FLORENCE — Alber Elbaz is hoping that sharing the experience of being a speaker at the same conference with David Lauren will finally help him get a table at the ever fully booked Ralph Lauren restaurant in Paris.
This was only one of the several jokes by Lanvin’s artistic director on the second day of the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference here Thursday.
Responding to whether computers will ever replace the creative mind of a fashion designer, Elbaz peppered his speech with his own difficult brush with technology. Here, a few of his anecdotes and stories:
—Referring to the wearable high-tech T-shirt that Lauren, executive vice president of global advertising, marketing and corporate communications at Ralph Lauren Corp., was wearing to illustrate his heartbeat, Elbaz said: “I would spend half of my time in the emergency room if I were wearing that.”
—“I was recently at a garden party in Dubai meant for 200 clients and 400 showed up, and 387 selfies [were taken] in three hours. Out of 387 people, statistically 5 percent have the flu. I am a hypochondriac…”
—“I stayed in this 17th century hotel with a modern smart room. It took me 30 minutes just to figure out how to switch off the lights, and then I couldn’t sleep.”
—“Flying here, I was offered a ‘smart chair’ in first class, and the hostess said I would be able to navigate. Navigate? Just let the pilot take us there. [Grimacing, he mimicked his inability to reach the control panel lying down.] I couldn’t eat, although I was hungry [because he couldn’t move his seat]. I did what the chair wanted me to.”
—“You can’t buy a new phone if you don’t have a Ph.D. at Stanford or if you are not 16 and a half. The smarter the phone, the more stupid I feel. I would like a simple phone so I would feel smart.”
—“A year ago, we used a smart, breathing fabric. It cost double and the sewing machines destroyed it. The seamstresses used gloves because they couldn’t hold it. It took five days of work when it usually takes two. Innovation doesn’t always work. But it is important to be part of and continue innovation. [Steve] Jobs was a genius man. The iPad changed my life, with its simplicity of design and function. The beauty of simplicity…”
—“The less we know the more we dream and fly.”
—“Maybe computers are too precise, they never fear, have no doubt or uncertainty, but no intuitions, either. Machines have no heart. I asked [my computer] if it loved me but had no answer. We must train people to think small again. Big is not always good—I know…”
—“We are realizing that jewelry is the next big thing. I wanted to design jewelry at one point. The iWatch is wonderful, the most functional jewel and unisex and you can wear it all the time. At a recent Azzedine [Alaia] party our industry looked tired, confused, stressed and anxious and the Apple boys sexy and glamorous, having fun. How come technology took over the glamor of fashion? The fashion industry is more like a family, dysfunctional, too. We create dreams with simple things, love, caring, seamstress and the fabric.”
—“It’s a very visual world, today. One must be photogenic. If I started now, I would have no career [referring to social media and how hooked on Instagram he is].”
—“We should not be afraid of changes, but celebrate tradition and heritage, designers combine yesterday and tomorrow, tradition and newness.”
—“Thank you Mr. Arnault for bringing back the dream again [referring to a WWD story last week in which LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief executive officer Bernard Arnault praised creativity versus marketing] in an industry of needs and marketing. We don’t work with calculators, we need dreams. We anticipate what we’ll need tomorrow.”
Down a different road, earlier that morning David Lauren talked about “merchantainment,” highlighting how the Ralph Lauren company “tells stories in a cinematic way to create a dream,” using digital media to recount those tales. He walked the audience through the brand’s technological innovations, showing, for example, images of the 24-hour-shoppable window, the shoppable fashion show for Rugby, the “Dog Walk” film focused on shoes and handbags, or the making of the recent and remarkable Central Park show with holograms, and illustrated the benefits of wearable technology. Lauren underscored the need for “real use, not for the sake of technology,” of a “seamlessly authentic” experience, employing technology “in an original way and use when appropriate.” He admitted “merchantainment” has brought attention to the brand, stirring the imagination.
Responding to a question about the possibility of expanding the label’s lifestyle idea to spas or hotels, Lauren said: “Sounds great, we’ve explored and talked about it. If the moment is right, with the right partner, we’d love to do it, but now we are focused on building the brand.” Asked about the Apple watch, he noted that people still don’t know how it works, and that it’s a status symbol. “But it’s great, I am open to newness, and what it can do.”
Designer Iris van Herpen, whose work is to be on display in an upcoming exhibition in Atlanta, said she does “not think technology will take the place of craftsmanship, but they will come together.” Van Herpen, who has collaborated with artists, biologists and scientists on her collections, “growing clothes in tubes,” working with magnetic fields, and setting clothes on fire, said she just started with robotics. “In fashion, people see technology as a marketing tool, but there is more,” she said. “The original crafts will remain, but there will be new methods of manufacturing…3-D printing will not become clothing, but it will be great for creating a structure.”
Isabelle Harvie-Watt, global ceo of Havas Luxhub and ceo of Havas Media Group Italy, said “cracking the digital code is a matter of survival. Digital technology can turn the industry upside down. We must think like disrupters, we need to believe this is the future, think like a platform to facilitate interaction between buyer and seller for a seamless experience. Technology is not an afterthought.” She urged companies to be customer-centric and to know their customer.
Francesco Bottigliero, ceo of FieraDigitale and e-Pitti.com, said that the digital platform for the Florence-based trade shows organized by Pitti Immagine is “a business tool. We don’t want to cannibalize the fairs, but technology empowers from a business standpoint. Digital is here to stay, but we must find a good balance between digital and real life. One size does not fit all, so choose your own strategy.”
Against photos in the background of celebrities he calls his friends, from Miley Cyrus to Katy Perry and Rihanna, designer Jeremy Scott underscored that the relevance of social media and his connection to those pop icons was “organic” and natural. About his colorful and quirky sense of style, which has helped rejuvenate the Moschino brand, Scott said that he just makes clothes that he wants to wear himself, or that his friends would wear. “Fashion was homogeneous, it made me sad. I could be fired for saying this, but I don’t care if the clothes sell, I do, if they touch people’s souls,” he said.
Jonathan Anderson conceded that he did not think his success would have been so quick in another time, without social media, for example, that helped “bypass huge doors,” but also said this was an organic development. Outlining his personal connection to his homeland, Northern Ireland, he said her was “very good at storytelling. I use the Internet as my diary, I never gain inspiration from it. It’s a platform to put information on. I design the collection in four days on the body, technology is another matter.”