Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt is thinking about fashion, being cool and how artificial intelligence can help brands connect the two.
The billionaire, who’s on Tory Burch’s advisory board and was front-row at the designer’s spring show Tuesday, told WWD that computers are getting closer to helping fashion make better decisions.
This story first appeared in the September 16, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“What is the trend in fashion? More and more product, it’s more and more confusing with faster product cycles,” Schmidt said before the show. “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a solution which said, ‘Well, we’ve sort of modeled this and this is where things are going and this is the emergent stuff.’ And so it would make sense. It would make you smarter, it wouldn’t replace you.”
Schmidt, who has also invested in retail tech and mobile commerce, imagined computers with artificial intelligence being able to take a picture of a dress and tell a brand whether it was going to be cool or not.
“There’s a science around cool,” he said. “And the science is that cool people move and then everyone else moves. If you could model that and if you could figure that out, that would help you because then you’d have a jump and you’d say, ‘I know that the cool people tomorrow are going to do this’ and you’re going to be ahead of things. I’m suggesting that it should be possible for computers to help that process because computers sort of see activity.”
Schmidt said the music industry lent itself to this sort of thing more immediately since the music business is more measurable, but added that the same was probably true for fashion.
He was careful to say that he was talking about “observation, not causality.”
How to actually make something cool remains a mystery apparently.
As for his work at Tory Burch, he said: “My contribution is more structural. I have no taste in fashion, but I understand how companies work. Their Web site is very, very strong and the other thing, that Roger [Farah, co-chief executive officer] did is, he’s got the infrastructure running very well. One of the ways you can screw these businesses up is you can sort of run out of cash. Inventory management, it’s because the collections turn over so quickly. To me, that’s what’s interesting.”
Farah brought the operational expertise that helped make Ralph Lauren a powerhouse to Tory Burch a year ago. At the time, Farah said: “This company has the ability to look long-term in how they build the brand globally and how they make decisions. They’re extraordinarily well-financed and have tremendous cash flows that allow reinvestments and good ideas.”
Lately, the brand has been investing in one particular idea — Tory Sport, which was introduced this week and includes apparel, bags, shoes and accessories.
The sport line’s retro-chic vibe flows from Burch, not a computer.
At least not yet.