The wacky phone case made its catwalk debut at Jeremy Scott’s inaugural show for Moschino autumn/winter 2014. In keeping with the rest of the collection – kitsch, colourful, cute – it was shaped to resemble a packet of French fries.
Such accessories have long been a style in-joke, carried with self-conscious abandon by fashion editors and pop stars alike. Giovanna Battaglia, senior fashion editor of Vogue Japan and W magazine contributing fashion editor, has her own phone cover line in collaboration with Case Scenario. Victoire de Castellane, designer for Dior Haute Joaillerie, has long indulged an affection for kawaii (the fetish for “adorableness” that underscores Japanese pop culture) by carrying a series of Rilakkuma teddy-bear cases. Lily Allen pimps her phone cover with sticky-backed jewels she sources online. But Moschino was a tipping point, legitimising kitsch phone covers on the catwalk.
While it may have been overlooked at first – seen as a joke too far by many – the French Fries phone cover is doing serious business. Department store Selfridges has had to reorder the style three times to meet demand. At Net-a-Porter, sales of this and other Moschino cases (melting lollipop on a stick, anyone?) have been “insane”, says Sasha Sarokin, the online retailer’s buying manager.
Though novelty phone cases are a fairly recent phenomenon, the inexorable rise of the phone accessory is not. According to market research group GFK, sales of iPhone cases and screen protectors have quadrupled in volume since 2009, while sub-£10 styles have been most influential in growing the market.
Keely Warwick, contemporary accessories buyer at Selfridges, which has increased its investment in phone and tablet cases by 30 per cent for autumn/winter 2014, says tech accessories are one of the store’s “most rapidly expanding categories”.
Net-a-Porter’s Sarokin sees phone cases as “the 21st-century lipstick purchase”. Both items are relatively cheap and represent what she describes as “a mother and daughter purchase” – for their wide appeal across all ages and income brackets.
It seems like fashion has found a new star product. But why is it so, well, silly? And what might possess a professional woman ordinarily of sober style and judgment to carry a phone disguised as a googly-eyed frog?
“It’s different, because it’s an accessory,” says Julia Sarr-Jamois, fashion editor at large for i-D, whose current favourite covers (rotated every couple of months) are the Moschino Popsicle (£50 at Net-a-Porter) and a pink bunny variety (replete with fluffy tail) from Korean brand Rabito (most readily available in the UK via eBay). “It makes something quite serious a little more fun,” she says.
Sarokin adds: “It can be a loud little statement, a little tongue-in-cheek.”
There are also practical benefits of wrapping your phone in something big, bright and squashy. “I’d have a cracked screen if I didn’t have a case,” says Sarr-Jamois. “Plus,” says Sarokin, “it makes it easier to find in your bag.” Furthermore, with the rise of a lifestyle dependent on smartphones, mobiles have become an accessory far more closely linked to the owner’s persona than, say, a bag or a pair of shoes – luxury’s more established entry points.
“Because our phones are multifunctional, and we also use them increasingly, they become an extension of the self,” says Elle Hankinson, senior editor at trend forecaster WGSN. “Their appearance [becomes] an extension of our self-identity, just like any other fashion item.”
In short, if your phone case is fun then so, on some level, are you. Mary Spillane, a personal branding expert with clients such as IBM, Disney and the Royal Bank of Scotland, says this point matters, even in more sober workplaces. “At the beginning of a meeting, everyone always throws their toys on the table,” says Spillane. “Phones are always there. So if there is something quirky there – provided it’s not naff beyond belief, like all gold, or diamanté – it’s a hoot. It’s a talking point and it’s an icebreaker, and that’s the thing that most people in business have difficulty with.”
There are, of course, rules here. More junior employees, says Spillane, should aim for styles that communicate elegance and success. She suggests a faux snakeskin number by Case Factory (£85 at Net-a-Porter) or, for men, a Tuscan leather case from Il Bussetto (£49 from endclothing.com). But those in leadership can afford to show a different side to themselves. This may mean investing in a whimsical, sketch-embellished design (€55 from Lanvin.com) or a case featuring Givenchy’s trademark rottweiler print (£55 at Selfridges and Net-a-Porter). Besides, you can always bring out the fries for the weekend.
Stockists in this article and this week’s other Style articles
Photographs: Alpha; Street Peeper; i-Images