Silicon Valley on the style frontline

Headphones by Tinsel that can be worn as a necklace on show at the Silicon Valley Fashion Week?! in San Francisco.
Headphones by Tinsel that can be worn as a necklace on show at the Silicon Valley Fashion Week?! in San Francisco.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • At any given moment, it seems there is a fashion week happening somewhere in the world - be it Sydney, Istanbul, Dubai, Seoul, Moscow, Toronto, Copenhagen or Lagos (to name a few).

But the latest entrant may be the most surprising: Silicon Valley.

Or, as the organisers style it: Silicon Valley Fashion Week?!.

The punctuation marks as part of the title are a self-aware nod to the incongruity of marrying the location, known for its allegiance to hoodies, Tevas and T-shirts, to a fashion event.

But that does not mean they are any less serious about its potential.

The three-day annual event, which finished its second turn over the weekend in San Francisco, bills itself as "part fashion show, part variety show, part trade show" and is open to the public, unlike the usual fashion industry events. This year, about 30 brands were featured and tickets, at US$20 (S$28), sold out, with about 500 people attending each day.

It was staged by Betabrand, a San Francisco company that builds its clothing catalogue by crowdsourcing design ideas and, after seeing which take off, crowdfunding the production of the prototypes to see which ones people will actually want to buy. Examples include a "mind the gap" blouse that stretches to fit the body's contours and a dress that uses a trademarked reflective material.

The event exists at the nexus of Burning Man, wearable technology and the Maker Movement, home of inventors, designers and other do-it-yourself types. Pebble Smartwatch presented a Smarthole Hoodie, a standard hoodie design with sleeves that extend over the thumbs and have a movable panel around the wrist to make gaining access to the company's device easier; and Tinsel offered headphones that can be worn as a necklace.

Alison Lewis, who holds a design and technology master's degree from Parsons School of Design in New York, showed three items: a lambskin leather handbag embedded with LED bulbs that can be rearranged in different patterns with an app; a T-shirt that does the same; and a dress with lights that undulate with the wearer's heartbeat.

"Technology is a tool. It's how we use it that's really exciting," she said. "We could have less clothing in our closets and have pieces that change and work with our moods and personalities on a daily basis."

Lewis has not had a chance to present her work in other fashion shows and, so far, she has not been able to mass-produce her items. She commended the fashion week as a place to experiment.

She was not the only designer struggling with the challenge of manufacturing what she displayed.

However, as wearables increasingly enter mainstream fashion, with designers from Ralph Lauren to Zac Posen dipping their creative toes into technology, the idea of clothing patterns controlled by apps, of drone delivery, and of customisation that allows - maybe even asks - its wearers to make a choice each and every day, seems less far-fetched and more like fashion's possible future.

Which, unlikely as it may be, puts the Silicon Valley event on the style front line.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Silicon Valley on the style frontline'. Print Edition | Subscribe