Intel and Deutsche Telekom are not fashion companies. At least not for the moment. Intel is still a tech company making mostly hardware components and some software. Deutsche Telecom is basically the German telecommunication company.
What they have in common is their interest in fashion.
During the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2014, Intel Corporation announced a strategic collaboration with CFDA: the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The objective of this partnership is to create a community for technology developers and fashion designers focused on wearable technology. In practice the idea is to enable networking, match-making and exchanging ideas between the world of technology and the world of fashion.
Intel, which clearly is not Apple, was somehow slow to adapt to the rapid development in the area of smartphones and tablets. They probably don’t have a CDO (Chief Designer Officer) either or any major interest in the aesthetic of their hardware.
But what they do understand is that they can apply their vary small chips (such as the Curie, more about it later) in wearables and that working with fashion designers can not only make the products pretty but also help finding new consumer applications.
One of the first steps was Intel joining forces with a fashion brand Opening Ceremony and Barneys New York to develop and sell a smart bracelet based on Intel technology. The Mica bracelet was indeed a very nice fashion accessory and had some useful functions, such as displaying text messages, meeting alerts and general notifications. Clearly it didn’t change people’s lives but it showed that fashion-technology collaborations are possible and merging the expertise of these two very distinct disciplines of will most probably be essential in boosting the adoption of wearable technologies in the future.
The most recent collaborations in the framework of the partnership further prove this point. The 2016 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists received the Intel Curie module to play with and see how they could use it in their work. Curie, as explained by Intel, is a computer the size of a button. It has an impressive 384kB flash memory and a long-life tiny battery.
The designers were asked to create something that links to a memory they have and enhances the emotional experience of it. But the idea was really to bring a personal perspective to the exercise. The end-products and solutions varied a lot: this proves that each designer is different. They may live in the same city or graduate from the same design school but the design process is highly personal and reflects each designer’s story, experience and emotions. This is why making designers work with technology can create endless and unexpected results. And it’s way beyond just adding a simple aesthetic element.
For instance Joshua Cooper and Laurence Chandler, design duo behind Rochambeau, were inspired by the situation in which they met. Their brief encounter in an elevator wouldn’t have led to establishing this cool brand if they had never spoken but instead had been both busy with their smartphones. So their created Curie embedded clothing that allows detecting another Curie garment in proximity and if both wearers are within 5 feet distance, they smartphones get disabled to encourage interaction.
Krewe, eyewear designer and one of the 2016 CVFF runners-up, embedded Curie in their beautiful acetate frames. They allow wearers record moments throughout the day, enhancing therefore their memories.
Ji Oh imagined a jacket that can neutralise your body’s reaction to stress. It detects your blood level and body temperature and switches on a cooling system to help the body go back to normal.
Morgan Curtis of Morgan Lane came up with a similar idea but applied it to her area of creation: sleep wear. Her beautiful sleeping mask can detect when you are feeling hot and activate a cooling system. It also connects to your alarm clock to make sure it rings gently after 7-8 eyes of sleep.
Another example is Intel’s collaboration with prolific fashion designer Hussein Chalayan. Hussein has been experimenting with new technologies for more than a decade. Some of his creations were on show at the Met during the Manus x Machina exhibition. At Paris Fashion Week in September 2016 he presented biosensing glasses and belts beautifully integrated with clothes that interpret emotions and project their visualisations. Through this the wearer can better understand and proactively manage stress.
Intel did not disclose how much it was investing in these collaborations. But taking into account publicity generated, the networks established and the innovation that would have never been created in their internal RD departments, it may be worth it.
Not by chance Intel is also involved in another creative-tech collaboration project, this time in Europe. Led by Deutsche Telekom, the Fashion Fusion challenge identifies and supports the most interesting solutions in three areas: connected devices and accessories, digitally enhanced fashion and smart services. The initiative is supported by actors ranging from fashion and sportswear – Adidas and s.Olivier, technology companies – Intel, Osram and Trotec Laser or technical and intelligent textiles manufacturers – Statex and Foster Rohner.
The fashion tech house ElektroCouture curates the challenge and facilitates the provision of expertise to the challenge’s finalists. This expertise is extremely valuable as it may help them scale-up and build a necessary ecosystem.
In 2016 twelve selected finalists from all over Europe moved to Berlin labs. They are start-ups, fashion designers, graduates or tech professionals. Mixing and exchanging ideas amongst the finalists is one of the important aspects and this varied representation is perfect for that purpose.
Amongst the finalists are Dagmar Kestner and Prisca Visbøl working at the intersections of design, fashion, textiles and other materials. They are not totally new to this type of collaborations: few years ago they both took part in the EU funded Worth Pilot Project that supported collaborations between traditional manufacturing companies and designers. This time they are developing the ‘Articulated Dress’ that changes appearance, structure and shape interacting with the wearer’s touch. Its macrostructure can contract, change or open up. From a technical perspective, the designers want to explore conductive laser cut textiles and sensory shape memory polymers to induce versatility and flexibility. Their vision is to explore the poetical potential of the SMP technology and to design a smart, communicative couture garment.
Dutch Maartje Dijkstra and Beorn Lebenstedt are working on a dress built of small, 3D printed pieces that will be able to fly like drones. On more practical side, Pyrates, a Swiss start-up, are working on smart fabrics based on natural fibres that can protect your body and give it some extra care. Some of their fabrics contain seaweeds that have moisturising and anti-ageing effect.
Poqit.Berlin came up with a smart wallet that looks like an average leather valet but is hiding many interesting functions. It can for instance charge your smartphone via Bluetooth (no cable needed!) and informs the owner if the wallet has been misplaced, it can also find it! The wallet itself can be charged just by putting it on a great-looking wooden base. If Poqit reads this, just make it in black leather and I’ll buy it asap!
Involvement and sponsorship of giants such as Intel, Deutsche Telekom, Adidas or Osram proves that to create something not necessarily ground-breaking but original, functional and giving new possibilities to people it’s no longer sufficient to have well-funded RDI departments. Ideas of students, fashion designers or start-ups may be as, or even more valuable. And the interaction between the solid world of STEM and the often considered as ‘fluffy’ world of fashion and design can drive innovation on an unprecedented scale. Creativity, as opposed to technological innovation, is often underestimated. But not for long.