Marketed as a must-have accessory, the Apple Watch seemed a clear sign that Apple had its sights set on style, especially after the hiring of the former Yves Saint Laurent chief executive Paul Deneve and the former Burberry C.E.O. Angela Ahrendts in 2013, and the former Tag Heuer executive Patrick Pruniaux in 2014.
The next year, it was announced that Apple had teamed up with Hermès to create straps and watch faces. More brand partnerships were rumored. Apple sponsored the Met Gala in 2016.
But Mr. Deneve left Apple quietly late last year. Though the watch’s market share has grown, increasingly, it seems as if most of the focus on wearables has shifted to health and functionality, as opposed to aesthetics, and most of fashion’s focus on technology has shifted to production and manufacturing (3-D printing, A.I.), not new categories of items.
Maybe we should have expected it. I remember sitting in a Paris hotel room during the women’s wear shows as Jonathan Ive of Apple showed me the first Apple Watch and asking (I was skeptical) what it would do. He told me they didn’t really know; that they would have to see how people used it to understand what it would really become.
Presumably that’s what’s going on now.
When fashion and tech first started making goo-goo eyes at each other, there was a lot of speculation as to whether two such different worlds could ever really mesh. You could understand the attraction. Often as not they share the same consumer, who is making choices about whether to buy, say, a phone, or a coat. Design matters deeply to both sectors. There was a lot of talk about learning to speak each other’s language.
And they probably have, to a certain extent. Smartwatches were the beginning. But if this is going to be a meaningful partnership, that can’t be the end. Especially because no matter how many designers and brands get involved, the end result seems to look pretty much the same. There is only so much you can do, style-wise, within the engineering limits of the wristwatch form. As a result, you get what we have now which is … yawn.
The problem is still that, a few smart sportswear items aside, no one is really sure exactly what role technology should play in the rest of our wardrobe. What do we want our clothes to do, beyond what they already do? Maybe temperature control, often fantasized about. Maybe not.
Because here’s the thing: Fashion choices have always communicated — about identity, values, community — pretty effectively to the world. Even without Siri or Alexa to help.
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