Apple: Luxury Computing

This is part one of a series on the parallels between computers and clothing.

Pre-orders for the Apple Watch began April 10. The first review I read was not from a tech website, but from the fashion website Style.com.  The reviewer compared the Apple Watch to the luxury watches some of her acquaintances wore such as Rolex, Cartier, and Hermes. At the end of her review, she referenced other wearable tech produced in conjunction with fashion houses (Opening Ceremony with Intel and Rebecca Minkoff’s collaboration with Case-Mate).

This review, plus the controversy over the gold edition of the Apple Watch, made me see a connection between Apple products and luxury goods. The rise of wearable tech will see a deeper involvement between the fashion and tech industries. What better time to see the parallels between fashion and technology?
There are three things that Apple and the producers of haute couture have in common.

An Emphasis on Artistry and Quality

Haute couture is a French phrase that means, “high dressmaking.”

Marie-Antoinette-Macbook

Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman on the set of Marie Antoinette (2006)

The phrase haute couture was first used in 1908, but its origin dates back to the late 18th century when the famous dressmaker Rose Bertin made elaborate dresses for the French nobility, including Marie Antoinette.

Today, the use of the term haute couture is strictly regulated under French law. The only fashion houses that may claim this term for themselves must belong to the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture. There is a list of strict requirements for membership. One of them is that each member must have an atelier (workshop) that employs at least twenty full-time staff members. Clothing is custom-made for each client by highly skilled seamstresses, embroiderers, and tailors who work by hand. The fruits of their labors are not merely clothing, but wearable works of art.
Every detail matters, right down to the packaging:

The finished garment arrived at a customer’s door in an enormous handmade box, fastidiously packed with mounds of tissue paper. So exquisite were the delivery cartons themselves that clotheshorse Nan Kempner said she hoped to be buried in one.

Here is an excerpt excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs:

Early on, Mike Markkula [Apple’s first major investor] had taught Jobs to “impute” – to understand that people do judge a book by its cover – and therefore to make sure all the trappings and packaging of Apple signaled that there was a beautiful gem inside. Whether it’s an iPod Mini or a MacBook Pro, Apple customers know the feeling of opening up the well-crafted box and finding the product nestled in an inviting fashion.

Style was never an afterthought to Apple. What was on the outside of a machine mattered as much as what was on the inside. Everything, from the bevel on the case to the circuit board, had to be beautiful. In the words of Isaacson, “Each detail was essential to making the Macintosh amazing”.

Apple is not simply defined by tech specs, but by its aesthetics. Consider the first iMac in 1998, its colorful, curved exterior a marked contrast to the greige, boxy desktops that dominated the market. The white, streamlined look of Apple products (especially the iPod and iPad) has been a tremendous style influence in the tech industry.

It is appropriate, then, that the author of the Style.com review wore her Apple Watch while attending a show for Chanel’s Métiers d’Art collection – a collection made as a tribute to the artisans who make the accessories for Chanel’s clothing.

Exclusivity

Luxury is defined by its exclusivity. Couture is only available at an atelier; luxury products are only available from certain retailers and come with certificates of authenticity. While some luxury brands have less expensive diffusion lines, licensing is limited so as not to devalue the brand’s image.
Aside from a brief foray into licensing Apple clones, Apple has been a closed architecture system. Steve Jobs believed that the hardware and software of a computer should be fully integrated. Apple products are only manufactured by Apple themselves. While some Apple products may be sold by certain authorized retailers, the complete collection of Apple products is only available through Apple stores and their website.

A High Level of Customer Service

When purchasing luxury items, you are not simply paying for an item, you are paying for an experience. It is not only the quality of the item itself that makes it luxurious, it is the atmosphere of the store where you buy it and the customer care that accompanies it.

Price is no object for the collector of haute couture. She may pay $30,000 for a jacket or $300,000 for an evening gown. She makes an appointment at the atelier, where she will have a private meeting with the designer and the tailor. She will pick a design from from the designer’s lookbooks and be measured. There will be many fittings before the final product is ready.

So, what will our collector do while waiting for her gown to be finished?

Apple Watch gold editionAfter her fitting she will go the Apple store, where she has already made an appointment with a concierge to get fitted for an Apple watch. Before she makes her final decision on which Apple watch to buy, she will buy a new MacBook. Wanting to advance her computer skills, she will also sign up for a customized training program.

Our collector has been given deluxe experiences at the atelier and the Apple store. She has not merely bought items. She has been catered to by skilled professionals who specialize in making objects of high quality.

Seen in this light, perhaps the $10,000 gold Apple Watch isn’t so overpriced after all.

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