The Business of Fashion recently caught up with Angel Chang whom we first met last year when she caught our attention with her unique technology take on fashion. Now, she’s embedding herself in an unlikely reality TV setting, taking her message to a much broader audience.
NEW YORK, United States — Angel Chang likes to quote Hungarian electrical engineer and inventor of the hologram Dennis Gabor: “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.” It’s a telling reference for a fashion designer who works with innovative, high-tech materials like “color-changing prints, light-up fabrics, and self-heating linings.”
Young and talented, Angel trained at Donna Karan, Viktor & Rolf and Marc Jacobs before launching her eponymous brand in 2006 with a vision of harnessing technology to create fashion that “could actually do things—beyond just looking good.” In her first year in business, she won the prestigious Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation and Cartier Women’s Initiative awards.
Today, Angel is one of several designers competing for $125,000 in funding on US television network Bravo’s new reality series “The Fashion Show,” hosted by Isaac Mizrahi and former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland. Times are tough, especially for emerging designers. But what’s a self-described innovator and technophile doing on a reality show that’s better known for its entertainment value than its boundary-breaking fashion?
At first, it seemed like an incongruous move. But true to form, Angel has been using the show as a platform for a larger experiment on fashion and technology. Partnering with Allison Mooney, director of trends at mobile consulting firm Mobile Behavior and editor of nextgreatthing.com, Angel has been testing accessories that communicate with viewers, hosting “Twitter parties,” and extending fashion television into the physical world with viewer meetups.
BoF recently caught up with Angel to talk about her love for technology, multi-functional fashion, the current economic climate, being on “The Fashion Show,” wearable cell phones, and the best place in New York for crispy pork banh mi.
BoF: You describe yourself as a technophile. How did your fascination with technology begin?
I am actually fascinated by innovation and future lifestyles and being a technophile is a result of this. I’m an Aquarius and I always grew up loving gadgets. It’s unexplainable really. It’s like asking kids why they like toys!
BoF: Why did you decide to do “The Fashion Show”?
On a practical level, it was an opportunity to try something different in the current economy. When the economy was good, it was ok, even expected, for fashion designers to create a sense of distance and a psychological barrier with people in the real world. I think people want something that is more humble and real today. To do a reality show at this particular moment seemed fitting. I thought it was a good segue into doing the kind of high-street brand collaboration that so many young designers are doing today in order to survive.
This visibility was also an opportunity to reach out to long-term investors interested in supporting my work. I was fortunate enough to be able to produce my past collections myself, but I will need long-term capital in order to continue going forward. Now is a tough time for all emerging designers.
The show has also allowed me to test different ways to connect with viewers and experience the power of television. Social viewing may well be the next trend in social networking, as TV and the Internet are becoming more and more seamless today. It’s exciting to be able to watch a television show and then become an active participant in the story as it plays out in the real world: by reading viewers thoughts on different websites, seeing video clips uploaded onto Facebook pages, and following others on Twitter at the same time. Viewers also vote for their favorite designs and read our blogs on Bravotv.com each week.
One hour on TV can now turn into an entire online experience. It is quite amazing how quickly things have developed in terms of media and communication. This innovative approach to TV complements my own innovative approach to clothing.
BoF: In each episode of “The Fashion Show,” your necklace opens up a dialogue with the television audience. Tell me about that.
While making the show, I wore a necklace with a different word each day. It was a way to personalise my experience and express what I was thinking that day. I later learned that viewers could use their cell phones to text the word to a short code  and get an automated response from me. We tried it out when the first episode aired with the help of Allison Mooney and a company called Mobile Behavior and it was really successful. With TV, the Internet, and mobile technology quickly becoming an integrated experience, a simple idea like that took social viewing to a whole new level.
BoF: I love your vision of fashion that can “actually do things—beyond just looking good.” In the future, what will fashion do?
I was reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and was intrigued to find that, in 1970, American culture was already moving towards a disposable society; paper clothing was believed to be the fashion of the future. Of course, no one wears paper clothing today. The reality is, in fact, far worse. Since then, we have managed to create disposable clothing through ‘fast fashion’ and pushing a constant stream of changing trends onto consumers.
We have been on this eco-trend, but producing more and more clothes—even if they are made of bamboo or organic cotton—is not helping our landfills. Sustainability to me means consuming less and prolonging the life of what we wear. That means buying clothes of higher quality and longer use-value. It is ok to pass down clothes, to wear a sweater with a hole in it, or to re-cut and restyle a jacket instead of buying a new one. Fashion of the future will be extremely versatile and allow pieces to be worn in several different ways. Instead of wearing a button-down shirt one way, it will function more like a scarf and enable us to wear it in multiple ways. In this sense, the wearer will have even greater control over his/her look.
BoF: Your “TV Party on Twitter” concept makes watching “The Fashion Show” more social. What have the results been?
I twitter all day and all night at twitter.com/angelchang. It’s the way I keep in touch with friends in this busy, busy world. The other “Fashion Show” contestants drop in, my former assistants say “Hi.” There are people from my hometown and the usual crop of strangers and fans. We talk about how to make the best grilled cheese sandwiches (Laura Dawson got me hooked), suggestions on how to make a better paper airplane (following my “stealth fighter” dress in Episode 2), and funny stories about people stopping me in the subway whenever I happen to pass by one of the Bravo ads.
I like posting trends I see on the street and getting feedback from followers. Today, I posted a photo of Russell Simmons being appointed Goodwill Ambassador for a slave trade memorial this morning at the United Nations. I thought it was important to show my followers (and Facebook fans) that fashion can be used in many different ways to better our world. It is not just glitz and glam; as creative producers we have a social responsibility to humanity.
BoF: Were you inspired by Glenn O’Brien’s Basquiat-era cable show “TV Party”?
I’ve never seen it, but now I’m going to go home and watch every episode!
For inspiration, my friend Carole Sabas at French Vogue referred me to the work of French artist Matthieu Laurette. He inserted himself into TV shows (a dating show, a game show) over several years as part of his performance art. He used other people’s production budgets, sums he would never have been able to afford on his own, as a stage to create his own body of work. Add to this Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and the world of reality TV suddenly seemed like a very engaging intellectual playground.
BoF: How do you see fashion brands collaborating with technology companies?
I am always a supporter of developing new materials – whether they be with fabric mills, chemical companies, or a consumer electronics company. A fabric can always be lighter, softer, more durable, easier to wear, etc.
But for me, the most obvious opportunity for collaboration between fashion brands and tech companies is the bracelet cell phone. Honestly, how hard can it be to design something that is wearable and won’t get lost in the bottom of a purse? Please, someone, make a bracelet cell phone before the costume jewelry trend is over! Call me if you need me to design it.
BoF: I see you are a fan of Tuan and Huy’s Vietnamese spot An Choi in New York. I love their chicken pho. What’s your favorite dish?
Yes, I go every weekend and watch Tuan at work. I always get the crispy pork banh mi. Yum.
Vikram Alexei Kansara is a digital strategist and writer based in New York.