A few weeks ago my attention was piqued by the news that designer Henry Holland would be delivering his SS17 menswear show with a twist. During his show at London Collections: Men front row frequenters were invited to shop directly from the catwalk collection using a new app by Blippar run in partnership with Visa. The unique selling point of this visual recognition technology is that it can process any type of clothing, locate the image and allow you to shop the look immediately.
Advanced image recognition is a natural next step for users who already demand instant responses to their micro moments (a termed coined by Google that identifies the moment between thought and search action when using their phone). At the recent Apple WWDC Keynote, the brand announced face and image recognition software that would allow users to sort their photos by memories. In many ways it is surprising that fashion has taken so long to step up. But what does this new software actually mean for the future of fashion?
A/B testing the catwalk
As the demands of consumers increase season on season, designers have to find new ways of catering to their voracious clients. Customers no longer want to wait six months to shop what they see on catwalks in store, they want what they want when they want it: immediately. The pace of the industry has already caused major names such as Raf Simons to opt-out and find new routes to creative satisfaction. Meanwhile emerging designers such as Grace Wales Bonner are implementing a new regime of intimate presentations, developing a boutique client base early on in their careers to stave the madness at a later stage.
For those who embrace the pace of the industry, technology that allows buyers to purchase straight from the catwalk is a serious game changer. In the future it means designers will be able to understand demand in a data-driven way, removing the aesthetic inclinations of department and e-comm buyers and replacing designs with customer led production. The power will move back to the source, with the creators working with an in-depth understanding of their customer base, no developing a brand and hoping an audience will get it. In the same way that Buzzfeed makes tests articles and makes live alternations based on user engagement, designers will be able to trial multiple versions of a particular silhouette and run with the garment that generates the most consumer demand. If Gucci has been able to experiment with this before losing Frida Giannini, they could have saved themselves seasons of strife. Thankfully the brand found sartorial salvation with Alessandro Michele, but other labels haven’t been as lucky. A new era of data will mean less reliance on press praise and the creative vision of one individual and more on the analytical synergy of a team.
The end of individual style?
While the image recognition is good news for big brands looking to streamline their operations, the translation to the street is less appealing. Blippar app is spun as a saviour for those who are tired of the hunt that ensues from lusting after a stranger’s trainers on the tube. Admirers will no longer have to search to find an item. Instead users can snap a garment and the app will search through a database, identify the piece of clothing and allow you to buy it there and then. First of all, this is dangerous. As someone already susceptible to an impulse buy, the prospect of a pap and purchase model makes my bank account tremble. But the real issue is that this new technology will homogenise aesthetics on a whole new level.
The digital age introduced globalised culture: everyone already sort of looks the same and counter cultures- the hipster movement, normcore, seapunk – drown in the mainstream within months. But as sub-cultures have been rendered obsolete the pursuit of individuality has strengthened. Today wearers revel and take pride in the nuances of the clothes they wear. Consumers still have secrets – a foraged earring from a mother’s wardrobe or a sneaky purchase from a rogue high street store – and this new technology threatens to end all of that.
At the moment it’s an active choice to post or engage with social media. When the voracious consumption of images is translated off screen and into real life, the ability to maintain any sort of individuality is destroyed. Although inevitably the first version of Blippar will not have a comprehensive list of every piece of clothing in the world – that’s where it will go in time. What’s more, the app works on the premise that users will have to ask permission before taking a picture of someone else. As snapchat has already shown us, users don’t really care about the person on the other side of the lens. It makes me shiver to think how many emojis fellow passengers have stuck onto my tired face on the morning commute. What’s more, if people already feel awkward about asking another person where they bought they coat from, it is unlikely they will feel more confident asking someone if they can take a picture of them to find out where their coat is from. To me, the whole concept feels a little bit creepy.
Thus the dynamic of sartorial inspiration shifts from admiration to invasion. Instead of curating our own personas – as we social media allows for – we will become curatees, pawns in a commercial game which we implicitly opt in to. Every person becomes an explicit walking advert for the brand they buy with limited say in how we present ourselves to the world.
Given the conflated nature of industry, A/B testing the catwalk could prove to be the industry’s saviour. Developers should be wary though of pushing the boundaries too far: there’s a difference between creating a participatory commercial dynamic and drowning us in it. I’ll always like my two tone clogs served with an element of mystique.
First published on Imperica, 27th June 2016