Geek Chic: Wearable Tech on the Runway at New York Fashion Week

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Wearable tech is in the spotlight this week with a slew of devices unveiled at two once-opposed, now merging, worlds. 

At the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, brand innovators including Asus, Sony and Samsung are showcasing smartwatches and activity-tracking smartbands, while Motorola released its Moto 360 smartwatch today. And as New York Fashion Week got underway, Intel launched its MICA band in collaboration with Opening Ceremony and announced a smartwatch with Fossil; Rebecca Minkoff (partnering with Case-Mate) and CuteCircuit showcased their respective takes on wearable tech; and a panel today explored the intersection of fashion and technology.

Wearables are no longer the stuff of science fiction, and the future of fashion (and the fashion of technology) is here, as the high-end brands help the garment industry evolve from textiles to tech styles, and Fashion Week is morphing into Fashion Geek Chic.

IDC estimates that more than 19.2 million wearables are expected to ship this year, tripling last year’s sales figures, while wearables could become a $50 billion industry in five years according to Credit Suisse research. Yet many observers feel that widespread adoption hinges on a true marriage of form and function.

Apple devotees are certainly waiting to see if the brand’s highly-anticipated smartwatch (and just-revealed collaboration with designer Marc Newson) will strike that delicate balance when revealed next week at its first ever product launch with fashionistas on the invite list.[more]

Nowadays, consumers expect the things in their lives to perform double, or even triple, duty. Washers are dryers, car seats are strollers, and key chains are flashlights (the Swiss got it right with that knife). Gone are the days of pure, unadulterated judgment based only on how something looks or feels. Now we ask, “Well, what can this thing do for me?”

Brands are working hard to answer that question with smart and stylish techwear—from interactive glasses (such as the Google Glass partnership with Diane von Furstenberg and Luxottica, whose CEO even admits he needs convincing) to trackers inside shoes—to enhance our lives and make our days easier. Expect less bulky, ugly wearables and more elegant e-jewelry brands such as the QBracelet and Cuff, which boasts tracking and safety features that suggest the Life Alert necklace was ahead of its time. 

Wearable tech, of course, was popularized not by senior citizens but by the health and fitness crowd (cue Nike’s FuelBand, Fitbit, Jawbone Up) to motivate and promote personal goals, but the surge in popularity called for a change in aesthetic. What was once chunky is now sleek; what was once large now fits on your finger (where Ringly wants to connect to your phone and Mota was just announced at IFA). Even Tory Burch just unveiled a chic line with Fitbit, while luxury brand Ralph Lauren brought a stylish biometric Polo shirt—embedded with sensors that track and help improve physical performance—to the US Open.

The challenge to spurring adoption is to make wearable tech transcend fashion while remaining functional, easy to use and fashionable, so it’s not a geek chic fad or a trend. That’s why MICA, short for My Intelligent Communication Accessory, promises to keep you up to date on email, phone calls and calendar invites. With its sleek lines, snakeskin, and semi-precious stones, it’s technically luxurious—and not cheap, at almost $1,000 when it goes on sale at Barneys this holiday season.

So will we be seeing more partnerships between tech firms and fashion houses? Judging by the reactions to the Minkoff/Case-Mate and Intel/Opening Ceremony collaborations at New York Fashion Week, tech yes.  

— Isobel Oliphant is a writer, jewelry designer and avid collector of 19th century French (Mignot & Lucotte) and German (Gebrüder Heinrich) toy soldiers. 

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