Fashion shows aren’t usually frequented by tech journalists, but considering it’s London Fashion Week, and we received an invite from Visa Europe Collab to see some pretty exciting wearable payment tech, it’d be rude not to go.
The idea behind the evening was simple, Henry Holland would show off his Spring/Summer 2016 collection, while Visa Europe Collab (Visa’s London-based innovation lab) would handle the shopping experience, allowing chosen VIPs to purchase items directly on the catwalk.
I spent all of Saturday deciding what to wear; chinos and a shirt, chinos and a different shirt, or maybe an edgier look, chinos and no shirt at all, just a leather trench coat.
The invite was scarily noncommittal -- “whatever you fancy” -- what does that even mean? I realise it means whatever you fancy, but does it really mean that?
I was definitely putting too much pressure on myself, who cares what an unknown tech hack is wearing? But I know how bitchy the fashion scene can be, I’ve seen Ugly Betty and the Devil Wears Prada.
For those interested, I settled on jeans, a shirt, and an Apple Watch with a black Sport band. Pretty standard tech journalist attire.
The show was set in Collins Music Hall, Islington, an underground structure with no phone reception, resembling a large concrete coliseum like something from the Hunger Games.
We entered through the stage door, and got taken through the dressing room on the way to the press room. I tried not to gorp like a pubescent teenager, but I fear I may have failed. A deer in the headlights comes to mind.
Backstage is extremely busy, with people rushing around, and clothes everywhere you look. It's been portrayed very accurately in the media.
Once in the press room I was allowed to get up close and personal with the tech. The large rings looked like they were designed for the catwalk, not simply something to hide some unsightly NFC tech. In fact, looking at them you wouldn’t realise they did anything other than decorate your hand.
This is the first thing that the project has done right, the rings are stunning, and as pieces of wearable tech, stand head and shoulders above the likes of Fitbit et. al. (at least in aesthetic terms).
Henry Holland, who designed the rings, told T3 in an interview, “For me the real important point for the whole project was to make the tech invisible, in the sense that these are really covetable, desirable pieces of jewelry or accessories that just happen to do something extra special. They’re enabled with this technology but you’d still want to wear them.”
"I think lots of the wearable tech that's out there at the moment, you see when you look at it, it's tech. A rubber wristband is quite clearly there because it does something else. But I think that if you were to look at these pieces we've created, you'd see a woman in a beautiful dress with a very 'out there' piece of costume jewelry, and have no idea whatsoever, until she uses that ring to pay for her drink. That's the approach I wanted to go for."
While the rings were designed by Holland, they were actually handmade in Cumbria by the same company behind one of the original NFC Rings. All are made from gold-plated silver, and decorated with semi-precious stones and enamel.
John McLear, the NFC Ring’s inventor told us the manufacturing process took just a matter of weeks, but they had to overcome a number of challenges (such as not being able to bake the enamel due to the electronics inside).
To complete a transaction, the wearer simply needs to tap the ring on the large perspex tag. The tag is linked via Bluetooth to a terminal backstage, which processes and relays the information. The tags flashes to confirm the transaction is complete, and the item is bagged up backstage ready to be taken away.
It's quick and simple (more details can be read in this infographic), which is all thanks to the innovative technology working in the background.
A key partner in the project was Flomio, a Miami-based startup which develops proximity ID tech. The company’s CMO, Daniel Berkowitz, told T3 this is a breakthrough way to handle cashless transactions, with no other companies capable of doing it.
Previously, every point of sale (the clothing) would require a separate terminal to process the transaction (in this case, an iPad). But Flomio has managed to link all the payment tags to one terminal. This makes it more viable for companies, both in terms of space and investment cost.
The tags were designed to fit in with the show’s floral, 70's aesthetic. They’re purposefully large so the crowd can see what’s going on, but there's also a second generation knocking around, which is smaller and more suitable for shops.
Time to take my seat. I was positioned just behind the VIPs, which included Nick Grimshaw, Daisy Lowe, Poppy Delevingne and Alexa Chung. Although I was separated by a barrier, to stop me from going crazy and asking for an autograph on my forehead.
I was sat next a man dress all in black, he seemed very important, mainly because he had an assistant which he'd occasionally turn around and talk to. I've tried to Google who he was, but I can't find him anywhere.
The show started with a performance from Lady Leshuur, with a song about brushing your teeth. Very catchy.
The fashion show went off without a hitch, no models fell over, and the clothes looked good. The range paid homage to "the hallucinatory grotesque interiors of the 1998 cult film” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Judging from this, we'd guess patchwork, denim, and feather covered shoes will be in next season.
After the show, which only lasted around 25 minutes, Alexa Chung and Daisy Lowe were invited to walk up and purchase an item of clothing using a House of Holland NFC payment ring.
Everything seemed to go to plan (we have no real way of telling, everything was is still very much a proof of concept), and the items were instantly ready backstage for the celebs to take away.
After two items of clothing were purchased, it was time for Henry Holland to run out and accept his applause. A wave here, a wave there. Then everyone began to run out of the building to the next show. Who said fashion is a fickle business?
Even if you’re not into fashion, I’d suggest going to a show, it sounds like a strange recommendation, but it was a great experience and the atmosphere was electric.
We made our way out of venue and the street was lined with paparazzi, I notice one lazily tilt up his camera and without looking into the viewfinder, fire it in my face, flash gun and all.
I stumbled off, dazed, confused, and partially blinded into the night.
Before you ask, yes, I have scoured the internet to see if this photo was used somewhere. And, no, it hasn't been so far.