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NEW YORK — Intel as a fashion brand?
The merging of fashion and technology was the point of a presentation the semiconductor company gave fashion editors here last week at Thomas Keller’s new restaurant, Per Se. The company’s chips are powering a new generation of sleek technology with appeal to women, such as fully loaded laptops with wireless Internet access that are small and lightweight enough to fit in a purse (of course, they start at $2,000).
Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist in Intel’s research and development group in Portland, Ore., spoke about her research into how people use new technology in Asia. Mary Alice Stephenson, former fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar and an Intel fashion consultant, walked the audience through an array of fashionable gadgets and accessories by high-tech and fashion brands.
“Throughout the world, women are embracing technology as part of their family and work lives, as well as for social, spiritual and romantic occasions,” said Bell. For example, mothers in India keep in daily contact with their children abroad via instant messaging, and in Singapore, cell phones display the direction of Mecca. In South Korea, cell phones are so small their owners decorate them with stuffed animals so they can find them, and it becomes an extension of their personality, she said.
In the last three years, Bell has interviewed more than 100 families in Singapore, South Korea, India, China, Indonesia and Australia about what they care about, and what technology makes them happy and what infuriates them. One of her goals is to help Intel design new technologies around these experiences, rather than simply designing technology for technology’s sake.
According to a poll Intel commissioned from Harris, 30 percent of men and 24 percent of women ages 18 to 27 feel that their computer “reflects their personal style.”
Stephenson began her presentation with a humorous video that showed women in New York struggling to walk down the street and up stairs while toting ugly black laptop bags that were obviously much too big and heavy for them. “You know those shots that we all ran of the woman jumping across the street?” Stephenson asked, referring to the clichéd women’s magazine image of a woman on the go with arms outstretched and three bags flying. “Those pictures are obsolete.”
The evidence: masses of bags from Chanel, Balenciaga, Coach and Target that easily accommodate a laptop and have compartments for personal digital assistants, cell phones, BlackBerrys and portable media players, such as the Creative Zen. The latter is the size of an eyeglass case and can store 85 hours of video, 9,000 songs and tens of thousands of digital photos.
Other chic gadgets Stephenson showed were the Treo 650 smart phone — a cell phone that includes a camera, PDA, e-mail and games — and the ultra-thin Motorola Razr phone, which is carried by designers like Carolina Herrera.
Intel collaborated with designer Julien Macdonald on a limited-edition laptop bag earlier this year, and the accessories team at Balenciaga measured laptops when they were designing their iconic City bag, said Stephenson.
Designers are also creating all sorts of charms, holders, jewelry and other tech-related accessories. For example, there is the Prada Cell Phone Trick, which attaches to a cell phone and lights up when the phone rings silently. The device retails on neimanmarcus.com for $154. Juicy Couture has a pink plastic cell phone holder that goes around the neck; the T-strap is a $9 brightly colored wristband for securing a cell phone while jogging, and La Leash is a lariat and earpiece for a cell phone that is worn around the neck and comes in metallic leathers and various colors.
“Designers are desperately trying to get their brand names on all that cool technology,” according to Stephenson. And the makers of that technology are trying to tap into fashion — Stephenson cited Hewlett Packard’s and Nokia’s sponsorship of Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen.
“We’re starting to see more and more merging of fashion design and technology in a really big way,” said Stephenson.