When we (and I do not mean the royal We, but We the fashion collective) talk about fashion and technology, we almost always talk about Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr and ecommerce, and so on – ways for brands to communicate with consumers – and then we talk about how fashion was so bad at it, and how important it is, an industry-changer, etc. But this week was Internet Week in New York, and I had a conversation with Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler (that’s them, left, at the Met ball) that made me think we’ve all been missing the real revolution.

It’s not in comms (or not only); it’s behind-the-scenes, in creativity.

The computer, they pointed out, has entirely changed the way they design. Yes, they still draw, but after an initial sketch, everything is input and from patterns on, it happens on-screen. They actually scan three-dimensional representations of bodies into the desktop, and then overlay prints on those, so they can see exactly where every dot or stripe or pixellated picture falls as a dress moves and turns.

And not only that, they also create all their prints themselves online (see dress, left), which they say they did originally out of necessity (as little unknowns they didn’t have the power to get really good fabrics from the mills), but now has become both a signature and a mark of luxury: since no one else has the prints, they have become a signifier of rarity and exclusivity, hence conferring on a very young brand with no “heritage” a dimension normally reserved for the old and storied.

Finally, they said, they do all their research online, as opposed to sending staffers (or themselves) on the involved and notorious “research” trips to far-flung places like India, or vintage markets in France that once were a hallmark of high-end fashion brands. This is both cost-effective and time-efficient, and it has led to a different sort of aesthetic: unlike more established brands, where designers often pick a cohesive theme based on their trips for a collection, virtual links lead to more conceptual, non-linear, idiosyncratic ideas and imagery as users make connective leaps online they might not normally make.

Anyway, the more they talked, the more I began to think it’s this backroom shift that has the potential to be more transformative of the business than we perhaps realise, especially as younger designers take over at older houses. Sometimes, it’s the technology you don’t see that matters.

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