For the throngs of attendees in Austin, Tex., this week, the SXSW conference and festival acts as a pop cultural, arts and technology multiverse, with the glitterati and digerati operating at different levels from festival fun-seekers.
Fashion and beauty traverse them all. As festivalgoers eyed styles on stage and on red carpets, conference rooms and packed ballrooms hosted industry giants and innovators, who shared their thoughts on how designers, brands and retailers can adjust to a rapidly changing landscape.
Between WWD’s Style Lounge and other sessions in SXSW’s dedicated Style track, there was plenty to mull over — everything from the changing nature of influencer marketing and sustainability, to how blockchain’s decentralization of data could revolutionize logistics management.
At Style Lounge’s first session, Perfect Corp.’s “The Beauty Retail Experience With AR + AI” drew on two of the biggest themes in beauty technology today. Using artificial intelligence, the developer delivers realistic virtual try-ons for some of the world’s leading cosmetics brands through its augmented reality apps. With serious tech driving the virtual experience, “there’s a really practical pain point that gets solved,” Perfect Corp.’s Adam Gam said of trying on makeup. But the real magic is the entertainment value — the tech enables a fun experience for YouCam’s 550 million users. The company launched its new on-demand Beauty Advisor feature at the festival.
Skincare-tech company Foreo shared its approach to brand storytelling, a wildly creative pursuit that even saw it thrown out of the Consumer Electronics Show. Thanks to the press it generated, exceeding more than 600 articles, the dismissal turned out to be a good thing. And it demonstrated Foreo’s culture of experimentation. Like many tech companies, it experiments, testing things quickly, learning and adjusting on the fly.
For Beauty Barrage and Revolve, the growing appeal of micro-influencers lies in their expertise, which enables them to connect with smaller, but dedicated fans more powerfully and authentically. Guests at the Style Lounge sessions learned how much authenticity matters to Generation Z, as well as the role of the athlete in fashion and technology.
For brands feeling lost in the mad race to innovation, Rohan Deuskar of Stylitics offered some sage advice in the final note on Sunday: At “Curating Fashion Through Data,” where he and MouthMedia founder Pavan Bahl explored how data in fashion and retail can improve the customer experience, Deuskar urged companies to “start from where you are…even small amounts of customer data can power recommendations.” Think of basic account profiles and addresses, he said. Those alone tell a retailer whether a customer is male or female, where they live and what they tend to buy.
SXSW’s Style track drew on similar themes on stages across downtown Austin.
Benefit Cosmetics, Modiface and Snap Inc. spoke to Pixability’s Tammy Johnson about the crucial role of Gen Z shoppers, and how technologies like AR are pivotal for meeting their growing expectations for immersive experiences. Virtual reality, another hot theme at the festival, is a favorite topic of discussion among technologists, even if the business uses for commerce haven’t quite come into view yet.
Tech takes many forms at an event like SXSW. Beauty giant L’Oréal held court in a panel with Reveal’s Megan Berry and Heuritech’s Tony Pineville to discuss “AI: Transforming Luxury, Fashion and Beauty,” unveiled a new custom skin-serum machine for its SkinCeuticals brand called Dose and sat down to chat with WWD at the Fast Company Grill, where it was showing off Dose, as well as its Lancôme Le Teint Particulier machine for custom foundation.
The panel traversed topics, from inventory management to chatbots, social media, personalization and data security.
In broad strokes, the answer to the looming question of how consumer brands should embrace AI is simple: There are no easy answers. But there should be a goal, and that is “using AI as a way to truly bring value to a consumers’ life,’ said Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator.
On Monday, the midpoint of SXSW Interactive, AI was the fourth ranking Twitter theme trending across speaker discussions, following female empowerment, “Westworld” and space travel.
Some of that has to do with Elon Musk’s surprise appearance at the festival.
The Tesla and SpaceX founder called AI “far more dangerous than nukes,” adding that he’s “very close to the cutting edge in AI, and it scares the hell out of me.” Take that with a grain of salt. There’s a big difference between the version he sees and what most marketers talk about. By and large, most of the data scientists WWD has spoken to don’t believe the AI in business applications today are nearly as sophisticated.
Still, they serve crucial functions, at least for those who know how to use the data. The thought drives marketing expert Steven Wolfe Pereira of Quantcast to urge brands and retailers to go direct-to-consumer, instead of giving third parties like Amazon their customer relationship data.
Outside of the conference rooms and ballrooms, in corners of the festival touting virtual reality view scapes and custom-built “Westworld” theme parks, a view of SXSW can be like peering into the future.
When it comes to the fashion and beauty ranks, it’s clear that more are willing to meet their customers there.