Smart Style: Fashion teams with technology to give wearable gadgets a makeover


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The fashion industry is on a mission: make wearable technology more, well, wearable.

Engineers and developers have revolutionized how we track everything from phone calls to calories with techy accessories that often slip on like a bracelet, watch or arm band. But reports and recent studies by groups such as digital research firm L2 have found that most people are passing on wearable technology, largely because of its lackluster look.

This is where the fashion community comes in. Designers have started teaming with technology experts to give wearables a makeover with hopes of them becoming more marketable. One of the latest examples is Diane von Furstenberg’s transformation of Google Glass smart eyewear from a thin bar that hovered above the eyes like something out of “Star Trek” to actual eyeglass frames and sunglass shades in a variety of colors. The DVF | Made for Glass collection (about $1,800 per pair on average at Net-A-Porter.com) allows wearers to search the Web, record and navigate their surroundings, access apps, make calls and more.

Ms. von Furstenberg has embraced Google Glass from its early days, with her models sporting them in her runway show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City in September 2012.

“It was one of the first times really that fashion and technology met,” Google Glass lead designer Isabelle Olsson said in a Web video with the designer promoting the redesign.

More of these kinds of collaborations are on the horizon. Rebecca Minkoff has a section devoted to “functional fashion” on her website, www.rebeccaminkoff.com, where the Stelle audio clutch (a purse equipped with portable Bluetooth speaker; $399) is available. A line of bracelets and necklaces by designer Tory Burch (www.toryburch.com) for the fitness-monitoring band Fitbit (www.fitbit.com) is coming soon. By the end of the year, a smart bracelet by the fashion brand Opening Ceremony incorporating Intel technology is slated to go on sale at Barneys New York, making it one of the first luxe retail outlets to carry wearable technologies.

“It’s an exciting time to see these two industries converge and what they’re creating for the consumer,” said Sandra Lopez, director of business development and strategy for wearables and fashion at Intel. Earlier this year at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel announced its partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America that will put hardware and software developers in touch with the council’s more than 400-strong membership of designers to exchange ideas on the future of wearable technology and fashion.

“Within the walls of Intel we can get the functionality right,” Ms. Lopez said, but the company could use input on finessing the style of wearables.

In addition to pairing designers with developers to create stylish smartwear, Intel holds conversation salons with fashion insiders representing a cross-section of the style community to discuss the increasing role wearables likely will play in fashion. For some brands it’s the first time they’re hearing about wearable technology, and for others it’s already part of their business strategy, Ms. Lopez said.

Some of these topics are being tackled on a collegiate level, too. At Carnegie Mellon University, fine-tuning how people interact with wearable technology — and how those interactions impact the ways they engage with other objects and their environment — is happening in multiple programs and sometimes on an interdisciplinary level, said Mark Baskinger, associate professor of design. Although a degree that’s specifically focused on technology and fashion design isn’t offered at the university, there is an interest in the relationship between the two on campus, he said. For instance, one of the projects that came out of his experimental form course was a rain poncho with built-in radio by rising senior Liana Kong.

Wearables like the radio rain poncho try to find a balance between toting around technology (such as clipping a cell phone or an mp3 music player on a belt) and embedding them into another object or apparel so they become invisible — yet making something that people are going to want to use even after the initial novelty wears off.

“I think it’s going to take many years of living with objects like this to come to a sort of consensus,” he said. “Then I think we’ll hit the sweet spot for interactive objects.”


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

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