Tech, tech, boom – how fashion and tech are intersecting

Article by Fashion Quarterly
Anya Hindmarch’s futuristic SS16 show.

Anya Hindmarch’s futuristic SS16 show.

Digital developments are blowing up the fashion world.

You need only cast your eyes over your most recent credit card statement (or the Asos cartons in your recycling bin) for proof that technology has revolutionised the way we shop. Technological advancements aren’t just changing our consumer habits though – they’re affecting how fashion is produced and marketed. Here, we investigate the future of fashion in the digital age.


In fashion, timing is everything – and currently, the whole schedule is off. As it stands, a new-season collection takes six months to get from the runway to the retailer, by which time we’ve seen it in so many magazines and online editorials that we’re over it. Thankfully, fashion houses are hearing the collective grumblings of critics, retailers and consumers, and rethinking their roll-out strategies. Enter: the shoppable runway. From Prada to Topshop, to New Zealand’s own Ruby, brands are capitalising on the instant gratification generation, making capsule collections available to purchase online immediately after their catwalk shows. Following Ruby’s live-streamed, shoppable show at New Zealand Fashion Week 2015, designer Deanna Didovich said this show model made sense for the retail-focused brand. We say that in a world where global e-commerce sales are topping 1.7 trillion dollars annually, it makes sense full-stop.


As live-streamed fashion shows become de rigueur, many designers are eschewing traditional runway presentations in favour of digital presentations. It’s a trend that’s democratising the industry – enabling under-resourced, up-and-coming designers to present collections to the right people for a fraction of the cost of a full runway show, and allowing anyone with an Instagram account to sit front row.

Albeit not as a money-saving measure, many established designers have gone digital too (think dissolving garments at Hussein Chalayan, high-tech sets at Anya Hindmarch, and virtual reality headsets at Rebecca Minkoff), whilst others are shooting exclusive content for Instagram and releasing it to coincide with their runway shows. So much more #regrammable than blurry runway shots, expect to see more of these ‘Instashoots’ when fashion month kicks off in September.

Social media isn’t just a great way for brands to connect with customers…
it’s a great way to reward them too

Dissolving dresses at Hussein Chalayan’s SS16 show.

Dissolving dresses at Hussein Chalayan’s SS16 show.


Social media isn’t just a great way for brands to connect with customers – as Burberry knows, it’s a great way to reward them too. Last season, the British fashion brand built QR codes into the swing tags of selected garments, which, when scanned with the purchaser’s smartphone, granted access to styling tips, videos and behind-the-scenes content hosted on Burberry’s Snapchat Discover channel. Overuse of the puppy filter never seemed so #basic in comparison.


Brands are also unlocking the potential of social media as a customer service tool. Chatbots (digital sales assistants designed to simplify the path to purchase) have long been commonplace on desktop e-commerce sites. Now, major retailers, including Sephora, are using Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and Kik to talk (or rather, type) customers through a sale. The limitations of ‘conversational commerce’ are such that human sales assistants sometimes have to step in to seal the deal, but experts say technology is being advanced to the point where soon, we won’t know the difference between ‘bot’ and Becky from fine fragrance.

Smartphone photographers at Australian Fashion Week.

Smartphone photographers at Australian Fashion Week.


If you’re in the market for a matte, blue-based red lipstick priced under $45, a chatbot can show you the options. What it can’t do is show you which option best suits you. In 2014, L’Oréal changed online beauty shopping with its Makeup Genius app, which allows users to upload photos of themselves and virtually ‘try on’ products. This year, Rimmel London flipped this concept on its head with its Get the Look app. Dubbed “Shazam for beauty,” the app invites users to upload a photo of a makeup look they want to replicate. After colour-matching this look with Rimmel cosmetics, the app’s advanced facial recognition technology is used to ‘apply’ the cosmetics to the user’s face via their smartphone’s front-facing camera. If the user likes what they see, they can click through to buy the corresponding products – without a single, sticky, lipstick swatch.


As intuitive as e-commerce sites are becoming, an online store will never offer the same retail experience as a bricks and mortar outlet, purely because of the lack of atmosphere. Realising that nothing adds atmosphere like music, online retailer Far Fetch recently launched an Apple Music channel. Designed to allow customers to stream carefully-curated playlists while they shop, Far Fetch CMO Stephanie Horton confirmed to Women’s Wear Daily that the setup also enables the brand to connect with customers “at multiple lifestyle touch points”, including while they are working out or commuting to work. Hey, these brands do a good job of curating our wardrobes, who’s to say they can’t soundtrack our lives?


Designed to draw attention to the lack of women in the IT industry, the hashtag #girlswhocode has been gaining momentum. This is partially thanks to initiatives like ‘Kode with Klossy’ – a free summer camp established by supermodel Karlie Kloss, where girls are taught the language of coding and helped to build web apps – and fashion designer Zac Posen’s recent partnership with Google’s ‘Made With Code’ program. This program required students at several coding academies in New York City to code and create LED patterns for a mystery project. Afterwards, students learned that they had created a piece of wearable technology envisioned by Zac Posen, to be sent down the New York Fashion Week runway as part of his autumn/winter 2016 collection.

Karlie Kloss at Kode with Klossy, a coding summer camp founded by the supermodel.

Karlie Kloss at Kode with Klossy, a coding summer camp founded by the supermodel.


Speaking of Zac Posen and wearable tech, can we get another round of applause emojis for the fibre-optic masterpiece the designer created for the 2016 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala? Worn by actress Claire Danes, the light-up organza and LED gown nailed the Manus x Machina theme, which explored the distinction between hand-made fashion (haute couture) and machine-made fashion (prêt-à-porter). According to the Costume Institute’s curator in charge, Andrew Bolton, this distinction is becoming blurred “as both disciplines embrace the practices and techniques of the other.” Museum director and CEO, Thomas Campbell, agrees. “Fashion and technology are inextricably connected,” he says. “More so now than ever before.”

Claire Danes at the 2016 Met Gala

Claire Danes at the 2016 Met Gala with Zac Posen, who designed her light-up gown.

Claire Danes at the 2016 Met Gala with Zac Posen, who designed her light-up gown.


Despite the prevalence of fashion and technology crossovers, ‘wearable tech’ still carries connotations of go-go-gadget garments that are more gimmicky than glam. From Apple’s smartwatch to Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google jacket – made from a conducive yarn that enables the wearer to navigate their mobile device with the tap of a sleeve – wearable tech is giving new meaning to functional fashion. But, much like sticking shoe-charms on your Crocs won’t make them cool, the designation ‘functional fashion’ does not a fashionable item make. There’s solace in the fact that our hardware is getting hauter by the day – hopefully wearables we actually want to wear aren’t too far away.

Need help coordinating your closet? Want to identify that It bag? There’s an app for that. Visit FQ.co.nz/fashionapps for our top picks.

Words: Phoebe Watt
Photos: Getty Images, Supplied