Marlene` P. Naicker is a fashion innovation and consumer engagement consultant at CEA.Fashion. As a digital transformation thought executive and fashion entrepreneur, Marlene` shares her first piece with WhichPLM today – exploring the tools and channels that can evolve the luxury industry within a futuristic visual narrative.
Summer soirees are at their height on the Italian Riviera. As the night air fills, the magnolia blooms and wisteria scents the air, a woman glides down the cobbled staircase; she’s wearing a multi-material, butterfly laser sintered dress, printed just the night before. The artificial intelligence embedded within is reacting to external stimuli, the butterflies fluttering their wings as she moves. A phone ringing fills the air, and she tapps her bracelet cuff to see the smiling face of her closest friend. Her 18k gold earrings turn inward, functioning as earpieces, and the cheery laughter of Generation Z fills the night air.
“We want pics,” the shrill voice on the other end bellows. Amused, she scans the NFC smart-ring on her right hand. Her bracelet cuff slips off turning into a mini drone; the camera lens zooms in front of her, live streaming on her social media accounts.
The above passage, although fictional, portrays what I and many others believe to be the exciting direction we are careening towards. Today, technology – the digital – is becoming more than just a game changer. It’s redefining the way we live, the way we work and consume, birthing a new zeitgeist in the form of Generation Z.
Whilst fashion and technology have always existed on two very different spheres and, generally speaking, “never the twain shall meet”, this new digital zeitgeist, knows no other way. Technology, to them, serves an everyday functional purpose, converging and connecting their lives into one integrated “Super Smart Highway of Connectivity”.
The fashion industry cannot not afford to immerse itself in this new world of technology and consumer, especially considering evolving trends and upcoming technologies in AI, 3D Printing, Nanotechnology, AR (Augmented Reality), Virtual Reality (VR), and Smart Textiles with hybrid skins. All of these can (and will) provide untapped value potentials for a luxury brand willing to rewire their thinking from ‘how we were’ to ‘what we need to do’.
The Kaiser of Fashion, Karl Lagerfeld, opines… “What keeps couture alive, is to move with the times. If it stays like sleeping beauty in the woods in an ivory tower, you can forget it.”
Lagerfeld has also stated, “The women who buy couture today are not the bourgeoisies of the past, they are young, modern women.” Then we know: we need to make a switch, and make it fast.
Change has Come…
…in a myriad ways:
1. Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud
Otherwise known as the “fantastic four” of technology – each connecting to another and adding more depth to our engagement with our consumer, our business and with the outside world. Mobile encouraging reach; social enabling connectivity; data enabling transparency; cloud enabling structure.
At the core of all this is where the untapped potential for the Fashion industry lies – in the unmined social and business data that, when used, could support us in rewiring and reinventing the DNA of our brand, connecting to the consumer at every touch point of their purchasing journey. Data that allows for customization that moves “beyond the servicing of our physical needs but to that of our emotional psyche”; data that supports a brand in creating products that are singular, rich, immersive and reflective of our moods, culture or the environment we live in.
2. 3D Printing/Body Scanning
As all couturiers know, the start of the design process for this high-end craft, begins with new ideas on fabric, embellishments, and form as well as innovative, hand-executed techniques. After all, they are creating a garment that is customized and unique for an elite clientele.
Evolving technologies like 3D Body Scanning are revolutionizing the atelier industry of high fashion, providing designers with endless possibilities to play around with shape, texture and form. Making it a great contender for one of “fashion’s biggest transformations” in this decade.
The Dutch designer, Iris van Herpen, has been experimenting with 3D printing since 2010 with her “Crystallization Collection”. Karl Lagerfeld incorporated elements of 3D printing (laser sintering) on the shoulders and trims of the iconic Chanel jacket last July. Issey Miyake, always known for innovative work, created a 3D steam stretch fabric, “which contracts to rigid structures when exposed to steam”. “It looks like origami but it’s folded by steam, not by hand,” said Yoshiyuki Miyamae, Designer of their womenswear collection. “It’s not created by a mould, or pre-formed or anything, everything is woven from scratch – from yarn into fabric.”
Providing a whole new platform for personalization, Microsoft’s 3D scanning device, Kinect, and Intel’s Real Sense use infrared technology to scan the entire body, creating a complete 360-degree view. The software then processes these images into personalized 3D models of their clientele, providing unparalleled body contouring detail. When we add in Gravity Sketch – the virtual reality tool for sketching that allows the designer to “intuitively sketch” a garment in 3D as they would do on paper – we can start to rewire the design process of couture. This is where the magic can really happen. A couture 3D sketch can be superimposed onto the scanned body profile of the client; with Google’s Occulus Rift the designer would be able to walk around the 3D sketch, making adjustments to the design as they go along. Patterns, fabric, textures embellishments etc. can all be laser printed and done with a click of a button.
Further down the line, in the not too distant future, with devices like Microsoft’s Hololens, a designer could interact with his clients from his atelier in Paris, whilst they are miles away in another city or country. This bodes well for an industry that, until now, has been exhausted in having to keep up with the changing landscape and consumer trends: atelier studios are overworked; there’s a shortage in the skill-sets of hand-made craftsmanship; and Creative Directors are plied with endless demands and deadlines. Perhaps this may be a solution for the future survival of the luxury atelier?
The only caveat would be that, for this to happen, the traditional DNA of hand-made craftsmanship needs to be reinvented into incorporating technology. This means developing and training staff and a new generation to be comfortable, open and engaging with technical advancements.
Couture will not die; it will evolve.
It will be remiss of luxury maisons not to capitalize on this, by having their atelier staff trained digitally with 3D. I can only imagine, with time on their hands from product efficiency, how this may unleash their creativity by experimenting with their traditional skills and modern technology.
3. Nanotechnology/Biomimicry/Smart Textiles
Imagine being able to create fashion without the associated vile waste and environmental catastrophe? Imagine being able to create a Hermès crocodile leather Birkin, or Fendi Fur Stole, without the associated animal cruelty? In 2036, we may very well able to.
‘Tissue engineering’, using elements of biomimicry, can enable growing new biological, eco-friendly hybrid skins, by “extracting cells and expanding them in a lab them to produce materials”. Central Saint Martin alumni, Amy Cadogan, is experimenting with this textile design and tissue engineering. Another innovative duo, Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz of CuteCircuit, believe that “in a digital future, we do not need to sell 10,000 skirts. We could sell 500 skirts, but then could sell thousands of seasonal patterns that you download to your skirt,” made possible by advancements in nanotechnology, where fabrics and textiles are embedded with sensors and code creating “smart textiles”. These can react to external stimuli, change colors, adapt and may even (in another five years) be able to shrink or expand to a customized fit.
I love the way you make me feel
In today’s world of ubiquity and disruption, the quest to create something new and meaningful is paramount, which is why ‘experience innovation’ will have to be the foundation of a luxury brand’s business strategy.
Digitization, globalization and information transparency are pushing luxury to move away from creating customer experience, based purely on being “brand or product centric”, to creating value that understands the drivers of their individual consumer, allowing for co-creation of their own experiences through the consumer-purchasing journey.
The consumer is central in ‘experience innovation’. Their digital footprints (social analytics, CRM software) provide valuable data to trigger events that are personalized with singular meaning and value to them alone. Experience innovation will run the gamut from in-store retail experiences, to smart functional products, to mass personalization.
In the past, bricks and mortar played a huge role in sowing the seeds of a luxury brand’s DNA. In today’s digital economy, bricks and mortar have the potential to unlock brand value by rewiring their service offering, by providing an experiential purpose with engaging, emotive product stories through the consumer-purchasing journey – stories, that will capture the essence of the brand, whilst communicating the product’s unique selling points and brand philosophy into in in-store augmented reality, retail experiences, that are transformative, engaging and interactive.
Take a minute to imagine a consumer entering a store. She is a valued consumer (CRM loyalty applications), which we know as her digital footprints give us a personal connection.
Her personal mini-drone, greets her at the door, guiding her to the items she shows preferences too. She picks up the new Neroli fragrance. As she does so her digital footprint sensor connects with the digital footprint sensor of the perfume bottle and the mini-drone translates that binary data, transforming the entire store into an augmented reality, in-store experience theatre in 3D holograph – of how, where and why the product was sourced and made, from the foothills of Grasse to the orange blossom orchards.
And as she stands there in the middle of all of these incredible, magical images and sounds around her she is taken away for a moment into the virtual, ethereal world of the perfume maker and the rich heritage of the brand. As the experience comes to a crescendo, the air in the store fills with the heavenly scent of the Neroli perfume. We know she would like this as the sensors detects her racing pulse. Mobiles capture the experience, sharing the event on digital media, championing the brand and importantly the consumer who co-created this event.
Fashion Purist or Fashion Futurist?
With each turn of the century our society has been evolving due to modern advancements. In notable economist, Veblen’s, time fashionable clothing was relegated to the upper echelons of society, becoming more ostentatious as the ranks increased. In the Industrial Age, fashion was made available to all those who could afford it. And in this new Information Age, we are now being asked to redefine and rewire our thinking from being purely aspirational to being more inspirational and, going forward, functional to cater to a new breed of consumer.
However, we are not an industry predisposed to outsider commentary. Ours is one of discretion and controlled narratives. For us to keep this alive, we need to create a luxury ecosystem that is adept at balancing control and openness to working with external parties (technologists, data scientists, product specialists, creative strategists, 3rd party suppliers), all sharing the common vision of generating and creating value for the consumer.
In this regard, we can learn a lot from technology and startup companies like Apple, Facebook, and Netflix. These companies foster an eco-system of collaboration, transparency, open-mindedness in partnering with other industries and, importantly, the consumer to create value.
*The print version of this piece is available in London College of Fashion’s Pigeon & Peacocks Annual Issue #9.