Way back in the last century, when Apple’s Mac was first unveiled, computer engineers and other serious computer folk pooh-poohed the new machine as being closer to a fashion statement than to a real, you know, computational tool. With Apple having proved in the last 30 years that it has some actual computing chops, there’s a certain completing-the-circle about the news that the company has now hired the former CEO of the Yves Saint Laurent brand.
Apple has only said that Paul Deneve, newly appointed as vice president, will be involved in “special projects.” Besides the Yves Saint Laurent high-end line, his previous experience includes heading up two other fashion brands, Nina Vicci and Lanvin, and his work in the mid-1990s in sales and marketing for Apple in Europe. Many observers are suggesting that, while he could play a role in guiding Apple’s retail stores, since the top position overseeing that division is currently unfilled, his key value may be in helping to make an upcoming line of iWatches, and possibly other wearables, more desirable as premium fashion statements.
Apple may well need to distinguish a line of iWatches by their high style and premium pricing, as it has done before with its groundbreaking Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. With Samsung and others reportedly also gearing up to make your wrist into the newest platform, and independent lines like Pebble’s Smartwatch emerging, Apple may need to do something to distinguish itself from the crowd.
Which raises the question of whether fashion will soon become the key differentiator for consumer products, especially mobile ones. After all, are there any major new breakthroughs left for the smartphone? Similarly, won’t all smart watches or Google Glass-clones soon match features, just as smartphones have done?
Arguably, we are now in the post-feature age of many consumer devices, when style and cachet take center stage.
But perhaps Deneve’s hiring is an indication that Apple, a computer company that also became a music and phone company, now wants to continue along its transformational path toward even greater triumphs of style.
Imagine Apple-branded, luminous bracelets, for men as well as women, that have near-field communication for credit card transactions, or that light up to indicate the relationship status of those nearby. Perhaps feathered hats with heads-up displays on their pull-down visors, or contact lenses that show your smartphone’s screen. Crystal wine glasses that, at a crowded party, become temporarily branded by your fingerprints, or high-end frames for art works that, knowing what you like, display your favorite Impressionist when you approach and switch to Walker Evans photos when your photo-hobbyist brother gets near.
Of course, one could make the case that Apple’s biggest contribution to the style of computing has been to make them elegantly simpler to use. And that’s a fashion goal for which many computing devices still strive.
Photo courtesy of Yana Zastoiskaya (Shutterstock)