Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for Fashion

Fashion, Taste & the Aspirational Class

How do you demonstrate your taste? In modern consumer society, there are myriad ways to project our interests, our attitudes, and our values into the world. It’s not just a matter of wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt (which speaks volumes) — we send a constant stream of subtle signals that situate us within society. With the rise of social media, we orchestrate the projection of our class, race, gender and age not only in the office and at the gym, but in digital space as well. Some people try to duplicate their offline identity online; others create entirely different personas that free them from the constraints of their physical life.

In this Facebook Live session, produced by the University of Southern California, I have a conversation with Professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett about social media, fashion, taste and her new book, The Sum of Small Things: a Theory of the Aspirational Class. Professor Currid-Halkett explores a profound shift away from “conspicuous consumption” (wearing giant logos) to “inconspicuous consumption” (buying heirloom tomatoes) and “conspicuous production” (pour-over coffee). We discuss the causes of this sea change (the fast fashion industry is one factor) and the impact it’s had on the fashion industry, which struggles to provide its customers the products they need to curate their own social identity.

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Design Patents & the Future of Fashion

 

I had to attend the Struktur conference vicariously this year, but I had the great fortune of attending this creative summit for active, outdoor and urban design last year. The organizers had approached me because of my TED.com talk on the lack of copyright protection in the fashion industry. It turned out that the active wear industry was facing a potential sea change. The news was getting out that Lululemon was aggressively pursuing design patents for their designs, effectively installing barbed wire around previous open pasture in the design community. The Struktur community wanted to know: what the hell is a design patent, anyway, and should I be getting some of them, too?

Once I knew this, It took me about zero seconds to agree to give a talk on the topic (here’s the video). I’ve been impatiently monitoring the wearable technology sector for many years now, where I see a very exciting (and lucrative) future for apparel designers. One key reason: fashion designers may not have copyright protection – which means they don’t own their designs – but they are eligible for patent protection if they can inject some unique utility into their design.

I can’t believe how long it’s taken for high-end fashion designers to get into the wearable tech game. But slowly and surely, it’s finally happening. The wearable-electronics market reached $8 billion in sales in 2014, and is expected to hit $20 billion by 2017, according to research firm Futuresource Consulting. I expect the sector to explode once customers realize that they should be getting tremendous utility value with their clothes – not just cute looks.

Editorial about wearable tech tends to be pretty snarky, but even cynical reporters are starting to warm to the idea. Athos now offers workout capris that alert you to your workout targets and tell you whether you’re favoring one leg over the other, which can lead to injury and inadequate work outs.

Emel + Aris have created a luscious cashmere wrap that’s actually a toasty electric blanket. Iris Apfel, icon of all who hope to age in grand style, has developed WiseWear cuffs that can send a message to an emergency contact if you should get in trouble. And while I’m no fan of Ralph Lauren, the Ricky bag is kind of genius, with its built in phone charger and LED lights that switch on when you open the bag.

So all of these contraptions are eligible for utility patents, which cover inventions that are novel, useful and non-obvious. So what is a design patent? Read the rest of this entry »

Fashioning the Future

Peripheral

When I saw a recent piece about success implanting a worm’s brain into a Lego robot, I immediately thought of William Gibson’s most recent novel, The Peripheral.  Placed simultaneously in the near future and another one 70 years further away, characters traverse the time gap dropping into low-fi or high-fi versions of that Lego robot.

I’ve always enjoyed Gibson’s obvious interest in the ironies that emerge when physical bodies blend into virtual realities. Gibson’s brand of virtual reality is never disengaged from a suffering body. A common complaint among characters in The Peripheral, and his earlier novel Pattern Recognition, is jet lag. One of the many clever conceits in The Peripheral is that traveling back or forward in time, to another point on the space/time continuum, can only be done in real time, in different time zones, in a persistent world ticking its way to different versions of the future.

In Gibson’s cyberpunk extrapolations, technologies that seem miraculous in our present moment always reflect the inconvenient limits of human capacity. In the distant future of The Peripheral, the supercomputer that allows the wealthiest hobbyists to fiddle with people’s real lives in the past is of unknown provenance. No one seems to know how it works or who created it, though everyone presumes it’s Chinese.

Likewise no one knows how an extremely powerful predictive algorithm that aids police in preventing crimes works – apparently because it’s self-taught and no one kept track of its accumulation of datasets. When “the Aunties,” as the system is called, makes a prediction, it has the taint of mindless unscientific human gossip. It’s the gut instinct gone hyperdigital. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve Been Upworthied!

upworthy

I just found out my TED.com talk on fashion and copyright was deemed Upworthy. As you probably know, Upworthy is a crafty outfit that goes to great lengths to increase viewership of video content that serves some kind of socially progressive purpose. Part of their process includes generating multiple potential headlines and photos, and testing the different combinations on different platforms to see which combos attract the most views.

Of course it’s fascinating to me to see what they decided worked best for my video:

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I must say, it never occurred to me that my argument was something “hippies” would love, but there ya go!

I’ve been following Upworthy’s progress for the last two and half years, and I was especially excited to hear about how they are developing new metrics for assessing how people are engaging with the media they’re promoting. Uniques? Nah. Time on site? Nope! Their latest focus? Attention Minutes, which they define here:

Attention Minutes measures everything from video player signals about whether a video is currently playing to a user’s mouse movements to which browser tab is currently open — all to determine whether the user is still engaged. The result is a fine-grained and unforgiving metric that tells us whether people are really engaged with our content or have moved on to the next thing.

At the Norman Lear Center, where I’m managing director, we have been studying the “Attention Economy” for several years, and now with our Media Impact Project, we have the opportunity to develop tools that accurately measure human attention. Needless to say, there’s a great deal of debate about how this might be done and so we invited several experts in the field — including Daniel Mintz from Upworthy — to debate the topic on our new website, The Fray. Launched with a skeptical piece by Richard Tofel from ProPublica, we solicited responses from ChartBeat, LunaMetrics, the Financial Times, Parse.ly and Columbia University.

This is not a debate that’s going to be settled any time soon, but I sure hope I find out whether my little video turns out to be must-see-TV for hippies.

 

Inspecting Indian Vogue

VogueIndiaCover

As I was shedding my last bunch of rupees at Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi, I quickly snagged a copy of Vogue India to read on the plane. I was curious to see how different it felt from the American version, especially after spending two weeks crisscrossing Northern India.

One thing I’d been warned about before arriving is that women on the street do not – I mean DO NOT – wear the kind of revealing clothing that you see in Bollywood films. Head to toe covering is the standard; even short sleeves are pretty rare. Even when it’s hot. Scorching hot.

Billboards and TV ads in India reflect the bodacious Bollywood ideal, but I can’t recall seeing anybody dress like that in even the glitziest restaurants and hotels in Delhi.

Much of the recommended clothing in the editorial portions of the magazine also defied street conventions, including shorts, short skirts, form-fitting or whisper thin dresses (a big no no, I was told), and long skirts (OK) with equally long slits (absolutely not OK). There was also a gorgeous swim suit spread, but I had to wonder: where in India could they be worn? As far as I could tell, Western-style hotel swimming pools would be the only acceptable place.

Similar to American Vogue, the Indian version featured profiles of successful women, including a comedienne, a radical novelist, and a slough of Indian art collectors in Dubai. The issue had a very global feel – it was, for instance, the first place I glimpsed Adidas’ fresh new World Cup garment collection, which they concocted in collaboration with The Farm Brand, a Brazilian fashion label.

I wasn’t surprised by the insane number of jewelry ads; women in India are often not allowed to have bank accounts or real estate assets, but the jewelry is often all theirs (check out this NPR piece about Indian women’s obsession with gold). Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion & Originality on the TED Radio Hour

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Guy Raz interviewed me about the culture of copying in the fashion industry in what he called “maybe our best show ever.” During the TED Radio Hour, we discussed the cult of originality and the fashion industry’s constant creative incursions into the archives of fashion. The show also includes Steven Johnson on where ideas come from; Mark Ronson on sampling in the music industry and Kirby Ferguson on the ubiquity of remixing. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Imagining the Future of 3D Printing at Fractal

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Ever since I started doing research on fashion design and copyright, I’ve been tracking the progress of 3D printing technology. The disruptive possibilities of this technology are abundantly clear in the fashion sector, and so I was thrilled to receive an invitation to attend fractal, a very unique conference in Medellin Colombia, where a diverse group of experts was asked to facilitate conversations about 3D printing, synthetic biology and other bleeding edge topics.

Hoping to shake-up the typical conference format, the instigators behind fractal – the intrepid Viviana Trujillo and Hernan Ortiz – decided to invite the audience to use “design fiction” to spin stories of the future that would reveal the key social, cultural, political and ethical quandaries that accompany the adoption of new technologies. The facilitators were a fascinating group: Reshma Shetty , an MIT-trained synthetic biologist; acclaimed artist and director Keiichi Matsuda, whose augmented reality installations have been featured at MOMA and the V&A, and Paul Graham Raven, a speculative fiction practitioner who uses narrative to solve engineering problems in the UK.

In addition to telling stories about how homes might be made out of living things and how augmented reality applications will fundamentally change the contours of our self-presentation to the world, we tackled the topic of 3D printing. Read the rest of this entry »