Everybody’s talking about | Fashion phones

Nokia7900crystalprism

Nokia 7900 Crystal Prism Phone

LONDON, United Kingdom – Something is in the air. Earlier this week, we received a mysterious package in the post from Nokia. Inside, we found a 7900 Crystal Prism phone, complete with a Sapphire crystal and engraved design by French graphic designer Frederique Daubal, who has previously collaborated with Paul Smith and Colette, the iconic Paris fashion concept boutique.

Tag_heuer_luxury_cellphone_1_2Not only this, the fashion and technology blogosphere has been abuzz about Tag Heuer’s branded mobile phone, priced to compete with the Vertu phones, at 3900 euros (or about $6000). Previously, other fashion brands including Prada, Armani, and Levis have launched mobile phones with much hype and fanfare.

To top it all off, I was recently invited to give a Keynote Speech at the ArcChart Handset Fashion and Style Congress in London later this month on, what else, The Business of Fashion.

So, is all this fashion phone buzz just PR hype, or is it something that fashion brands and mobile phone players should be seriously thinking about?

The proof is in the pudding. In the last year, we have seen Apple, arguably the most powerful consumer brand of the day, create a virtual frenzy around the world with its launch of its iPhone, much to the delight of Apple enthusiasts who have bought into the streamlined design, aesthetic simplicity, and street cred of the Apple brand. So, who’s to say fashion brands can’t seize this new fashion moment as well?

When purchasing decisions about a product move from being a largely functional decision to one that is more emotional, at least in part, then design, branding and aesthetic can play a role — and that’s where fashion comes in.

For years now, people have been personalising their generic phones with screensavers, ringtones and decorations, to make the phones their own. As ArcChart says in its in-depth report on fashion phones, Fashion and Style in the Mobile Handset Industry, the mobile phone is now

the most ubiquitous item of personal consumer electronics worldwide. This has made it an obvious tableau for the expression of an individual’s fashion tastes and style…it travels every with its owner and is visible to others.

Prada_phone_3Armani_phone_2 The opportunity here seems real. What remains to be seen is which models for entering this market end up working the best. Prada and Armani have chosen to go the licensing route, working with external design and technology partners to bring their phones to market at more affordable prices. But this means that their phones  risk feeling like the brand has just been stamped on the phone, with little effort to focus on design with the same degree of precision that Miuccia Prada and Giorgio Armani have when they are designing clothes. In fact, don’t these two phones kind of look the same?

On the other hand, a more bespoke proprietary model like Tag Heuer’s could be appealing in order to build a more defensible and differentiated position in the market. However, this will require sourcing the technology and expertise from somewhere and at sky-high prices, technophiles will be even more likely to judge the phone on its technical merit, as well as its aesthetic, as Tag Heuer has been learning.

One thing is for sure…this is only the beginning of the fashion phone. We’ll be back with a report from the conference later this month.