Gucci x Oura Ring.
Gucci x Oura Ring.
Image: Gucci

Technology and cloth have been intertwined since the dawn of humankind. But it was the Industrial Revolution — the transformation of an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing — and later chemical and biological innovation that took what we wear to levels that are almost beyond recognition.

What constitutes clothing has progressed from poly-fabric blends to World War 1 utility, from colour-changing cloth to the digital roam of internet-connected wearable computing. The birth of non-fungible token-infused accessories, smart rings and hearing aids with artificial intelligence is unsurprisingly married to the Cold War dystopia of 1984, the gadgets of James Bond and a dash of Italian fashion.

Clothing and technology have never been more connected than in 2022; whether on earth, in code, or within the meta-madness of our modern civilisation. The internet age has led to avatars sporting Thom Browne, video game characters reselling Gucci purses and virtual Balenciaga collections for more than their real-life counterparts; NFT shoes evoke Nike’s pervasive might. Technology is now physically embedded within our fashion, from thread to finish.

Inventory-tracking technologies such as radio frequency identification tags and near-field communication chips are employed to assist online retailers such as Shien fulfil orders and track their 10,000 daily average product releases. Prada is adding chips to all its products that enable customers to track the item’s history, ownership and authenticity. Tommy Hilfiger introduced a Pokemon Go-esque chip to its clothing in 2018 that tracks a user’s movements and loyalty to the brand.


Yet technology in an increasingly reactionary world raise more questions than the problems it is supposed to solve. Satellite tracking, open Wi-Fi, limitations on free speech and movement and government sanctions already monitor and even restrict privacy.


In 2020, Louis Vuitton showcased the world’s first handbags with fully flexible displays with Royole flexible sensor technology

Far from the jackets of yesteryear that incorporated analogue tech to make life easier with features such as built in goggles or ski-masks for casual debauchery, wearable tech now builds a database of all the intricacies of our identity, personality, routines and health. The smart phone in our pocket can be paired with smartwatches, rings, glasses or jewellery to allow us to be fully reflected in a utopia of personal understanding or an all-knowing dystopia.

THE PAST

Massimo Osti, the iconic fashion designer and arguably the king of sportswear, was greatly inspired by military wear and his innovations in textiles, technology and design reflect that. Four of his most influential pieces, the CP Company Mille Miglia Jacket, Stone Island’s Liquid Reflective Jacket and Ice Jacket with his Levi’s ICD parka are the grandfathers of wearable tech.


CP Company 1988.
CP Company 1988.
Image: Supplied

CP Company sponsored the infamous Mille Miglia car race in 1988 and his recent design incorporated goggles built into the hood with a watch viewer lens on the cuff for the ultimate versatility in any adventure situation.

The Ice Jacket was introduced in the same year for Stone Island which has a thermos-chromatic coating comprising heat-sensitive molecules which morph light and change colour in response to temperature fluctuations.

In 1991 the Liquid Reflective Jacket was developed by hand-spraying thousands of micro glass balls onto finished garments which were then oven-dried. The result is an extremely reflective jacket which allows the wearer to be hidden from flash photography and some CCTV formats.


Massimo Osti for Levi's ICD+.
Massimo Osti for Levi's ICD+.
Image: Supplied

In the 2000s commuters listened to music on a MP3 player or a Walkman while their tiny cellphones were limited to phone calls and texting. The Levi’s Industrial Clothing Division by Levi’s and Massimo Osti brought Philips on board to create an integrated system of wearable electronics. The waterproof khaki parka came equipped with a “Body Area Network”: a series wires and a control panel that could be connected to the included phone and MP3 player.

THE PRESENT 

Osti’s innovations, and his brand’s appropriation by antisocial groups, signalled a significant development in intuitive design and the use of clothing in our navigation of the world. Contemporary society has welcomed Big Brother into our wearable technology. Fashion brands have notoriously lent their sartorial flair to phones such as the Dolce & Gabbana Motorola, the Hugo Boss or Thom Browne Samsung, Prada LG and Moschino’s Honor; the ever growing love-child of tech and fashion is here to stay.


Tommy Hilfiger Solar.
Tommy Hilfiger Solar.
Image: Supplied

In 2014 Tommy Hilfiger launched a limited-edition jacket with a row of solar panels on the back which charge a power source, enabling any USB device to be charged. A few years later the brand moved to more invasive clothing with the Tommy Jeans Xplore range of pants, tees and sweats embedded with a smart chip.


The clothing, once paired with an app, become a wearable iteration of Pokémon Go that benefited loyal wearers with concert and event tickets and discounts — providing a first, and unprecedented amount, of information to a manufacturer of the use of their clothes after sale.

The Mille Miglia jacket’s Plexiglas lenses were for protection, while the gorilla-glass goggles of the 21st century can transport users to a fully-realised 8k alternate reality with headsets such as the Oculus Rift and Google VR.


Louis Vuitton x Royole.
Louis Vuitton x Royole.
Image: Supplied

The Apple Watch Series 6 is the top-of-the-range smartwatch. Users can track their blood oxygen levels, ECG, health and fitness data and listen to music, all with an always-on display. Fashion brands such as Hermes and Nike have release collaborative Apple watches.


In 2020, Louis Vuitton showcased the world’s first handbags with fully flexible displays with Royole flexible sensor technology. The “Canvas of the Future” collection enabled users to create a number of digital design combinations and customise their bags to their itinerary or outfit.

Google and Saint Laurent collaborated last year to create a smart backpack. Multiple touch sensors in the strap mean the wearer can access and manipulate their smartphone without touching it.

The Ray-Ban Stories are spectacles released with Meta that signalled the company’s movement towards the metaverse. Available in numerous styles, such as the iconic Wayfarer, they have built-in cameras, audio and touch control. Users can record their point of view, control their smartphones and take calls.


Ray-Ban Stories Wayfarer.
Ray-Ban Stories Wayfarer.
Image: Supplied

The Oura ring, which has a premium Gucci version complete with monogramming and gold accents, tracks heart rate, sleeping pattern, activity and body stress signals and has seven research-grade temperature sensors.


Gucci x Oura.
Gucci x Oura.
Image: Supplied

THE FUTURE 

Moore’s Law dictates that as components get smaller; technology becomes quicker and more efficient. The future in wearable tech will soon shift from singular products to systems of sensors. Future innovations could be microscopic chips, thin films or computers implanted in the body, on jewellery or worn as a plaster. Wearables already use multiple data collectors, from phones and watches, to the Nike Fit+ tracker in shoe soles; the future will make this trend more encompassing, more invasive and more precise.

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