Louis Vuitton, Supreme and the tangled relationship between streetwear and luxury brands

The recent collaboration between New York’s Supreme and Louis Vuitton seems like a natural fit.  The reality is that luxury and streetwear have been dancing around each other for a good while.

Snide started it all

Snide was slang in the 1980s for fake or counterfeit. Hip Hop and the Caribbean-influenced Buffalo movement in the UK each used counterfeit and real luxury in their own way.

Daniel Day, better known as Dapper Dan was a was a Harlem-based craftsman and business man who dressed a lot of New York based artists from the golden age of hip hop. Dan’s first hip hop client was LL Cool J back in 1985. Dan’s style was luxe, the finest silks and furs were standard issue – think Puff Daddy before Puff Daddy. They went for customised outfits with their branding on which Dan provided. As the scene took off Dan incorporated suit lining material (which replicated the likes of the Fendi, Bally  or MCM brands) and Gucci or Louis Vuitton branded vinyl to make one-off products.

He customised trainers, clothing and even car interiors. Dan’s own Jeep Wrangler had an interior retrimmed in MCM branded vinyl.

Much of the luxury branding Dan used was coming in from Korean factories which at that time supplied the fake trade. Now similar products would have come out of China. I took a trip to the South China City complex in 2010 where fabric suppliers would offer Louis Vuitton labels and Supreme tags side-by-side.  I can only imagine that the Korean suppliers of the 1980s  had similar markets in textile industry centres like Deagu. Outside of hip hop, Dan was the go-to tailor for all the hustlers in Harlem – so you can see how he could have got the hook-up into the counterfeit suppliers.

At the time hip hop culture was not in a relationship with brands who where concerned about how it might affect them. LL Cool J was the first artist to get a deal with Le Coq Sportif. Run DMC got a long term deal with Adidas after their single ‘My Adidas’ became successful. But these were the exceptions to the rule.  So with Dan’s help they co-opted the brands to try and demonstrate success.

Over in the UK, the Buffalo collective of stylists, artists and photographers including Ray Petri, Jamie Morgan, Barry Kamen (who modelled for Petri), Mark Lebon and Cameron McVey. Buffalo was known as an attitude, which threw contrasting styles together and filtered into fashion shoots and influenced the collections of major designers including Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garçons. Even if you didn’t know what Buffalo was, you would have recognised the aesthetic from the likes of i-D, Blitz, New Musical Express and Arena. 

Buffalo mixed Armani jackets with Doctor Martens work boots, or a Puma bobble hat. Petri used music to sound track his process and this was pretty similar to the kind of stuff that influenced street wear pioneer Shawn Stussy over in California. Motown and hip-hop to dub reggae was the sound which explains the Feeling Irie t-shirts created by the white surfboard maker.

If you thought Bros looked cool in their MA-1 bomber jackets and stone washed Levi’s 501 jeans – there was a direct stylistic line back to Buffalo – rehabilitating the items from their link to skinhead culture.

Buffalo permeated into the street style of the decade; influencing the likes of Soul II Soul. Meanwhile over in Bristol The Wild Bunch were yet to morph into Massive Attack. Two members headed to London; producer Nelle Hooper and Miles Johnson (aka DJ Milo who went on to work in New York and Japan). A shoot was organised by i-D magazine and they turned up wearing their street clothes alongside DJ Dave Dorrell and model / stylist Barnsley. At the time, it was considered to be ‘very Buffalo’ in feel, but Dave Dorrell admitted in an interview that they had just came as they were. Dorrell wore his t-shirt as ‘advertising’ for it.

buffalo

The Hermes t-shirt and belt were snide, the Chanel Number 5 t-shirt sported by Dave Dorrell were being knocked out by a group of friends. Young people in London co-opted brands just like the hip-hop artists heading to Dapper Dan’s in Harlem.

Homage

From 1980, surfer Shawn Stussy had been growing an clothing empire of what we would now recognise as streetwear. Stussy had originally came up with the t-shirts as an adjunct and advertisement of his main business – selling surfboards. But the clothing hit emerging culture: skating, punk, hip-hop and took on a life of its own. It went global through Stussy’s ‘tribe’ of friends that he made along the way.

Stussy is known for his eclectic influences and mixing media: old photographs alongside his own typography. In a way that was unheard of in brand circles at the time, Stussy manifested his brands in lots of different ways. The back to back SS logo inside a circle was a straight rip from Chanel; the repeating logo motif that appeared in other designs was a nod to MCM and Louis Vuitton.

All of this went into the cultural melting pot of world cities like Tokyo, New York, London and Los Angeles. Stussy went on to do collaborations from a specially designed party t-shirt for i-D magazine’s birthday party to the cover art of Malcolm Maclaren records. Collaboration with mundane and high-end brands is backed into streetwear’s DNA.

Coke Zero x Neighborhood limited edition cans

(Neighborhood x Coke Zero was something I was involved with during my time in Hong Kong.)

Japan with its engrained sense of quality and wabisabi took the Buffalo mix-and-match approach to the next level. Japan’s own streetwear labels like Visivim, Neighborhood, W-Taps, The Real McCoy and A Bathing Ape (BAPE) took streetwear product quality, exclusivity and price points into luxury brand territory. That didn’t stop BAPE from making a snide versions of various Rolex models under the ‘Bapex’ brand.

Bapex

Some two decades later Supreme came up in New York. The brand takes design appropriation and homage to a new level. Every piece Supreme seems to do is a reference to something else. The famous box logo rips from Barbara Kruger’s piece ‘I shop therefore I am’. From taking a snide swipe at consumerism to ending up in the belly of the beast took Supreme a relatively short time. This heritage of appropriation didn’t stop Supreme from using legal means against people it felt had appropriated its ‘look’.

In an ironic twist of fate, Supreme was sued by Louis Vuitton in 2000 and yet the 2017 collaboration looks exceptionally similar to the offending items…

The last time I shared this story the page was just at 2k followers. With the collaboration officially announced today- and the page having 40k more followers since then- I figure it’s time to re-share. The year was 2000, and a 6 year old Supreme took their hands at referencing a high fashion brand as they did early on (Burberry, Gucci,) this time with Louis Vuitton. Box Logo tees (and stickers), beanies, 5 panels, bucket hats, and skateboard decks all featured the Supreme Monogram logo (pictured right). Within two weeks, Vuitton sends in a cease and desist and apparently, ordered Supreme to burn the remaining available stock. Clearly, many of the products from 2000 are still in the resell market, circulating today. Now we arrive at today’s FW Louis Vuitton fashion show. As most everyone is aware by now, Supreme is in fact collaborating with the luxury brand for a July- into fall collection. I’ve seen quite a few pieces from the collaboration (20+, check @supreme__hustle @supreme_access and @supreme_leaks_news for more pics) and it’s panning out to be Supremes largest collaboration to date. It’s interesting to see the references of both brands within the collaboration- from old Dapper Dan bootleg Louis pieces, to authentic ones, to Supremes monogram box logo and skateboard desks (pictured left). 17 years later and @mrkimjones proves that time can mend all wounds (amongst other things). Excited to see what all will release alongside this legendary collaboration. #supremeforsale #supreme4sale

A photo posted by Supreme (@supreme_copies) on

The new customers

North East Asia’s fast growing economies had been borne out of learning from developed market expertise, state directed focus on exports and ruthless weeding out of weaker businesses. Intellectual property was cast aside at various points. Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and China went from making knock-off products to displacing Europe and the US as the leading luxury markets.

Asian luxury consumers, particularly those second generation rich in China were younger than the typical customer luxury brands cater too. These consumers bought product as they travelled taking in style influences as they went. First from nearby markets like Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore and then Korea. This drew from a melange of hip hop, streetwear, Buffalo styling and contemporary western designers like Vivienne Westwood – as well as the more matronly styles of the traditional European luxury houses.

The luxury brands had to adapt. They brought in new designers who themselves were drawing from similar influences.  These designers also collaborated with sportswear brands like Alexander McQueen and Puma or Jeremy Scott and Raf Simons for Adidas.

Luxury brands got seriously into new product categories making luxe versions of training shoes that could be charitably called a homage to the like of Nike’s Air Force 1.

Bringing things full circle

As the supreme_copies Instagram account notes the collaboration with Supreme and Louis Vuitton brings things full circle with the pieces having a nod to Dapper Dan’s custom work as well as Supreme’s own ‘homage’.  Luxury brand MCM (Michael Cromer München), which Dan borrowed from extensively in the 1980s was restructured in 1997 with shops and brand being sold separately. The brand was eventually acquired eight years later by the Korean Sungjoo Group. Korea now has its own fast developing luxury fashion and cosmetics brand industry. Textile city Deagu which was the likely source of Dapper Dan’s fabric is now a fashion and luxury business hub in its own right. The Korean entertainment industry is a trend setter throughout Asia. For instance, Hallyu drama My Love From A Star drove breakout sales for the Jimmy Choo ‘Abel’ shoe.

The only question I still have is why did a move like Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Supreme take so long? The luxury brands spend a lot on customer insight, they were using social listening far longer than they had been on social media. They know that a customer wearing their jacket could have a Visivim backpack slung over the shoulder and a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths on their feet. Customers mix-and-match Buffalo style for all but the most formal occasions. For streetwear brands, collaboration is in their DNA and they get an additional leg-up in the quality stakes.

More information
Ray Petri
How Buffalo shaped the landscape of 80s fashion – Dazed
Dave Dorrell interview part one | Test Pressing
Dapper Dan
Barbara Kruger Responds to Supreme’s Lawsuit: ‘A Ridiculous Clusterf**k of Totally Uncool Jokers’ | Complex
Volume and wealth make Chinese millennials a lucrative target market: GfK | Luxury Daily
Just why are Louis Vuitton and other high-end retailers abandoning China? | South China Morning Post – although Chinese shoppers consumed 46 per cent of luxury goods around the world, their purchases in their home market accounted for only 10 per cent of global sales, falling from 11 per cent in 2012 and 13 per cent in 2013
How a Jimmy Choo Shoe Became a Global Best Seller – WSJ

Living with the Casio GWF -D1000 Frogman watch

When you typically look at reviews of products, there are usually reviewed over a short time when they are new-and-shiny. Often a products features and character come out over time – a symbiotic process between product and user.

I picked up a GWF-D1000 soon after it went on sale for considerably less than the £800 that it is the current street price. Up until I bought the GWF-D1000 (which I will call the D1000 through the rest of the copy for brevity), I had owned its predecessor the GWF-1000 (which I will call the 1000 from here on in).

So what is the GWF-D1000 anyway?

The D1000 is the latest in an a series of G-Shock watches aimed at scuba divers. The first Frogman came out in 1993. The overall design has largely been the same with an asymmetric case and a large display to make operation easier. The positioning of the watches and price points changed over time – some of the previous models had titanium cases and came under the Mr-G sub-brand. The last few models have a stainless steel core case with a DLC (diamond like coating) to protect the surface.

Over time it has picked up features as the technology improved. It became illuminated by a small green bulb, then electro-luminescent material. It moved from relying purely on battery power to having solar cells and a rechargeable battery. The watch became more accurate by picking up time signals via radio from six locations around the world that are calibrated with an atomic clock (precursors to the NTP services around the world that keep your computer and smartphone bang on time.)

The key technology gains over the 1000 include:

  • A dive computer rather than a dive timer (neither matter to me), it has the same basic functionality that dive computers used to have 20 years ago (minus PC connectivity). No big shakes until you remember that it is doing this all from a solar-powered rechargeable watch battery
  • Digital compass which is surprisingly handy, it is very forgiving of the way you hold it, expect this in other Casio watches soon.
  • Temperature reading (again more for the diver) or when you are running a bath
  • The display has been rearranged and a bit easier to read
  • Much better display light and crisper to read at night

The real benefits for me were in the build quality:

  • You get a sapphire crystal rather than the usual hardened mineral glass. This isn’t the first time that Casio has used a sapphire crystal on a watch, but they are harder to manufacture and more expensive than the usual mineral glass face
  • The manner in which the strap is secured to the case has been completely revised. There is are new Allen key screws and a carbon fibre rod to secure the strap to the case
  • The strap is made of polyurethane resin reinforced with carbon fibre. The loop that holds the excess strap length is now a section of stainless steel which has been bent around the strap

How do I use it?

It makes sense to tell a little bit around why I wear a Frogman. I want an accurate watch (who doesn’t?). I want a reliable watch (again, probably a hygiene factor for most people; but one that hints at why the G-Shock has replaced Rolex as the default watch I have seen on Hong Kongers over the past 10 years or so. G-Shock offers robustness that 20 years ago would have come from fine Swiss engineering – at a much lower price point.

I love my Swiss dive watches but there is a time and place for everything.  The knockabout case and its water resistance means that you can forget about the watch. You don’t have to coddle it or worry that it will pick up undue attention. You don’t have to worry if you get a bang on an elevator (lift) door, dropped on the bathroom floor or going for a swim.

The G-Shock is an everyman watch – unless its got a lurid colour scheme it isn’t likely to attract the attention of your average petty criminal. I’ve often taken it off in the office so that I can type in greater comfort and left it there by accident when going home. I’ve never had a G-Shock go missing.

It is relatively easy to use, despite the modal nature of its interface design. To change settings, use functions or see recorded information you have to cycle through a series of text menus – it has more in common with a 1980s vintage video cassette recorder or a DEC VAX. Quite how this goes down with consumers more used to iPads and SnapChat is interesting. Casio seems to do alright by attracting them with bright plastic cases reminiscent of Lego -based colour schemes.

I haven’t dived seriously in a long time, I took up scuba diving while working in the oil industry and have never got back into it since moving to London.  PADI diving at resorts is tame compared to British diving club scene I had been used to.

My work environment is creative which means that t-shirts, flannel shirts,  jeans and suede hiking boots make the G-Shock an ideal accessory. I work in the London office of an American digital marketing agency, owned by a French multinational and my clients are scattered in the different offices around the world of pharmaceutical companies. The functions I tend to use most are the world time, date/time and the night light. My iPhone is now my alarm clock.

The reality is that most of these watches will end up on the wrists of people like me rather than people who dive for a living.

What’s it like to live to live with the D1000

The D1000 is only incrementally heavier than the 1000, it felt a bit strange to wear for about 30 minutes after swapping over to the newer model. But in some ways the D1000 doesn’t yet feel like its my watch.

The 1000 strap became shiny in places over time and more pliable, it felt like it became adjusted to me. Give the D1000 a rub over and it still looks box fresh. The downside is that the strap feels stiff and I still feel its edges on occasion – this isn’t about discomfort, but about the watch not feeling like part of you. There are no shiny parts of wear – it feels less like a ‘personal item”. It lacks what a designer friend calls authenticity; unlike distressed jeans, customised flight jackets or combat Zippos.

Zippo Lighters

This sounds great for the resale value, but I feel that it provides a worse experience for the wearer of the watch.

The reinforced strap does have one bonus, it holds securely to the case. Look at these pictures of my two year old 1000

Casio GWF 1000 Frogman

You can see how the retaining screw that held the strap to the case came undone and disappeared over time. You don’t have these kind of problems with the D1000.

The screen on the D1000 uses its real estate in a different way to the 1000.

Here is the 1000

Casio GWF 1000 Frogman

Here is the D1000

Casio GWF D1000 Frogman

At first the differences aren’t obvious. If you look at the top right side of the screen, the tide and moon segments are replaced by a multi-use screen on the D1000. The small icons for alarms and hourly alerts are moved to the bottom and left of the screen on the D1000, the moon icon now moves to the left of the main screen down from the top right. This probably marginally increases the screen real estate and helps make legibility a bit clearer at night.

GWF 1000

The biggest 1000 feature that I miss is the ability to toggle with one press of the top left button from showing the date on the screen to showing a second time zone; it was extremely handy for work. And having come from the 1000 to the D1000 it was a real ‘what the fuck’ moment.

By comparison I have to press six times to get to the world time screen. Instead, it now toggles between a tide table and the day. Even giving it a two press option would be a better fix than what the D1000 currently has. It’s a small gripe, but it annoyed the heck out of me.

My work around has been to keep the watch in world time mode and if I need to know the day or date, I find myself reaching for my iPhone.

If you are really that worried about tide tables, you will be likely using a specialist service as they vary a good deal over relatively short distances.

If the D1000 still sounds like the kind of watch you want, you can get it here.

Thoughts on the Apple event of September 7

Style

  • The presentation was telling a hard story to an audience that were likely to be underwhelmed. Phil Schiller rather than Tim Cook carried the most difficult parts of the keynote.
  • The piano finish device was an obvious attempt to provide a style angle to the new iPhone and mask the aerial sections. However it is a class action waiting to happen as it will dull over time with micro-scratches
  • The story that the audience was told didn’t feel right. Lets talk about the headphone jack. The double camera only appears in the Plus, so the requirement for room isn’t a credible argument on its own, other vendors have managed to waterproof handsets with headphone jacks. I suspect that Apple isn’t sure that its backing the right horse. Its the least aggressive change they’ve made in a while. The inclusion of an adaptor shows that their user aggression still isn’t as high compared to when they got rid of: SCSI, Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), iPod 30 pin port (still pissed about that one), AppleTalk, floppy disks or optical disk playback and storage – I suspect that they are fearfully waiting to see what the pre-order numbers will be like and they should be. A straw poll of AdAge readers (core Apple user demographic) showed overwhelming disappointment
    AdAge readers on new iPhone
  • There is a lot of really nice features in iOS 10 – I’ve been using it for a while, why didn’t they make more of this and macOS Sierra?

Substance

  • Innovation in the smartphone category has flattened out. The iPhone 7 provides reasons for laggard iPhone users to upgrade, but nothing for 6 and 6S series users. There are few if any innovations for the likes of Huawei to ape in their new models
  • Innovation in smartwatches has plateaued. Apple is coalescing around fitness and dedicated products are much more cost effective for consumers. In China Xiaomi’s fitness band sells for about £15, for many consumers it would be enough. Fitbit is doing well – Apple’s wrist computer (alongside Samsung Gear etc) looks like a sledgehammer to crack a nut
  • Apple have done nothing to address the latent demand for new laptops amongst consumers (I am still happy with my 13″ Retina MacBook Pro). There was no replacement for the Cinema display (again, I am happy with my current set-up, but where is the pro-user love)
  • Apple abandoned its flirtation with luxury by discontinuing the gold Watch. They are still holding out to be viewed as stylish by doubling down with Hermes and a white ceramic device – it would work on the opposite wrist to a Chanel J12
  • It was curious that Apple moved away from talking about security and privacy; the collaborative document working using iWork which could be seen as a potential attack vector on to the desktop. The Air Pods that sync seamlessly with a device without visible security precautions.  iPhone security was addressed in the James Corden car karaoke skit at the beginning of the show rather than woven through the materials.
  • The speech about the app store was to try and bolster developer support, I suspect that services will shore up the Apple financial numbers over the next 12 months
  • The Nike branded Apple Watch was part of a broader move reposition the Apple Watch 2 as a fitness device.

Brandwatch on luxury brands

Not the most polished presentation but good content by Brandwatch on the state of digital and social with regards luxury brands.

More about Brandwatch here.

#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London

Having been involved in a number of events over the past couple of years where creative digital work intersected with experiential marketing I was keen to look at Louis Vuitton’s Series 3 exhibition before it closed.

Burberry tends to get the plaudits for digital experiences in the luxury sector and they do a lot of interesting work. Louis Vuitton’s initiatives like an online service that allows ladies to personalise their bag a la Nike ID.

I found it interesting that Louis Vuitton’s approach seems to have been guided by exclusivity not being the same as accessibility. There was a wealth of helpful staff, you were positively encouraged to take your own pictures – again unusual for a luxury brand, many prefer to give you content that upholds their standards.

A few touches that I really liked

#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, LondonLV logo motion graphics at the start of the exhibition, no real surprise right? What the designers did was remove the polarisers from the LCD screens so that the screens are apparently blank. The polariser is laid out in vertical strips at different distances and widths from the screen. This gives a kind of lenticular effect when you walk past it. This modern logo morphs through matrix-like digital noise and on to the more traditional LV design.
#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London
It seems absurdly simple, but the idea of using projecting mapping techniques on a flat LED screen to emphasise how Louis Vuitton products are cut from a common material before being assembled was clever. Just because you have projection mapping technology at your finger tips means that one often looks for complex shapes like building fronts rather than a flat panel.
#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London
Getting the balance right between protecting the product so that it doesn’t look grubby from being over-handled, whilst still making it accessible and tactile rather than a museum experience.

The street finds its own uses for things, but sometimes it needs a hand

The office that I work in is mired in mobile. Half the colleagues that sit in my area have gone to Barcelona this week to work on the Mobile World Congress. What used to be an conference that helped mobile carriers come together and set the agenda for their industry has become a curious jamboree that mixes areas of interest to consumers, policy wonks and a bit of telecoms industry stuff thrown in. Others have fretted about the usefulness of the show, I recommend that you have a quick read of my friend Ian Wood’s show analysis.

I have been writing a summary of themes that we have been seeing coming out of the coverage day-by-day. I have linked to them at the end of this article. From a consumer perspective online discussion, if not media chatter was dominated by the launch of new smartphones across the Android eco-system and Microsoft launched some new Lumia smartphones running its Windows operating system.
pr
When I pulled the data down on the discussion using Sysomos, I found discussions on smartphones seemed to be based around hardware ‘speeds and feeds’. Rather like the PC industry, and like the PC industry many of those manufacturers are hurting as new competitors come in and innovate through protest to create cheaper handsets without compromising on industrial design.

There is a strong incentive for handset manufacturers to own some kind of eco-system. Canon may or may not own the OS that runs their digital SLR cameras, but you don’t just buy a camera from them you buy a system that includes lens, possibly a flash and other miscellaneous accessories. Google rolled out a software layer to cover a vast array of platforms which could interact with smartphones, from wearables to the internet-of-things and even the television set.

This means that there is a strong incentive for phone makers to move their product portfolios in new direction. Chinese brand Xiaomi expanded from smartphones to make: smart televisions, an IP-based set-top box, a Nike Fuelband-type device, a smartphone-controlled air purifier and a GoPro-type camera.

For many other manufacturers this means smart watches or fitness bands as their counterpart of Canon’s EF-series lenses.
Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Like many technology ideas smartphones have gone through a number of iterations. In the 1980s Seiko tried to bring personal computing to the digital watch and by 1984, Casio had launched the Data Bank – a kind of rather poor digital address book on a phone. By 1994, Timex used a light sensor and blinking monitor pixels to send information from Microsoft Schedule+ to their watch, as a way of making data input easier than the Casio Databank. Schedule+ was the predecessor of the calendaring function in modern versions of Outlook.

Some twenty years later both battery and microprocessor technology had improved. Microsoft launched a radio network based service in the US called MSN Direct which provided the kind of information web users got from a portal like horoscopes, sports results, news or stock prices to non-Internet connected devices. Depending on the device you could even receive short messages from Windows Live Messenger (SMS wasn’t as popular in the US in comparison to Europe at the time). In order to take advantage of MSN Direct services Microsoft launched Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) which allowed MSN Direct data to be incorporated into everyday consumer electronics like satellite navigation systems, coffee machines and watches.

A good set of comparative technologies for SPOT and MSN Direct would be RDS information on the FM band of car stereos or a very cut down version of the teletext experiences from analogue TV, if it only delivered nuggets of information. The underlying network technology to transmit the information allowed for a higher data bandwidth than RDS.

Around the same time as SPOT, Fossil licensed a read-only version of PalmOS and tried to squeeze it into a watch. This was most noticeable for putting a higher end LCD screen into a watch than had been done before. The case was also curiously similar in design to later watches from LG and Samsung.

Back in 2008, devices were launched that looked suspiciously like the latest smart watches. These were pioneered by LG with their Watch Phone.
LG Watch Phone
In the same way that Star Trek’s communicator was the obvious popular culture analogue for flip phones; cartoon detective Dick Tracy’s watch radio was to the LG Watch Phone. The challenge has been that whilst the Dick Tracy analogue emphasise the impressive engineering feats that rendered the watch possible it doesn’t show a particularly impressive use case.

Lets first of all dwell on the engineering chops that went into these devices. It is insanely impressive. Thanks to marketing and Steve Jobs we blithely expect technology companies to work miracles as a matter of routine, but when you take a step back and think about the hardware engineering it is very impressive. Moore’s Law has meant that a tremendous amount of computing power can now sit on your wrist without burning a hole in it. Nuclear deterrent systems and space exploration programmes around the world have previously relied on less computing power.

However the Dick Tracy use case of holding your wrist to your head looks plain uncomfortable. By comparison, we could see James T. Kirk and the rest of the Star Trek crew use the communicator in a natural way day-in, and day-out.

A second challenge is presenting a reason for using a smart watch. If one looks back at early Apple iPhone advertisements, they at pains to emphasise everything that can be done on an iPhone.
iphone
For those device makers that have abdicated their software responsibility to Google, they are largely in the hands of Google’s developer evangelist and marketing teams. From what I have seen of Apple’s marketing, there seems to be a focus on the watch as a fashion icon, in an eerily reminiscent move of Google Glass’ assocation with Diane von Fürstenberg and thats a bit of a concern if you are looking at the current generation of wearables from a consumer perspective.

There are some businesses that have been built on high-performing but impractical products. Lamborghini’s iconic Miura was developed by a team of three core engineers on the down low, keeping the innovative design hidden from company owner Ferruccio Lamborghini. Mr Lamborghini was more interested in a grand tourer than this race car for the road, but he saw the potential for the design to be a marketing tool for the car brand at best.
LAMBORGHINI MIURA
The Miura incorporated a number of innovative features that together provided the blueprint for the modern supercar. It had an engine in the middle of the car to improve the weight balance. A similar layout had been used in an Austrian car maker called Rumpler back in the 1920s and over the next 20 years started to appear in a number of race cars. Shortening the car by mounting the engine in a transverse (side-to-side) layout that had been pioneered in small road cars like the Saab 92 and Mini.

The design started winning interest from potential customers without even a body because of its unique layout. Bertone provided the body work and the car went on sale. Over the next eight years or so Lamborghini struggled to deal with the failings in the cars design. It had too powerful an engine, a chassis that flexed under the power and brakes that weren’t up to the job of stopping the car. Whilst the Miura was successful in terms of the impact that it had on the world Ferruccio sold the majority share in his name sake company by the early 1970s. The company suffered from financial problems that meant it had to stop production for a year before it could bring out the Contach.

The moral of this automotive story for gadget manufacturers is that innovation can spark interest with a certain number of consumers but it is consumer use that will drive continued sustainable adoption. There has to be a use in order to get the devices into the hands of the tinkerers and hackers who find unexpected uses implied in William Gibson’s oft quoted line from the short story Burning Chrome – ‘the street finds its own uses for things’.

More information

On MWC as an event
GSMA Mobile World Congress 2015 | Digital Evangelist

MSN Direct / SPOT
What Microsoft got right about the smart watch nearly a decade ago (more than you think) – GigaOM

Samsung Galaxy Gear
Samsung Gear S Review: But I Don’t Wanna Be Dick Tracy | Gizmodo

My posts on the Racepoint blog
MWC from the sidelines: day one
MWC from the sidelines: day zero

On wearables

The Apple Watch launch gave me a chance to go back and revisit the development of wearable computing and my experience with wearable devices.

Wearable computing had it’s genesis in academic research; some of it government funded. For instance DARPA had a hand in the US Army Land Warrior programme. France has it’s FÉLIN programme and Germany IdZ. All the programmes sought to provide soldiers with location data  and in communication with their colleagues.  Unsurprising  key issues for the soldiers involved included:

  • Weight
  • How cumbersome the equipment was
  • Battery life
  • Reliability / robust product design
  • Value of information provided

It is worth bearing in mind these criteria when thinking about wearables in a consumer context.  SonyEricsson’s LiveView remote control for Android handsets launched the current spurt in ‘smart’ watches. Sony made a deliberate decision to position the LiveView as an augmentation to the smartphone. Think of it as a thin client for your wrist.

Samsung and Apple in some of their communications have looked to muddy the water in the way that they presented their devices, despite the fact that both of them rely on the smartphone  in a slightly more sophisticated way than LiveView.

Much of the early drive in wearables has been around health and fitness where the likes of Nike and Jawbone reinvented the kind of service provided to dedicated fitness enthusiasts by the likes of Polar and Suunto. These devices are primarily about simplification of design to democratise the technology.

By contrast Samsung and Apple have a greater ambition for their devices in terms of the what they can do. I don’t know what the killer app is for a general purpose device and I suspect neither do Apple or Samsung.

Wearables are not particularly robust by design. I have had three Nike Fuelbands fail in 12 months or so. Compare this to the Casio G-Shock and IWC watches that I generally wear. I don’t have to think about wearing my watch; I didn’t worry about washing my hands or stepping in the shower or the swimming pool with it on. You couldn’t do that with a Samsung Gear.

A second unknown factor is how often consumers would be willing to upgrade a smart watch? When one thinks about the expected price point of Apple’s premium watches, it is similar to the products coming out of Switzerland. The cases and straps are well made, but the price of buying an Omega watch is also about buying into a service centre that will keep the watch going for decades to come. Apple’s iPod Classic barely lasted 13 years. The electronic innards of an iWatch would be built from components that would become obsolete, even if Apple wanted to service them.

Would Apple compromise with a modular design that could make it easy to swap out smart watch innards in a case as an analogy to having a watch serviced? I don’t think so, if one looks at Apple’s design move over the past decade towards sealed computing appliances: the iPod, the iPhone, the MacBook Air and the Retina MacBook.

More information
FÉLIN | Army Technology
SonyEricsson LiveView remote and the changing face of mobile computing | renaissance chambara

The Watch post

I was underwhelmed by the Apple wearable product. It is impressive what they have done, but from a product design point of view the case looks cumbersome rather like a slightly better Samsung Gear. The use of haptics was one of the smarter things that I saw in the demonstration and the use of emoji as an essential ‘social lubricant’ learns from Asian mobile usage of stickers on the likes of LINE and WeChat.

Looking at the demonstrations, I still think that the use case for a wearable still isn’t there for mainstream consumers. The use cases for haptic communications for instance were downright creepy and I wasn’t convinced by the cloud of spots interface. The fitness app and workout apps were similar to products from the likes of Suunto and Polar or the miCoach app by adidas for a smartphone.

In terms of the industrial design, I was particularly interested in the strap. Apple has borrowed a distinctive looking catch and strap connector  from one of the strap designs from the now defunct Ikepod Watch company co-founded by Marc Newson who recently joined Apple’s design team.

Ikepod Megapod strap
ikepod

 Watch strap
applewatch

Overall I think that luxury brands won’t be particularly concerned, at least at this first iteration of the  Watch.

Jacob & Co. Epic SF24

Jacob & Co. is a brand that I knew of through it’s connection to hip-hop culture. They are referenced in the lyrics of 50Cent, Jay Z and Kanye West. The brand is positioning itself with more conventional luxury customers with a mix of high-end jewellery and watches. They had a recent exhibition in Monaco of their latest range on August 5 – 23, 2014.

Whilst none where something I would normally pay attention to; the most visually interesting watch they came out with was the EPIC SF 24 which had an unusual take on creating a world time display. The top is a 24-hour time indicator that seems to flip around like an electromechanical airport or railway station sign giving the watch a steam punk vibe.
Epic SF24
Some of the other details like the crown on the side of the watch reminded me a little of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Compressor series, but with a more practical lower profile that would avoid snagging whilst on the wrist. The movement is said to be a JCAA02 with SF24 module; I don’t know whether the movement is in-house designed; or more likely, a modified version of an existing movement by one of the big movement manufacturers like ETA.

It comes in a number of types of gold and titanium – an interesting choice given the challenges working with the metal.

More information
Jacob & Co. website profile page for the Epic SF24
Jacob & Co. Annual Timepice And Jewelry Exhibition In Monte Carlo | Cision

China’s post-90s generation and luxury marketing

My former colleague Elin and a panel of experts discuss marketing luxury brands to a young Chinese audience. How they view luxury in comparison to previous generations.

Post-90s middle class are the most sophisticated consumers marketers have faced in China today.

Garnier’s PS Cream campaign

A really nice campaign done in China for Garnier beauty product

Great presentation on the online advertising environment in China

Great presentation by Thoughtful China about the online advertising market in China, the discussion comes from the perspective of ‘big data’ but points out the challenge of data quality and transparency in online advertising.

The presentation is on YouKu so you need to be patient with it.

QRcodes in luxury marketing | 在奢侈品营销中的QR码

QRcodes give advertisers the opportunities to be creative in the ‘noise’ through minimising the data enclosed (for instance using a URL shortener) and careful positioning of the data within the square.
Untitled
Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger LeCoultre uses some carefully placed watch components in their QRcode and the complexity of QRcodes to human eyes (rather like the visual complexity of a watch movement). It was a subtle understated modification of a QRcode that fitted right in with the brand.

More information
Want to build a creative QRcode? QArt Coder is a good place to start

Jargon Watch: Meta-luxury

The decline of the middle in terms of brands has mirrored a global decline in the middle class. This has prompted brands to move up the food chain. We have seen this in Japan as the country moved over the past two decades from consuming a lot of luxury goods by the likes of Louis Vuitton to homegrown companies providing the best of everything from Michelin-star restaurants and gourmet coffee shops to meticulously constructed street wear.

Interbrand defines meta-luxury as

luxury after luxury

Or as Venessa Friedman distilled it down:

focus+artisan-ship+ history+ rarity = meta-luxury

The key attribute here is one of focus. It doesn’t really surprise me when you think about how luxury brands like Armani have grown from tailoring to:

  • More accessible sub-brands
  • Promiscuous licensing deals
  • Affordable luxury product categories – notably fragrances
  • Broadening brand reach including hotel design, homewares and florists

The increased accessibility of luxury brands and  dilution of their brand equity through business expansion leaves room for meta luxury businesses.

More information
Introducing Meta-luxury – FT.com