Mentioning the word "technology" in connection with "fashion" will conjure up in the minds of many of us amazing and outlandish creations made with innovative systems, materials and techniques. Yet this is just one side of the fashion and technology connection.
In previous posts we have seen indeed how IBM's Watson cognitive system, traditionally employed in healthcare and medical research, collaborated with Marchesa designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig or was used by Condé Nast to help building social influencer campaigns for brands advertising with publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Three years ago the system was experimentally used to get data from social media feeds, advice from friends, moods, and previous outfit decisions to help people choose what clothes to wear, while brand The North Face launched a digital personal shopper fuelled by IBM's Watson platform that could provide consumers with advice about articles of clothing for their needs and travel plans.
Women's Wear Daily recently partnered with the system to make instead a study on the runway images from the latest edition of New York Fashion Week. The publication took into consideration 12 designers - Coach, Jonathan Simkhai, Delpozo, Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Brandon Maxwell, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Public School, Ralph Lauren, Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu and Dion Lee. Watson then analysed over 450 runway images from the A/W 2017 collections to determine the dominant colour palette for the season. The system took into consideration face, body, pose detection, and colour identification, in just one second per image.
There were interesting aspects in this study: the system was able to discern a palette that included Pantone colours Raisin Black, Pastel Brown, Pale Silver, Cedar Chest and Deep Koamaru among the others, but Watson also detected similarities in prints and patterns, spotting comparable motifs for example on Prabal Gurung and Jonathan Simkhai's runways (mind you, the two collections aren't extremely similar when you look at them in depth ...). Another interesting aspect was that Watson made further comparisons finding similarities for what regarded colour, cuts and knee-length between Brandon Maxwell and Alexander Wang's collections.
If Watson would be able to provide precise insights on several runway shows in less than an hour, in a day it could provide an entire summary of several fashion weeks which may facilitate certain researches (design trends, sourcing for consumers, marketing queries and so on) or help solving key issues (including production and manufacturing ones).
Watson is capable of analysing multiple sources from different decades and eras, so it could become a very useful system to spot similarities and returning trends in a relatively limited amount of time (yet, in this case it will have to be fed millions of images from archives all over the world...). The system could therefore potentially turn into a valuable assistant to designers and fashion researchers as well, who may be able to spot in a quick way possible copyright infringements and derivative collections (you wonder if Watson can also spot who are those designers introducing unexpected variables in their creations...).
At the same time, the system could be a disaster for trend agencies: fashion and interior design companies who relied on them up until now may soon turn to Watson to discover the main trends, speeding up processes, while triggering the slow yet inevitable death of trend forecasting agencies (not that we may end up missing some of them, considering how they work and how much they cost to those subscribing to their services...).
Yet, while data-driven insights may provide us with a glimpse of the future, they may also be showing us what we may be missing: this approach is indeed based on a visually mathematical analysis and not on a tactile study. Indeed Watson can tell you that a specific pattern or colour may become trendy, but it can't describe you the soft, rough or smooth texture of a garment in a human way. In a nutshell, let's hope that the precision and speed of cognitive systems will be used to support a fashion designer/researcher's job rather than destroy it or turn it from a highly creative career into a mechanically sterile science.