These are some of the words I frantically tapped into my iPhone notes during Fyodor Golan’s stunning London Fashion Week presentation: ‘tender, ferocious, glitchy, primal, diverse’. The words hit me in digital waves, a helpful metaphor for a presentation that opened with a CGI film in collaboration with Miximaliste that cast avatar models hovering above water and interacting with each other in a tender and glitchy way, creating a warm and poetic narrative about nature, technology and design.
This piece of CGI fashion film art, entitled ‘Change of Paradigm’ portrays a fantasy world described in the show notes as “an artificial FG paradise”, and is the first step in Fyodor Golan’s journey to fully digital design and specification of garments pre-sampling, removing the need to toile. Ultimately, they would no longer sketch the designs and make a paper pattern and mock up a the garment in fabric – this would be done digitally – streamlining and speeding up their design and development process and allowing their creativity to run wild. This new digital process will also enable Fyodor Golan to create seasonal experiences, testing the relationship between fashion, fantasy and reality.
Fyodor Golan X Miximaliste ‘Change of Paradigm’
The multicoloured avatars gave way to a live presentation of the SS17 collection on models packing a serious punch that left the marks primal, attitude and fearlessness in their wake. This was an expression of the beauty of diversity as much as it was about fashion, technology and new presentation formats. Fyodor Golan are pushing all sorts of boundaries – I viewed their presentation twice to take it all in. A fashion journalist from the Czech Republic was enjoying his third viewing when we struck up a conversation.
Amongst my aforementioned frantically typed notes I also wrote ‘so much direction here’, which, simplistic as it is, serves to remind me that the strength of vision in the film-making, use of colour, styling, casting, set design and sound made this presentation a force of fashion, technology and nature. The collection is an extension of pre-SS17, which I wrote about previously on Techstyler, with its inspiration rooted in holographic pop star Hatsune Miku, making their avatar model concept a ‘natural’ extension of their pre-season inspiration.
The hybrid hiking trainers by Salomon led me to imagine a place where these models might scale epic heights, conquering the next frontier of fashion tech and leading an intrepid journey forward into digital fashion’s future. I can’t wait to see how Fyodor Golan bend tech to their will to present the next installation on their fashion tech journey.
Golan Frydman, Fyodor Podgorny and a presentation guest, backstage
Often looking inward (and perhaps gazing too much at it’s own toned, teenage-model navel), fashion, for all the illusion of creativity and dynamism that it exudes to a captive public audience, is, in reality, largely conservative. “I don’t see much innovation in fashion” says Martine Jarlgaard, ex-Vivienne Westwood Red Label Head Designer who has also designed for All Saints and Diesel. It’s a broad professional backdrop from which she launched her brand Martine Jarlgaard London in 2014, and is presenting for the first time in an immersive ‘mixed reality’ experience on the official schedule at London Fashion Week in September 2016.
“I wanted to wait until I had a significant reason to present” said Martine, following a long discussion about the current state of the fashion industry and concerns about the environmental impact of mass production and waste in the garment manufacturing industry. These are concerns that have been simmering for some time and a handful of emerging designers are tackling these issues head on. Martine is one. She is “disappointed with fashion” and feels a universal transparent system that untangles and delineates the supply chain and sourcing of materials is needed so that it is possible for brands and consumers to understand the impact of the materials being chosen and make informed decisions. Many designers, for example, are not aware that some fabrics are created using devastatingly toxic chemicals that pollute and endanger workers and local populations. Currently, this is not transparent. She says it’s time for the fashion industry to be re-envisioned and re-defined and find the investment to create alternatives to the current polluting and wasteful processes.
Martine Jarlgaard London AW15
As this article goes to print I read a piece by Richie Siegel about the expected future domination of Amazon Fashion, despite its current lack of curation and aesthetic appeal to fashion shoppers – a problem now being addressed. Amazon’s pricing model is not based on large margins and sales discounting to shift stock like traditional fashion retailers. Its margins are small, prices are keen and products are produced to fill gaps in the market – an already more ‘sustainable’ and pragmatic model – where a t-shirt costing £5 to produce is sold to consumers at around £6.50, in contrast to a traditional retailer who would squeeze suppliers down to a price of closer to £2 in order to sell to the consumer at £6.50. Since Amazon would potentially sell tens of thousands of units (based on it’s market penetration and 65 million worldwide subscribers) it follows that if the products created by Amazon were sustainably and ethically produced it could trigger a big shift in the current polluting, inefficient, land-fill creating fast fashion sector. Granted, this still may result in a lot of product eventually finding its way to land-fill, but the business model and the motivations are promising, especially if cleaner production methods are employed, and the customer is at the centre of this model. For more information about calculating the cost of fast fashion, see my previous article Fashion Data: Calculating the cost of the fashion machine.
Martine is a curious and impassioned designer with a rich educational background (she gained a BA/MA at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and did a stint at Rhode Island School of Design where she studied sculpture, artistic anatomy and anthropology amongst other broader fine art and design subjects, and has always worked in a cross-disciplinary manner. She feels that the solutions and impetus for the change needed in the fashion industry to achieve a level of responsible, sustainable manufacturing will come from outside the industry and that technology will most likely find the solution. Amazon is a technology company, and as mentioned above, looks set to disrupt fast fashion and provide some solutions to production excess and bloated inventories.
Martine and I discuss current examples of big brands tackling sustainability and I mention the Nike Flyknit trainers, manufactured using a single knitting process creating the upper with minimal wastage – no leather tanning and sewing of component layers is required – and it can be manufactured anywhere in the world as it is machine driven. This knitted upper began as a running shoe style and has now been used in a vast array of styles including the classic Air Force One and Nike Air Max. Hershel have just released their ‘ApexKnit’ range of backpacks using the same knit technology and other product lines will surely follow. Digital knitting provides a solution that creates superior design, comfort, wearability and sustainability. Maybe that’s the key. The sustainability looks like a bonus here, as the design and product performance is enhanced AND the product is sustainable. It is also cheaper and easier to develop and iterate, therefore creating a far superior solution to the old leather, fabric and foam uppers made of many components requiring man power for stitching and assembly.
Top: Nike Air Force One – Middle: Nike Air Max – Above: Herschel ApexKnit backpack
Martine mentions being inspired by Nike’s presentation at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in which they explained the commercial and sustainable success of FlyKnit, achieved through technology and innovation. Martine later clarifies that Nike displayed a rare level of honesty at the summit, expressing frustration with the slow pace of change towards sustainability in the fashion industry. She happens to be wearing a pair of flyknit trainers during our interview, along with a gorgeous pinky, fleshy shimmering silk peaked slash neck blouse from her AW15 collection.
Martine Jarlgaard London AW15
We discuss luxury fashion in this context and when Martine mentions the apparent lack of desire for true innovation in this sector our discussion leads to a lack of cross-disciplinary teams in luxury fashion and a persistent uniformity and conservatism. Where a team’s perspective is limited, perhaps the resulting creative expression through product is too. It’s difficult to find varied perspectives on solutions to creative problems if every team member has a similar professional experience and background, which tends to be the case in the luxury fashion sector.
Since launching her brand, Martine has used a combination of sustainable, recycled and surplus fabrics from luxury mills in Italy. Her design philosophy is to create garments with a lifespan beyond one season, that are made to the highest quality, with a minimal aesthetic and an element of the unexpected. She explores the tension between minimal and maximal so that her pieces have a personality and cites sculptural three dimensional creation of the garments as a driver for the silhouettes.
Martine Jarlgaard London AW16
Martine’s SS17 collection will launch at London Fashion Week on September 17th with a mixed reality experience using Hololens, in collaboration with DoubleMe, who provide a novel 3D capture system, HoloPortal, that converts 2D videos into dynamic 3D models in real-time and supported by the Fashion Innovation Agency. Hololens is a headset that projects a hologram in front of the wearer and allows them to interact with it by walking around it and moving nearer or farther, giving a truly immersive and personal experience dictated by the wearer. Martine’s collection will be presented via Hololens, meaning technically, it could be viewed by anyone in any location who possesses the headset, and physically in an accompanying garment presentation at the W Hotel London, marking the first ever holographic 3D mixed reality fashion ‘show’ for want of a more appropriate word. So why this rather than a fashion show? The fashion show format has barely changed since its inception in the early 1900’s and does not allow any kind of personal experience with the clothes – it is passive – as is much of the interaction in the way fashion is presented. There is a lack of true engagement when sat at a distance viewing clothes zoom past on a runway and in a matter of minutes, the whole experience is over. The format of a fashion show is also restrictive in that there is an intense build-up and planning and a huge team required to deliver a show to very tight deadlines within a remit that can curb the creativity of the designers and restrict the selection of garments shown, as outlined in a recent interview with London-based designers Fyodor Golan.
Microsoft Hololens – experimenting with car models in mixed reality
Martine found complete synergy with Hololens because it allows her to work across disciplines with their digital team and create a 3D experience befitting her sculptural design approach. Here, the presentation format is symbiotic with her design approach and affords her the opportunity to showcase that and tell a story which can then be navigated from the viewer’s perspective, making another leap forward in our journey to the experiential as a form of fashion presentation. Crucially, her buyers are “super-excited” about the presentation format. Fashion is changing, albeit slowly, and it feels like Martine is at the foot of what will ultimately be the crest of an experiential fashion wave. She plans to work with this technology for coming seasons, declaring that this is in no way a one-off, but rather the beginning of an exciting journey to differentiating her brand in an intelligent and meaningful way and raising awareness of her successful creation of sustainable luxury fashion.
I love to talk, so it was fortuitous that the WGSN Futures event unravelled like a long and broad conversation spanning fashion, millennials, shopping on and off-line, social media influencers, artificial intelligence, robotics and big data. I could only have been more comfortable if in an armchair.
Vanessa Belleau talks to Rita Konig of the New York Times T Magazine about the future of our homes in a tech-driven world
Day one was a warm-up in the form of visualising 2030 via the rock star delivery of Nils Müller, Founder of TrendOne. When was the last time an artificial intelligence-enabled Barbie was whipped out at a conference you attended? Barbie muffed up – so far, so 2016 – but Nils did successfully take us to the future and beyond via the Bjorn Borg fashion game ‘First Person Lover’ and Amazon Echo, where the human-tech conversation is firmly two way. Nils set the tone for our digital lives in 2030, describing digital interfaces that overlay the physical landscape like a fog, where technology is seamlessly integrated and communicates with us intelligently and conversationally. There won’t be a distinction between what is online and offline in this seamlessly connected, Internet of Things world.
A point made very strongly that is resonating long after the closure of Day one is Marc Schumacher of Liganova’s assertion that luxury fashion brands must collaborate with outside creatives to enrich their in-store experiences and remain relevant, or they’ll die. His response to a question to this effect from a Richemont employee was ‘adapt and become more transparent – luxury brands should no longer operate with a ‘closed shop’ approach.’ Another surprising snippet: 66% of brands are currently stagnant or in decline. Yikes!
Peter Jeun Ho Tsang’s Dandy Lab tackles integration of tech into physical stores with NFC scanning to find out product and brand information and a downloadable app for purchasing clothes without staff intervention, allowing customers to pay without visiting the tills. He mentions the phenomenon of Innovation Fear Factor, which describes the reluctance to integrate tech that has a proven positive impact on customer satisfaction and business success purely because of fear of change. The message I’m hearing is ‘You snooze you loose’.
Add to this conquering the final frontier – outer space – mentioned in a handful of talks throughout the two days and by the close of day two it was easy to see how artificial intelligence and an automated, digital and seamlessly connected world is forming quickly around us. We know how quickly the technology for powering space travel is developing through the space programs of Google, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic so it’s perfectly realistic to predict holidays in space in 2030. Ibiza?! Pfft. That then poses the question, what will we wear? Enter a new market for fashion/tech/performance clothing in space. This ties in nicely with my concurrent post ‘Couture in Orbit’, demonstrating the ESA, Science Museum and European fashion Institutions’ commitment to fostering conversation and experimentation with concepts of fashion in space, but more on that later.
Back to WGSN Futures. Also inspiring was Blingby – a platform that offers up the online purchase of products and services seen in music videos. Love the Taylor Swift ‘Wildest Dreams’ video shot in Botswana? Book the same resort she filmed the video in (whilst watching it) on Blingby. The evangelical founder, Marcia Favale, was captivating and savvy, deftly batting away my probing question about whether they use cognitive algorithms in their platform.
One of the interesting revelations of the day was the heavy-weight fashion panel diverting away from what they deem to be an irrelevant discussion about whether brands show their collections on the mens or womens’ fashion schedule, or together, or at all, in fact. The ‘see now, buy now’ model mooted as revolutionary when Burberry announced it several months ago was dismissed by the panel as unlikely to make great shakes in the way buyers place orders and the product life cycle. A greater problem, according to Erin Mullaney (who incidentally was the first buyer to stock Brooke Roberts knitwear, at Browns) is that the timing of product is wrong for the seasons. The product life cycle is too short, with summer clothes arriving in store during the coldest months and vice versa. Menswear designer Lou Dalton explained that her collections have become transitional and the seasonal difference in fabric weight is no longer relevant in a global market.
I posed the panel a question asking their opinion of the current wave of Fashion Tech and whether they think it offers great opportunities and exciting products or just gimmicks. Clara Mercer’s take was that digital had enabled new presentation platforms, but that streaming may not be the show format saviour it was originally thought to be. Erin Mullaney mentions product and cites Unmade’s customisable knitwear as an example of great Fashion Tech, which plays into consumer desire for personalised product. The appetite for such product is expected to increase as consumers seek to differentiate themselves from an increasingly homogenised product (and content) offering.
As a fashion designer, reflecting on these upcoming changes there’s a definite air of disruption on the horizon. We’re seeing the greatest shift our industry has ever seen, said Simon Chambers of model agency Storm, which now has a social media influencers division ‘Storm Vision‘ to reflect the demand for curated and personal content spurred by the digital revolution.
CitizenM was founded by the ex-owner/CEO of fashion company MEXX, Rattan Chadha. Mr Chadha was struck by the uninspiring nature of hotel accommodation for his 150-strong design team as they travelled around the world researching fashion trends and visiting suppliers. His young dynamic design team were travelling on strict budgets and staying in traditional hotels that left them out of budget and uninspired. That’s when the concept of citizenM was born. Robin Chadha explains the light bulb moment that led his father Rattan to ask himself why the hotel industry hadn’t been reinvented. Why didn’t it reflect global citizens who lead dynamic lives? Further inspiration for the concept of providing affordable luxury for global citizens was in the form of H&M’s collaborations with luxury designers like Karl Lagerfeld. The founder and his team came up with a list of frustrations around the hotel experience (pre 2008, when the first citizenM hotel launched in Amsterdam) which included queuing for check in and check out, filling in the same paperwork every stay, the impersonal nature of a big check-in desk, the restricted restaurant hours … the list went on. Why wasn’t the hotel experience more customer driven?
Enter CitizenM, where technology and design have facilitated a 5 star hotel model in terms of comfort (the bed and shower are second-to-none) with pruning of unnecessary costs (a streamlined 24 hour canteen in favour of a heavily staffed restaurant) and self check-in. The practical rooms, as mentioned below, are clever pods that were built modular and off-site, meaning a cost effective build and efficient use of hotel space. The pods are complimented brilliantly by the enormous and welcoming social hubs for drinking, reading, watching TV, sitting by the fire or catching up with friends.
Arriving at CitizenM Rotterdam feels like embarking on an adventure. The wooden spiral staircase feels like a modern day entrance to the coolest cubby house you’ve never seen. We checked ourselves in at the landing level which welcomes in the harbour via vast glass panels. Glance left and there’s a sofa-surrounded fire place. Glance right and there’s a buzzing bar.
In between are some cool shelves, a red ceramic glazed gnome and few other oddities and trinkets. There’s no fuss here. We’re greeted in a non-pretentious and fun way – it’s more of a chat than a check-in. The room’s no fuss too. Our harbour view suits us just fine. Welcome Citizen Roberts indeed!
The accommodations are like a pod. The fun cubby house vibe continues and I unpack in an instant so I can check out the tech. The blazing sun across the sofas makes breakfast a two hour affair. Yep, there’s loads to see in Rotterdam. My list of must-sees is long. I’m just too relaxed to move. Faced with a book shelf full of interesting reads it’s not until hours later that I venture back to my pod – where I make the mistake of launching on to the way too comfortable bed and indulging in the hundreds of channels on TV. Maybe I should watch a film? Trapped again, I’m typing away here at long after 2pm and feeling plenty chilled and comfy. Everything’s at the touch of an iPad. The LED mood-coded lights, the room temperature, the curtains and blinds. It’s all touch screen simple and feels like a home away from home. It suits me. It’s my ideal hotel, because it feels nothing like one.
The bed dominates the room, which is a haven for intense chilling out. The button operated curtain and blind mean barely moving to get just the right amount of light and let the view in from the harbour side courtyard.
Delving a little deeper into the tech and design behind Citizen M, Robin explains that the hotels, which are all identical in terms of IT infrastructure, have a central Dashboard at the HQ near Amsterdam powered by a piece of proprietary software collating data from all the hotels. If the lights aren’t working in room 303 at the Rotterdam hotel, they – and the smartphone-enabled staff – know about it. Faults are coded according to importance. If there’s a problem with a shower the hotel staff (aka Ambassadors) know about it and are probably actioning a fix before it’s even registered with the guest. The iPad that is the central control panel for the room is out of battery? It’s flagged on the dashboard, but not urgent – in all likelihood the guest is happy to sort this one out, but if they can’t, CitizenM is informed and ready to respond. CitizenM’s hotels that are customer driven and responsive and I find myself asking the same question as Rattan Chadha pre-2008 – Why hadn’t the hotel industry been reinvented?
My discussion with Robin rounds off with a view into what’s on the horizon. A bulging list of new CitizenM Hotel locations over the coming years includes the Tower of London (July 2016), Shoreditch (September 2016) and London St Pauls (2019). Other locations include The Bowery, New York (2017) and Taipei and Shanghai through their joint venture with Shuntak.
The fact that we citizens of the world are increasingly global is undisputed. The centrality of customers to product and service industries and their increasingly consumer-led business models is also irrefutable. CitizenM fits perfectly, as you would expect from any fashion entrepreneur worth his (sartorial) salt.