Why was Coco Rocha at South by Southwest? Because she has a lot to say about crossing the divide between fashion and tech. Piera Gelardi, executive creative director and co-founder of Refinery29, introduced her as “the world’s first digital supermodel,” but Rocha, wearing Co. & Co., her new ath-leisure line made with modern technological fabrics, said it wasn’t always that way.
“Early on in my career,” the model said, “I needed technology.” When she started working, models had two main seasons of popularity a year, so she used social media to have a voice by posting what she ate or how she looked in pajamas, she said. “They said to stop doing what I was doing, and to make everything a myth and a fantasy, and now those people are posting about their food, what they’re watching and the pajamas they wear.” From that point on, she said, she always wanted to study tech.
The model was joined on a panel by Google brand marketing manager Kate Parker and fashion technologist Madison Maxey, both of whom worked with Zac Posen on a Made with Code LED dress that Rocha wore at New York Fashion Week.
Rocha called out the fashion industry for being slow to change or adopt new ideas.“Fashion thinks it’s forward-thinking and changing, but we are wearing what our moms used to wear,” she said. “The newest idea that we ever had was mass production.”
She also didn’t cut the tech industry any slack. “For some reason, tech doesn’t think they need fashion,” she said. “Tech thinks fashion can be frivolous at times — and it can — but so can tech.”
Rocha worked with photographer Steven Sebring, who visited the festival earlier last week, to create a book called “Study of Pose” through an app that shows the entire pose in 360 degrees. She talked about taking that a step further with virtual reality in hopes to excite readers about modeling and fashion.
She called for more innovation in production, by suggesting that if 3-D printing allowed a way to create on-demand, one-off garments, it would recreate the luxurious experience of bespoke clothing that existed before mass-production became the standard. “We all want to look unique,” she said. “Mass production works, but we all want to personalize what we wear — we want a story behind it — and that’s where tech can help us out.”
She also downplayed the perceived glamour and exclusivity of the fashion industry, saying that even though she’s a model, she’s also a mom and she watches great T.V. shows and wears pajamas. “We need to change the narrative, so if you’re a scientist or an engineer, all of that can be amazing,” she said. “Why aren’t we watching the tech awards just as we are watching the Oscars? Why can’t Elon Musk be as cool as Alexander Wang, or Bill Gates as cool as Karl Lagerfeld?”