Apr 262012
 

Window shopping is a phrase that usually implies looking at a display of mannequins wearing trendy garments and accessories, such as designer sunglasses and handbags. The visual displays are designed to lure customers by suggesting that they too can look fashionable in the same products. Thanks to Bloomingdale’s new virtual window displays, customers really can see themselves wearing designer sunglasses.

Image Courtesy of Mashable.com

The Lexington Avenue NYC Bloomingdale’s is currently featuring virtual LCD screens in six interactive windows through May 7. Each window has four options of sunglasses from designers such as Marc Jacobs, Roberto Cavalli, Miu Miu, Gucci, and FENDI, which any passerby can “try on” before walking into the store.

The window display locates a woman’s eyes and positions a selected pair of frames on her image as projected by the built-in camera. A front view and profile show the woman how the actual designer sunglasses might fit her face shape. If there is a pair that a shopper particularly likes, she can press the “Print” button. The selected style and virtual image are sent to a salesperson inside Bloomingdale’s who will help the customer try on and potentially buy the frames she saw in the window. Continue reading »

Apr 102012
 
Ladies Undewear Options on MeUndies.com

Ladies Undewear Options on MeUndies.com

Remember when lingerie shopping involved actually browsing a bricks-and-morter boutique and blushing under the judgemental gaze of snooty sales clerks? Well it seems that the lingerie boutique may be about to face the same tragic fate as the dinosaur. That is if the new underwear-on-demand company Me Undies  has anything to say about it.

Me Undies has turned the traditional lingerie business model on its lacy head by forgoing the traditional boutique, and even the traditional retail outlet, and offering customers two very unique ways to shop for undies. The first is a sort of “skivvy of the month” subscription service wherby customers, both male and female, can have a curated selection of undies delivered straight to their door on a monthly autoship. Customers set up an account on meundies.com and input their unique underwear preferences by completing an online questionnaire. Their preferences are then saved for them in their own unique online underwear “drawer.” The signup process kind of reminds me of a social network except that it’s for…well…an underwear subscription.

The second, and I think most fascinating, method of skivvy acquisition that MeUndies proposes, however, is the the company’s national network of…wait for it…underwear vending machines! That’s right, you can now purchase your unmentionables out of a vending machine. The company has plans to place their underwear vending machines in hotels, fitness centers and airports nationwide, so that their customers can purchase the underwear of their choosing, at literally any hour, while enjoying greatly discounted prices – no salesperson required.  You know, for all of those unexpected underwear emergencies we all find ourselves in. Touting their product as  “the world’s most comfortable underwear,” the company’s founders say that they aim for Me Undies to be a true e-commerce retailer and minimize it’s cost structure by operating online and via vending machine. Those savings, reportedly about 30% less than comparable designer undergarments, are then passed on to the consumer.

The retail lingerie sector has been long overdue for some innovation, and I certainly think Me Undies has a very unique business model. However, I don’t know that I’m quite ready to queue up to purchase my unmentionables out of an airport vending machine. What do you think? Could this perhaps be the start of a new trend in automated underwear? For some reason I’m hearing The Jetson’s theme song in my head right now.

 

 

 

Apr 062012
 

Remember when you would watch a music video, lust after the clothes you’d seen, and then scour the internet searching for similar threads? Gone are those days! Ssense, an online clothing retailer, has styled the “World’s First Interactive Shoppable Music Video.”

The music video “I Think She Ready” features duo FKi, rapper Iggy Azalea, and Grammy-nominated producer Diplo, and they are all styled by Ssense. The video uses interactive hotspot technology to allow fans to view and shop for every item that is seen in the video. During the music video, white square icons with the letter “S” pop up on the screen. Rolling over the icon will expand the “S” to “SHOP THIS LOOK”. Clicking on those icons will take you to a screen that shows each of the products worn in the selected shot. Each article of clothing links to the Ssense product page where the item can be viewed and added to a cart for purchase.

Image Courtesy of Ssense.com

Even though the white icons only appear sporadically throughout the video, do we really want music videos to display these distracting icons each time we watch them? If this trend catches on (and I think it will), perhaps the icons will become smaller or less intrusive in future music videos. Continue reading »

Mar 182012
 

Image courtesy of Gap.com

This week,  GapKids and BabyGap released a collaborative Diane von Furstenburg collection.  Adult, designer DVF dresses are in the $200 – $300 range,  but the Gap collection is much more affordable at the $55 – $70 range.  This collection, of course sold out almost immediately, just like the many designer/box-store collaborations in the last decade.

In 2003, well known high-end designer Isaac Mizrahi partnered with Target to create an affordable line that would be sold in their stores which would end up being a huge hit for the next six years. Since then, Target has had an influx of short-term guest-designer lines from such names as Alexander McQueen, Jason Wu, and of course Missoni.  H&M has been doing it for years, with popular lines designed by such names as Madonna, Karl Lagerfeld, Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo, and more recently Versace. These designer lines are a huge hit, oftentimes selling out the first day, even if later to appear on eBay.

The underlying question to all of these lines is why?  Certainly consumers love the idea of owning a piece of clothing designed by a big, respected name, and stores love to sell things that consumers want to buy.  But what is behind the desire to wear or own the more affordable and yes, cheaper version of a designer’s product? Continue reading »

Mar 122012
 

M Saraswathy’s brief BusinessWorld article (Tech Couture: Fashion keeps a date with augmented reality) outlines some recent uses of AR in advertising, including uses at Lakme Fashion Week. The article ends with a tempered approach suggesting that so far, advertisers have not been able to tell if AR translates into more sales.

Even so, the possibilites for augmented reality with fashion advertising seem endless. Because clothing is a visual communicator, AR offers many interesting possibilities for layering visuals over bodies, environments, etc. The “Fashionista” tool below allows shoppers to try on clothing wherever they may be, using augmented reality.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnBcqV9POkY[/youtube]

But AR offers other tantalizing prospects for causing disjunction in the public spaces in which clothing is sold and worn.

So far the most interesting uses of AR that I have seen have been for aesthetic or critical purposes. I can envision AR being used for purposes like overlaying images of the workers who produce clothing items or the workshops in which they are produced. Or statistics about ethically sourced material. Or overlaying images of real women over advertisements or mannequins. Or, or, or…

A few links to interesting AR projects:

Feb 142012
 

A lovely young woman sits with her purse in her lap and her phone in her hands. She coyly smiles, looks around, and yawns as she waits in a department store. If a stranger begins to pester her, she ignores him. This scenario is fairly ordinary. However, this is no ordinary young woman: this is an android mannequin responding to curious shoppers from the inside of a window display.

As part of a Valentine’s Day promotion, Tokyo department store Takashimaya will be displaying Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Geminoid-F android mannequin in its store window. The life-like mannequin has a set of 60 different facial expressions at its disposal to lure in and interact with passing shoppers. The robot is connected to a Kinect sensor complete with facial recognition software that allows for it to have a unique response to each person who passes by.  Continue reading »

Dec 152011
 

H&M Computer Generated Models

Retailer H&M has received some decidedly negative scrutiny recently for using computer generated models on their website. As reported on mashable.com the retailer came under fire for superimposing real models heads onto computer generated bodies to showcase a range of collections on it’s retail site. To the unsuspecting viewer nothing is amiss, however if one looks closely it becomes evident that all of the models have perfectly identical body types.  Key word being: “perfect.” The retailer has incurred the ire of many who view the casting of virtual models as setting an unrealistic standard for women to live up to.

H&M Under Fire for Using Fake, Computer-Generated Models

This H&M boondoggle puts me in mind of the 2002 film Simone. Simone tells the story of a beleaguered film producer, played superbly with frazzled panache by Al Pacino, who, fed up with the antics of spoiled Hollywood starlets, creates a computer generated actress who proves to be a little too good at her job – and in short order takes over his entire life. The story is a funny, albeit slightly disturbing, modern day, emerging media Frankenstein – and a cautionary tale for brands. However, we’ll touch on that later. Here’s a clip:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkQAIHcpWfI&feature=related[/youtube]

H&M asserts that the fake models make it easier for their customers to focus on the clothes rather than on the models wearing the clothes. Per H&M spokesperson Hacan Andersson, “The result is strange to look at, but the message is clear: buy our clothes, not our models.”

Though the retailer’s strategy was particularly ill advised I’m not sure I read any deliberately dubious intentions. Frankly it strikes me as a rather sophomoric attempt at cost cutting. I am concerned however, with the side effects of this practice. Does the use of fake models set up an unrealistic expectation of perfection among women? Or does it legitimize an expectation that already exists? Contemporary human fashion models most often do not present a realistic representation of the average female body.  Not even close. However the employment of computer generated models, whereby an advertiser can literally code whatever model body measurements they like, literally says to ordinary humans, model or otherwise, “You’re not good enough.” I find this particularly troubling and more than a little misogynistic.

More H&M Computer Generated Models

Indeed, what does this say for the company’s regard for women, it’s primary customer base? Not only is the company legitimizing an unrealistic aesthetic, they are literally dehumanizing half of the world’s population. Placing a real model’s disembodied head onto a fake, computer generated body, a body that is exactly identical to several other fake bodies sporting real heads, is just…offensive.  Terribly so.

Additionally, I find the practice of designing all women’s bodies identical immensely troublesome in itself. If the idealized collective male fantasy is a world where women are literally interchangeable then we as a society are in trouble indeed. Real women’s bodies aren’t identical. Even supermodels figures have variations. While I do suppose it would make it easier on clothing manufacturers if they only had to make clothing in one size, the idea of a world populated with bodily identical women is frankly disturbing.

It is time for retailers and advertisers to realize that the images that they disseminate are more far more than just advertisements for goods. Indeed they are cultural artifacts in the truest sense of the term.  Contemporary advertisements are inevitably informed with  the aesthetic sensibility of the context within which they appear. As much as they promote they also reflect. Perhaps unwittingly, they reflect cultural norms, mores, desires and expectations. They are imbued with meaning far beyond the intentions of the photographer or the commissioning brand. Accordingly they wield a tremendous power that extends far beyond just selling attire. Indeed I contend that images unconsciously promote the idealized self. Now it should be a little more evident why the employment of idealized computer generated, nay computer manipulated, models is a spectaularly bad idea.

Of course I am not suggesting that the masses of the ad viewing public are mindless drones literally powerless to defend our virgin eyes from the whims and caprice of evil brands. Far from it, in fact. The brands, though often misguided, aren’t evil, and the layer of cultural encoding that results from advertisements is complex and nuanced. No one can state with certainty that any advertisement has a direct effect on consumer behavior. It is the cumulative and collective effects, effects that indeed have nothing to do with short term consumer behavior, or merchandise sales, that I am referring to here.  The negative effects of cultural artifacts like the H&M fake model images are far more subtle – and ubiquitious – for both for the viewer and the producer. They make it ok to objectify women, they promote a literally unattainable (unless one day we really will all live in the Matrix) aesthetic ideal, and they legitimize and promulgate the Stepford fantasy…just to name a few.

Poor H&M. It seems the retailer has unwittingly created their own little army of long legged digital Frankensteins. While their computer generated models showed off their merchandise beautifully, and cheaply, they  also did a superb job of showcasing a contemporary ethos bent on misogyny. Good job, girls! Well done! Like the aforementioned movie producer in the film Simone, the brand may find it in their best interest to destroy their creation before they are able to wreak more havoc. However if that film taught us anything it’s that digital cultural artifacts have a way of taking on lives of their own.

Dec 102011
 

As more business ventures establish themselves in cyberspace, a proliferation of online fashion clearing houses are gaining momentum in world of e-commerce. Traditional retail websites like eBay and Amazon exist as places for come-one, come-all retailing and reselling. These new ‘Flash Fashion’ sites are more geared toward the design conscious consumer who wants quality goods hand picked to reduce time spent shopping around at drastically reduced prices. These sites provide a consistent retail experience for luxury goods shoppers looking for a steal.

Feifei Sun of TIME reports on the major players in the game of  ‘Flash Fashion’ retailers: Gilt, MyHabit, Rue La La, Haute Look and Idelli. These sites take excess merchandise from upscale retailers and provide quick turnaround by selling items at a significantly reduced cost. Every day at noon, sites like Gilt and MyHabit offer up to 80% off retail prices on luxury items from well known brands. While the sites typically offer a view of the sales a few hours ahead of time, shoppers can only begin adding things to their cart at noon. Most sites allow the shopper to collect items in order to pay for shipping only once. The sites also have mobile apps to allow for around the clock shopping for those times when a desktop isn’t within reach. Continue reading »