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Will the Apple Watch win over the fashion industry?

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Fashion |OPINION

The Apple Watch may already have the support of millions of Apple fans around the world, as well as wearable technology enthusiasts and electronic lovers in general, but in order to truly become the first mainstream smartwatch, the Californian-based computer firm will have to win over an even bigger market - the fashion market.

Monday evening marked Apple's 'Spring Forward' event, during which CEO Tim Cook revealed new details regarding the sale of the smartwatch, which will hit selected stores including Selfridges, Galeries Lafayette, Dover Street Market, Colette and Maxfield by late April. The much debated watch will launch for pre-sale on April 10 and will be shipped to the US, the UK, France, Japan and Canada from April 24. Cook is confident the smartwatch will sell well, although opinions on the popularity of the watch and if it has the appeal to become the ultimate fashion accessory remains divided.

Luxury department stores to offer the Apple Watch

A number of department stores seem to have already been convinced of the pulling power of the Apple Watch and will house custom made shop-in-shops for the wearable. The Apple Watch will be on display for preview from April 10 at Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Isetan in Tokyo and Selfridges in London, according to WWD, with the latter putting the smartwatch in the center of its Wonder Room. Not much is known about the custom concession stands, expect that the watches will be displayed on specialised tables and specially trained assistants will be on hand to help customers 'discover' the Apple Watch and set the watch to whatever settings are needed.

"The experience of shopping for an Apple Watch is a deeply personal one. The department stores and speciality stores that we're working with are some of the best in the world at offering such experiences, so it was natural for us to see our product there," said Paul Deneve, Apple’s vice president of special projects, who joined the team at Apple after working for a number of fashion houses, including Nina Ricci, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent. "Given the very focused distribution that we've pursued for this launch, every door that sells Apple Watch will provide a unique experience for every customer that walks in."

Apple has been not-so-quietly hiring some of the fashion industry's top executives over the past few months in preparation for the Apple Watch launch, with the most recent being Angela Ahrendt, former CEO at luxury heritage label Burberry. Their connections undoubtedly came in handy when it was time to introduce the smartwatch to the fashion masses, which has rapidly attracted critic in regards to its fashion appeal and value. It is clear that Apple has been trying to soften the industry for the smartwatch's launch over the past few months, first by holding an exclusive event at Colette's in Paris last year, when the creme de la crop of the industry were able to try out the watch for the first time and later hosting a dinner for luxury retailers and fashion editorial elite at the headquarters of Azzedine Alaïa.

The tech firm already succeeded in getting the smartwatch on the cover of one of the industry's top consumer magazines, Vogue China last October, when top model Liu Wen wore one for an editorial shoot and most recently landed a 12 page advertising spread in Vogue US, which featured all three versions of the timepiece. Apple even managed to tap one of the industry's top models, Christy Turlington, to act as advocate of the smartwatch and was present during Apple's event on Monday to share her experiences of using the Apple Watch in preparation for a marathon. Using these means, Apple aims to leverage its smartwatch as not only the latest technical gadget in the market, but also as a fashionable icon for personal expression, something meant to be seen whilst worn.

Fashion industry's opinion of the smartwatch spilt

Whilst influential magazines such as Vogue and Sports Illustrated show their support of the Apple Watch by placing it on their covers, and Women's Wear Daily boldly states "the fashion retail world is getting firmly behind it," other market sources claim that not everyone in the industry is sold by the alluring promise of the smartwatch. Thomson Reuters reported that "Apple's watch hasn't impressed the fashion world," with emerging model Julia van Os dismissing the importance of the watch in an interview after parading the catwalk for Stella McCartney during Paris Fashion Week. "I haven't heard anyone talking about it," revealed the Dutch model. "It’s a different world, it’s more technology rather than fashion. People don’t wear that kind of watch in fashion." A salesman Printemps went on to explain why the luxury department store, which carries timepiece brands such as Rolex, Montblanc and Longines, won't be offering the watch: "You have to understands. We are luxury brands, and [the Apple Watch is] more technology."

Other department stores such as Saks 5th Avenue, Macy's, Bloomingdales and Barney's all claim to not have any immediate plans to offer the smartwatch. Target and Nordstrom, along with other main phone providers declined to comment on their plans regarding the watch, although one source claims that Apple is in talked with Nordstrom. "Apple is being cautious," warned Van Baker, research vice-president, technology research firm Gartner Inc. "There are too many unknowns around how this product will perform." Luxury consultant Robert Burke, who is based in New York but currently is in Paris for fashion week believes that the smartwatch "hasn't resonated strongly" in the fashion industry. "Apple has notably been targeting the fashion world leading up to its launch, but the watch still has an inherently tech focused sensibility."

"The tech world and the watch world are very different," he added. "While there’s certainly a novelty and attraction to the [Apple Watch], so far it has appealed more so to the early tech adopters." However, he does acknowledge Apple's continued fashion focused strategy may eventually pay off. "Their message to the fashion world has definitely become more focused over the past few weeks. It's evident that they've been fine tuning their strategy. The buzz is starting to build again." Fashion trend-spotter Roseanne Morrison of the Tobe Report told Reuters believed that the smartwatchs design could also pose a drawback for potential buyers. "It is not attractive from a woman's point of view. Right now, it is not sexy,” she said, adding that it lacks "a femme spin." Morrison highlights that the Apple Watch's need for a nightly charge and accompanying iPhone for us may also be a drawback for some buyers, although Nicole Phelps, executive editor at Style.com counters her argument, stating that the "fashion industry is 100 percent in love with the iPhone."

Another issue which may ruffle a few feathers is the price point for the Apple Watch. The Sport Edition, made of anodized aluminium and available in silver and gray space, will retail for 349 dollars or 299 pounds for the 38 mm size and 399 dollars or 339 pounds for the 42 mm edition. The mid-tier Watch Edition, which comes in stainless steel with 3 choices of bands made from different material, will retail for 549 dollars or 479 pounds up to 1,099 dollars or 949 pounds. Then the most luxurious version, Watch Edition, available in 18-carat yellow or rose gold retail price starts at 10,000 dollars or 8,000 pounds and goes up to 17,000 dollars or 12,000 pounds. Although some may think little of spending a few thousand pounds on a designer handbag or shoes, the question remains if fashion lovers will be pursued to spend the same or more on a smartwatch, which could be outdated and replaced by a newer model, judging by Apple's track record, in just a year's time?

Apple Watch
Fashion Industry
Wearable Technology