will drones take fashion into the future?

From birds-eye cameras to smart umbrellas, fashion brands and publishers are scrambling to find ways of using drones. i-D asks: gimmick or innovation?

by Douglas Main
29 April 2015, 2:35pm

Photography Da Drone Boyz

Given the (deserved) abundance of bad press about drones, like their propensity to kill people, you'd be forgiven for not wanting one near your body. But like every technology, drones have the capacity to be used for good or evil. As the fields of tech and fashion become more integrated -- consider for example the wearable electronics market, which is worth between $5 billion and $14 billion, depending on how it's defined -- it makes sense to wonder: Might drones have any application in the fashion world?

The answer is: yes, almost certainly.

Already, flying machines have played a role in fashion, albeit a tiny one. In February 2014, Fendi made headlines by unleashing a fleet of drones to film models walking down the catwalk during Milan Fashion week. The event got mixed reviews, but also hints at the future direction of the relationship between unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and fashion.

Kai Margrander, the fashion director for Harper's Bazaar Germany, said the drones irritated him. They reminded him of their use in surveillance and association with the U.S. National Security Administration, he told the AFP.

Meanwhile, others thought the use of UAVs was innovative, allowing for new filming angles and perspectives. Zoe Lazarus, a trend forecaster for Lowe & Partners, told the Guardian that this was "a bit of a coup for Fendi. Live streams have become quite standard now at fashion shows, so this is a way to up the ante and get social media coverage."

She thinks drones are increasingly being accepted in creative fields, which is likely to include fashion. "Artists have been using drone-camera imagery for a while, and drones have been used in advertising and gaming for a couple of years," she continued. "Drones feel edgy and futuristic - they appeal to that vision of a cyborg future. Creatively they are brilliant, because they can be manoeuvred into places where people can't. They are also small, easy to handle and inexpensive. We're only going to see more of this in the future."

Besides catwalks, drones have also been used to photograph and film fashion-y events like weddings, in India, the United States and elsewhere.

Photography Da Drone Boyz

For the past two New York fashion weeks, a company called Da Drone Boyz shot the beautiful chaos outside a variety of shows from the air for Style.com.

"For something like NYFW, there is a very unique perspective from the drone up in the sky that you don't get from the ground," says Kellen Dengler, who runs the company with his brother Riley. With their UAV, which Kellen says they built themselves, they can capture "the frenzy and spontaneous chaos of all the models and celebs entering the buildings and all the paparazzi chasing them down to get the good shots. It's never been shown this way before," he adds.

Adam Pruden, a senior designer at a company called Frog Design Inc., thinks that wearable drones will become a real thing in the future. During a session at SXSW in Austin this spring, he discussed several potential ways drones could be used. Some of the ideas he came up with include a rotor-shaped object that could be worn as a part of a necklace, that could be extended to become a rotating halo-like helicopter when it sensed rain, hovering over your head and keeping you dry.

Another idea: a ring-shaped flying robot that could be worn like a bracelet, which you could take off and flick into the air before flying forward to guide you to a desired location if you got lost. Stranger still, he envisioned a UAV that could hover in front of your mouth and filter pollution-tainted air so you could breathe easy, before docking on your shoulder.

He and his team have printed out 3-D prototypes of the wearable drones, but he doesn't have any plans to produce them for sale at this point.

Pruden's basic hypothesis: drones will one day replace, or at least supplement smartphones as primary pieces of personal technology. For that to happen, it would be ideal for them to be able attach to your body and/or clothes in some way, becoming wearable.

These ideas may sound far out. But one such wearable drone is already one its way to market. The Nixie is a mini-drone that can be folded up to become a wristband. Take it off, turn it on, and it will hover in front of you to take a photo.

"I started thinking about what the post-smartphone era would be," Pruden said to Business of Fashion. "If drones replaced smartphones, they'd have to interact with our bodies -- and what better way to do that than by having them attached to us."

Some designers have taken a different route, and explored ways that fashion could be used to thwart surveillance by drones. Adam Harvey, an artist, designer and entrepreneur, has come up with a variety of products that would make it difficult to be recognized by drones or their face-recognizing software. Examples include a hoodie made of special material that blocks warmth-sensing cameras from recognizing your body heat, and makeup that makes your face un-taggable on social media.

One of Harvey's products is a scarf, inspired by the hijab, that would make it difficult or impossible to be spotted by a UAV. "It is also inspired by the rationale behind the hijab," Harvey tells Wired, "'the veil which separates man or the world from God,' replacing God with drone."

Right now drones are mostly used to take photographs of video of people and their outfits. But as the Nixie demonstrates, wearable drones are right around the corner. They could have any number of uses that so far can only be imagined, as Pruden has done.

"It will probably be about 10 to 15 years before we figured out the difficult regulations and experience hurdles that have to be overcome for [personal/wearable drones] to be accepted at a mass scale," Pruden says.

"Drones are sort of behind the scenes right now, but one day maybe they will fuse with fashion," he says. "I hope they do." 

Related: Watch a drone vandalize a giant billboard of Kendall Jenner over on Motherboard.


Text Douglas Main
Photography Da Drone Boyz

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