that technology has also allowed us to delve ever further into the full lifecycle of particular fabrications. This is definitely a positive outcome, as new apps are being developed all the time that allow designers to analyse the environmental impact of certain materials and weigh these against other alternatives on the market. For example, a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Nike's MAKING app helps designers to invent more environmentally sound apparel. Similarly, brands and manufacturers can also subscribe to EcoMetrics in order to evaluate the impact of textiles. This online tool does this by measuring the EDUs (environmental damage units) of textiles, to take the guesswork out of this process for designers.
Another key technological factor that continues to affect consumer expectations today, though, is that old chestnut otherwise known as social media. In one way, social media has instigated many positive reforms within the context of fashion. For example, platforms like Instagram have helped to make fashion increasingly democratic all the time. Take for example Marc Jacob's innovative Marc By Marc Jacobs Fall 14 collection, for which he used Instagram and Twitter to cast real people instead of traditional models. The first #castmemarc competition attracted 70,000 entries and has since seen three total rotations using the same approach. Jacobs' unique approach capitalised on the social media generation and has also inspired other brands to do the same, like DKNY's collaboration with Cara Delevingne, for which the young model also took to Instagram in order to cast her models.
The flip side to this, though, is that social media has made fashion cycles increasingly confusing to consumers. A contributing factor to this is the fact that many of the biggest fashion shows are now live streamed all around the globe each season. This technological leap began in early 2010, when London Fashion Week became the first to broadcast its collections. This practice is now fairly commonplace though, which is both awesome and a little problematic. Awesome, because it has made fashion — and, in particular, the ever revered Fashion Month — more accessible and democratic than ever, as opposed to being the elitist, industry-only affair it once was. However, there is a reason that these presentations were designed for the industry and that's because it was the media's responsibility to analyse and relay the latest trends in a timely fashion that was in line with relevant buying calendars — in plain English: we were supposed to see the 'latest' Saint Laurent purse around the same time that we could realistically purchase said item. As Kate Reynolds from Australian brand Pageant told us earlier this year: "It seems that people are so confused at the moment. They'll see the new Céline collection on Instagram and be like 'Why can't I buy this now'?" This confusion only serves to compound the downward pressure on wages and working conditions, though, as major high street corporations can afford to churn out cheaper imitations of these products before the real deal actually becomes available in store. This is not only troublesome for the workers behind the scenes in factories like Bangladesh's Rana Plaza, but also for the success and staying power of designers with true, old-school craftsmanship up their sleeves.
It's not all doom and gloom though. Another important advancement that technology has allowed for in the realm of fashion is the ability for designers to research and develop innovative new fabrications that are less harmful to our environment. British designer Stella McCartney is a particular frontrunner in this space. A lifetime vegetarian, McCartney is committed to sustainability and, as such, never uses fabrics like leather, fur or skins (python etc.) in her collections. In order to still deliver a luxury experience without the environmental price tag, the designer has developed a number of her own sustainable fabrics. For example, in Autumn 2013 McCartney launched a leather alternative called Eco Alter Nappa, which features a coating created with over 50% vegetable oil (a renewable natural resource).
There are some difficulties associated with this method of production, of course, and this is where technological innovation can also come in handy. According to the Stella McCartney website, their bags "can only be produced in a couple of factories in Italy that specialise in non-leather production." Though some of the designer's non-leather products carry hefty price tags, McCartney argues that they should still be considered just as (if not more) luxurious because of their innovative nature. Her website points out that, "because of the scientific research that goes into creating these blended fibres and subsequently, their scarcity, innovative materials could be considered a true luxury, rather than leather, which has become a commodity." In addition to new, sustainable alternatives, modern technology has also revolutionised other types of fabric development too. Just take for example the way in which graphic design software has completely transformed the fabric printing process.
Back to the latest development that is the Apple Watch, though. Is no one else out there concerned about the impracticability of making a phone call from your wrist? Because that sounds like a sure-fire recipe for RSI to me. Be that as it may, fashion and technology show no signs of putting the brakes on where their dynamic partnership is concerned. In fact, at the end of last year the British Fashion Council announced tech as one of their key priorities through the launch of the Innovation and Digital Pillar, which now forms a core part of their long-term strategy. The message seems clear that fashion tech is not just a fleeting fad, but a trend that is here to stay. I just hope you've got $14,000 lying around to shell out on your brand new Apple Watch.
Liked this? Read these articles about the changing nature of fashion:
Subscribe to our e-newsletter for news you want, fashion you like and opinions to share.