2012 - 2014: Some of my favorite reviews from Stylesight's award-winning Runway Daily Chronicles.
Fall 2014: Making sense out of the runway shows in the year.
Designers Revisit the Era That Fashion Forgot
Seven months ago, fashion was going through an identity crisis.
On the Fall 2014 runways, there were bedazzled homages to Star Wars at Rodarte, outsized menswear at Proenza Schouler and outsized activewear at Balenciaga. At Chanel, sneaker-clad models walked down the aisles of an ersatz supermarket. Had fashion jumped the normcore shark? Had Karl Lagerfeld ever been to a Monoprix?
The clothes either exalted the mundane or standardized the surreal. It all existed within rigid confines, the cuts severe and approach slavish. Exceptions like Marc Jacobs’ floaty pastels and Christopher Bailey’s scant spring-like collection at Burberry only added to the nebulous mood.
An optimistic view is that such ambiguity begets diversity, maybe even individuality. On the fall runways, it resulted in an exhausting monotony of clothes.
But amidst the fog of aimless fashion, there was something interesting coming into view. Playing off normcore’s casual attitude, Miuccia Prada sent down frosted anoraks and color-blocked puffers that conjured suburban kids in skiwear during the ’70s.
Even more perplexing was Nicolas Ghesquière’s downright unremarkable debut at Louis Vuitton. If there was anyone who could have rescued fashion from the bottom of the creative well, it was him. Instead, we got techy Fair Isle sweaters and mechanic’s jackets. It was entirely too familiar.
A closer look, however, revealed surprising similarities to Miu Miu’s off-duty snow bunnies. Come to think of it, the limber knits and Supergraphics at Marc Jacobs and Chanel had a whiff of nostalgia, too.
The picture was becoming clearer.
Fast-forward to the recently unveiled S/S 15 collections. Wide lapels, topstitching and suede — lots of suede — fill the runways. The pervasive influence? The 1970s, the ultimate era of good vibes and keepin’ it real. Yes, the decade that fashion forgot. The decade that those bellwether collections at Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton hinted at last season.
Why the ’70s? It is no surprise that Miuccia Prada chose to revisit the era, the designer forever challenging notions of beauty. But what else led to this fashion moment?
The most frequently mentioned muses among designers this season were Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell. Immediately, we know there’s a biopic on the former that just came out, and the latter recently released a memoir and has a retrospective box set on the way.
But the beginning of this year also saw American Hustle dominate fashion how–to’s and social media combust over the news of Fleetwood Mac’s reunion tour. In art, William Eggleston’s portraits of ordinary Americana and the Smithsonian’s 1970s time capsule, Documerica, have been making the rounds. The current political climate — the rise of extremist groups and proliferation of protest movements around the world — mirrors the widespread discontent of the ’70s.
In somewhat related news, Vogue just discovered Woodstock.
For a decade seemingly devoid of style, the ’70s are a culmination of very distinct, uncompromising aesthetics. There’s the earthy insouciance of hippies, the detached dandyism of psychedelia and sensual excess of disco.
So how will Spring 2015 remember the ’70s? Faithfully, in all the above ways, as it turns out.
All this talk of a ’70s revival must have Hedi Slimane’s ears burning. This season, the Saint Laurent designer dusted off the patent-leather minis, glitter platforms and fur coats that litter the thrift shops of his adopted Los Angeles. It was the eternal uniform of the rock ‘n’ roll groupie — and a sexed-up, luxe counterpoint to Tommy Hilfiger’s earlier in the month, who, too, sent out lean silhouettes and billowy dresses. Hendrix was specifically namechecked there, as was at House of Holland, where kitschy flower power graphics and trippy colors enveloped (some may say, suffocated) its youthful London clientele in a cloud of purple haze.
Derek Lam explored the 1970s a bit more innocently at his show, where Joni Mitchell hummed through the speakers. The post-Vietnam era provided utilitarian details and eccentric styling options for the designer to evolve his minimalist sportswear. In a similar vein, Frida Giannini executed ’70s day staples like A-line skirts and coatdresses in lush fabrics and jewel tones at Gucci.
However, it was the collections at Chloé and Valentino that veered closer to Joni Mitchell’s ethereal bohemian. Both interpretations polished up the Victorian frou and crafty naïveté of the era with masculine tailoring and flirty elements. The results seemed to hark back to Phoebe Philo’s vision of boho-chic for Chloé that reached ubiquity a decade ago.
Perhaps no other collection evoked the hippie-defining Summer of Love more poetically than Dries Van Noten’s Ophelia-inspired collection. As usual, the Belgian designer did not shy away from print, mixing Southeast Asian tile motifs, Turkish paisleys and mannish stripes in the elegantly offhand way he is known for. It was ’67 in spirit, contemporary in execution.
As for the prophets of this ’70s redux? Both Prada and Ghesquière expounded on the theme this season with obvious winks to the decade: patchwork textiles, murky colors, granny laces.
But again, something new bubbled under the surface. Adding Raf Simons’ pristine Dior collection to the mix, high Edwardian necks, dainty Queen Anne prints and icy brocades indicated an inspiration more historical, more precious.
Like normcore, there is a feeling of the anti-aesthetic attached to the ’70s. But these moments on the runway, exemplified by Prada, Louis Vuitton and Dior, assure us that design is still very much present in fashion.
2014: Tech feature that explores the possibilities of artificial intelligence in the fashion industry.
IBM's Watson Could Revolutionize the Fashion Industry
While designers like Alexander Wang and Donna Karan were presenting their vision for the Spring/Summer 2015 season at one of the biggest stages in the world, New York Fashion Week, something that could have more profound, lasting ripples in the industry was happening south of the equator at Melbourne Fashion Week.
There, in front of a crowd of more developers than designers, IBM was pitching its new technology Watson to the fashion industry. The event failed to gain much press outside of a few advertising and tech publications. But then again, Watson is still in its discovery phase, with beta tools currently available to developers for free
What is Watson? Think of the movie "Her.“ Oh yes, the radiant mid-century color palettes and the adorably offbeat wardrobe that looks to have stepped off the Prada runway. It is the cognitive operating system introduced in the movie, however, that is actually a current reality and that may have far greater resonance in the style-related industries.
Watson operates in a similar, albeit more limited, scope. Instead of building its memory from the whole of the Internet, in addition to private user data, Watson works purely off of what is fed into its ecosystem. This means its “intelligence” can be customized to each client and the amount of memory and numbers-crunching required is relatively limited.
Meaning: no garbage in, no garbage out.
Instead of the general search query of, say, a Google, Watson works on a question-and-answer basis. For example, “What color should I be wearing this fall?” as opposed to “fall color trends.” The latter will likely offer up endless articles on the subject of dubious origin and contradictory information, whereas the former may scan in-store inventories, sales figures, color services like Pantone and fashion magazines to arrive at a few educated guesses for “the new black.” Watson will even disclose its confidence level in the answer.
Long before “Her” and countless other robot-versus-man flicks, IBM foreshadowed something eerily similar to Watson in a harmless little rom-com called “Desk Set” in 1957. In something of a public relations move, Big Blue collaborated with the filmmakers to create the technology at the heart of the picture, EMERAC, a mainframe computer threatening to supplant the research department at a broadcasting company. The team, led by an aptly named Bunny Watson, feeds the machine printed material from its extensive library, and EMERAC in turn spits out specific answers to specific questions. Mankind can rest easy: Of course, the technology cannot exist without some heavy handholding.
It remains to be seen if the same can be said of Watson.
In the tradition of Deep Blue versus Kasparov, Watson had its big coming out in 2011 when it won at "Jeopardy!" against walking encyclopedias Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The technology has since taken off in the healthcare industry, serving as a sort of advanced WebMD to medical professionals. There, the human element remains the ultimate decision maker; Watson just saves the time spent on researching diagnoses and treatments while someone’s life may hang in the balance.
In an effort to sell Watson to the masses, IBM released a “cognitive cooking” app earlier this year that promises to deliver a unique edible recipe from any list of ingredients, flavor profiles and dietary restrictions. NPR ran an amusing story on the results, which left the reporter wondering when Watson would “be able to do the dishes.”
So far, Watson’s biggest gains in fashion have been on the e-commerce end. Retail strategy company, Fluid Inc., realized the potential of Watson two years ago and is currently funneling the technology into a personal shopping application for The North Face. Watson makes sense for an activewear sector that is highly dependent on function and environment. An example query that the company provides is, “I am taking my family camping in upstate NY in October and I need a tent. What should I consider?” The Expert Personal Shopper is set to be released this year—a good guess is in time for Cyber Monday.
IBM has been aggressively investing in Watson and just opened its headquarters last month in New York—the ultimate intersection of commerce and technology. With a research and development facility centered just a few dozen blocks away from the Garment District, all the chess pieces seem to be in place for Watson to make its move in the fashion industry.
However, a Google search of “Watson + fashion” yields very few results—the connection hasn't been made yet. IBM may be selling Watson short as merely a retail tool, although the consumer insight gathered there will undoubtedly come in handy across the entire fashion vertical. Nevertheless, the supply side presents myriad possibilities for Watson.
For one, the system’s customizable natural language processing facility is ripe for an industry that comes with its own specialized lexicon. The clothing vocabulary of the masses, on the other hand, is less than predictable. An early version of Watson was infamously fed the entire Urban Dictionary, and what resulted was a foul-mouthed computer that defeated the more academic-minded pursuits of the technology. After similar problems with Wikipedia, the lesson learned here was: data regulation is key.
The ecosystem of the clothing business, on the other hand, is relatively controlled. It is an industry deeply rooted in tradition, from the modes of construction to the crude product data management systems typically employed. Building off of its current applications in other industries, it seems like Watson could serve as a user-friendly, macro-level supplement to fashion’s outdated PDM platforms. While it is worth exploring the unanswered questions and obstacles that the nascent technology may present, the intent of Watson is clear and shows promise.
So what if a fully developed Watson were in operation at a clothing company? Say this company made little black dresses. Little Black Dress Co.‘s version of Watson is populated with information from PDM software, the intranet, trend services, fashion magazines and social media outlets. What types of questions within the organization could Watson provide the easy answers to? The below infographic investigates the path of Watson along the product lifecycle.
Extrapolating from these examples, imagine the amount of time and guesswork that could be saved if Watson were implemented at every step. Its effectiveness would require close collaboration between developers and those who actually have their hands on the product.
But there’s a catch—contrary to its reputation for being on the cutting edge, the fashion business is remarkably slow to adopt new technology. Judging by the amount of publicity surrounding wearables such as Google Glass and the Apple Watch at the latest runway shows, however, it looks like the style industry may finally be getting over its technology phobia. Which begs the question: Dear Watson, is fashion ready for artificial intelligence?