The Uncanny Valley of Fashion

While there has always been an appreciation for vintage clothing, this market did not really take off until the 90s. Shrewd fashion entrepreneurs, like Hayati Banastey, figured out it was possible to repurpose curated Salvation Army clothes at a high mark up. The growing demand for vintage, regardless of the business case, was complex.

The familiarity of classic designs evoke intimate feelings. The obscurity of particular details, lost techniques or unusual materials, help the wearer stand out in new ways. Ironically, sometimes "new" means "old." Vintage-inspired design, are always a mix of the familiar and uncommon, the proven and the obsolete.

Contradiction is not new to fashion. Need a new coat? Sometimes style trumps utility. But this changing perspective of history is interesting considering it correlates with the rise of computers and the internet. Given these two simultaneous trends, it is not surprising futuristic industries are sticking their toes into fashion these days with new ideas and mixed results. From the Apple Watch, to the failed Google Glass, tech companies are eyeing "wearables." The goal is to make devices which are truly fashionable.

In fashion, there is no "close enough" -- only "knock-offs" and "wannabes." Near-fashion can be worse than no fashion. Millions of dollars of R&D is wasted when it is assumed that fashion is ancillary to a fashion-minded consumer. If you want your wearable technology to be truly fashionable, fashion must come first. This is a difficult concept for technologists. A consumer's preference for a less "innovative" device because it matches their eyes or appeals to their appreciation of history (sometimes skeuomorphic just looks cheap) can work against the value proposition of wearables.

Nonetheless, the fashion industry is going through a period of remarkable transformation. As its ideas become important to other industries it is also changing, learning from a broader community of contributors. There is increasing opportunity, particularly in New York, a historical center of the fashion industry. What the next generation brings to the table in terms of expertise, vision, design, and practice is of gathering significance.  What they do will not only determine what is next in fashion, but the relative importance of fashion entrepreneurs to the broader economy.

Perhaps this era of clumsy forays into fashion by tech companies will characterize this moment. Rather than looking at uncomfortable fits as an early manifestation of slick personalization yet to come, we should see them as a unique expression of the historical present. This means the success of Apple Watch and Google Glass are inevitable. Although that success, achieving a true convergence of fashion and function, will come in future clunky vintage ensembles 20 years from now.