Last week I ventured out of the office to gain some insight into the world of fashion, here is a snapshot of my day:
First stop: The Isabella Blow exhibition at Somerset House.
Isabella Blow was an eccentric English aristocrat whose influence launched the careers of Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. The exhibition paid homage to Blow’s love of outlandish creativity and displayed key collections from throughout both designer’s careers.
What became apparent to me as I wandered around was the importance of the surrounding environment on how we perceive clothing. Blow herself is filmed saying:
‘The great fashion shows are ones that place the viewers into an immersive creative environment- a situation where music, smell, set and sound come together with the clothes to deliver a forceful new idea’.
Clothing doesn’t communicate a message on it’s own, the environment it’s in plays a big part too. Designers recognise this and so when showcasing their collections they think about the entire experience.
Wondering whether this was a theme that ran throughout the fashion world I headed to Oxford Street to explore the retail environments there.
Second stop: Topshop
In Topshop I was hit by an explosion of colours, shapes, sounds and smells, there were clothes everywhere.
Topshop is an accessible clothing brand, it’s designed for the mass market and this is reflected in the retail environment. Their mass way of displaying clothes with every rail and wall packed communicates the low value of these clothes both in price and prestigeThere isn’t a feeling that any particular piece of clothing is important and so Topshop’s strategy is to throw everything at the shopper and hope something sticks. They ensure shoppers stay with them for as long as possible by building an environment that uses mirrors, geometric patterns and angled perspex to confuse and disorientate. Shoppers lose their bearings and forget the time walking past the same clothing displays several times. This all increases the likelihood of a purchase being made.
Third stop: Selfridges
As I pushed open the heavy glass doors and stepped out on to the second floor I knew I was somewhere special. Looking around the designer clothing floor it was difficult to work out whether I was in a museum or a shop. Open spaces, marble floors and roman columns all created a sense of importance and a feeling that you must act respectfully. The noise from outside fades away and the sounds of other shoppers feels muted.
Whereas Topshop displays more Selfridges displays less, only a handful of clothes and bags scatter the rails. Everything seems carefully selected and clothes feel high in value even before you’ve looked at the price tag. The retail experience seems carefully crafted and this carries on into the clothes. You feel as though every item is worth looking at.
Each designer has created their own tailored space with a signature look that communicates something about how the brand identifies. Whilst Louis Vuitton’s space looks like an opulent French living room, Tom Ford’s space is contemporary and minimal. Each designer's clothing would feel very different if the aesthetic they were placed in changed.
All in all fashion isn’t just about clothing it’s about context too. A white t-shirt is a white t-shirt but the difference between two is the context in which they are sold, this context strategically thought through by the brand. Fashion is more than a piece of clothing, it’s the entire experience.
I’m nine years old, walking down a dimly lit corridor towards our family hotel room. Opposite our room, another door is ajar. Intrigued, I peak inside… and there he lies: naked. Limp. Lifeless. I’d only ever seen him with a fist shoved up his arse. Now there was no fist in sight – just big, dead eyes and green feathers: Orville the Duck.
That evening forever changed the way I looked at Saturday-night television.
And thus I am shoehorning a true, but unrelated, story into a parable about what makes good advertising.
I’m even giving this parable its own phrase: "De-fisting the Orville" – when an ad radically and permanently changes how you perceived the product/brand.
Jaguar: Most enjoyable. Our car manufacturing industry has taken an almighty hammering over the years, to the extent that we don’t really have one. But this is big, bold and leaves Arthur Daley’s XJ6 spluttering dust. With hands firmly on the wheel, it handbrake-turns my perception of Jaguar. Orville’s arse is firmly plugged and locked in the boot.
Nissan: Super-dramatic, great to look at, no bad thing. But then, all this drama, all this suspense and you look at the car and it kills it. It’s like shooting the sex scene in Out Of Sight with J-Lo but, instead of cutting to Clooney, we get Ken Dodd fiddling with his tickling stick (sorry, I’m stuck in the 80s). Tough, I know – what are you supposed to do? But there must be a balance of hyperbole that doesn’t leave you wishing it was a different car. It just doesn’t fit. Unlike Chris Hoy’s triumphant fist in the air, snug as a bug in an Orville.
Virgin Holidays: Simple, cheeky and quickly makes the point. But, looking at some of the comments online (which I doubt I would have done if not reviewing), it has caused a bit of a stink. "Thoughtless to skin cancer victims." Well, to me, it seemed obviously a gag, making fun of, not condoning, the behaviour. If anything, I’d have probably sun-blocked the (now mandatory) hashtag but, apart from that, Orville will have to make do with just a couple of fingers.
Sainsbury’s: I think Luke Chadwick was as good as, if not a better player than, Beckham. But imagine Chadders in the Calvin Klein ad or driving the Olympic speedboat. Ruins the lot, doesn’t it. Looks, you see, transcend everything: talent, even speech. But Beckham is a national treasure, and he don’t half work hard. So this ad just feels like another one of Beckham’s hobbies. And now he has a new one: fisting Orville so hard, he looks like a new tattoo.
BBC: Over the years, it seems we’ve all preferred the sequel. Bigger budgets, bigger bad guys. This piece, while it doesn’t move me as much as I want it to, does, without doubt, make me look forward to realising just how much we owe and how lucky we are to be living in this era. Wouldn’t you agree, Orville? "Yes, Dave… I wuv you." I really love you too, Orvy. Xx
We like to make our own development tools to improve our workflow wherever we can. Every now and then we think a particular tool is neat and universal enough to throw open to the open source community. DPLOY is the latest. It streamlines the act of deploying code from a Git repo to a live server, only updating modified files. It speeds things up and reduces error. Feel free to use and contribute.
Last night I went to a talk on the theme 'satire'. A stand out speaker was the comedian/artist - Miriam Elia. She joked about being raised by two artists and was called untitled at the age of 10, then untitled with tits at 13. Her recent kickstarter funded book 'We go to the gallery' is fantastic:
This is Valve's new Steam Controller. They've done away with the two little levers controllers have had for what, decades now? and replaced them with two track pads for "higher fidelity input" which sounds like a step in the right direction. After all, laptops had funny little knobby levers that were replaced with trackpads almost straight away, while gamepads have held onto their joysticks for a very long time.
What I find more interesting though is the haptic feedback element. Not the usual rumble pack motor, which is really just a motor with a wonky bit of metal hanging off the axle, but "dual linear resonant actuators" which can create a multitude of vibrations that will be able to give "in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations".
This is in a similar vein to the work being done by US firm Tangible Haptics, who are using "haptic illusions" create the feeling of solid, textured interface elements on glass screens. Last time I spoke to them they were experimenting with vibrations, but also inducing sensation in the fingertips with electromagnetic fields.
Haptic interface from Tangible Haptics/University of illinois.
Haptic interfaces are entering the commercial world and any day now your mobile will have a haptic screen. Soon we'll have a whole new channel to fiddle about with. So what will haptic design be like? We can perceive things changing around 50 times per second with our eyes, but hundreds of times per second with our fingertips. Will there be such a thing as haptic animation and will it have a faster frame rate than visual animation? Will we be able to impart more info through our fingers than we ever could through our eyes? Will we have haptic designers like we have graphic designers? And most of all, when will I be making Hapvertising?