Who’s going to make Apple fashionable now?

So Jony Ive, the former design director and consultant to Apple, and the man most responsible for the visual appeal of Apple products – the man who helped turn computers and phones into objects of desire, who made them more than just feature vectors, but rather identity badges – and his former employer reportedly agreed to sever their last ties.

What does this mean for the ‘mixed reality’ headset, that gateway to the eye-worn metaverse that Apple is rumored to release in the second quarter of next year? What does this mean, in other words, for those of us whose willingness to engage in an alternate reality might be transformed by such a device?

After all, if ever a company could solve the problem of designing equipment that would make you want to put a contraption on your face that would allow you to enter another world while your body existed in this one, that would be Apple.

If ever a company could overcome the precedent of Google Glass and even Oculus to make a laptop that didn’t look like a computer, it would be the company that did it with laptops, music, headphones and, above all, the smartphone . If ever a brand could solve the challenge of making entering the metaverse fashionable – a different problem, after all, then making fashion for the metaverse but equally crucial to making the metaverse meaningful (and accessible ) – chances were, it would be Apple.

Except maybe not anymore.

Without Mr. Ive, is Apple’s time as a bridge between hard and soft wear finally, really, coming to an end? Are we at a tipping point between the old Apple and the new – between Apple as it was and a different Apple as it could be – like Phoebe’s Celine versus Hedi’s Celine?

Be that as it may, it heralds a paradigm shift of another kind.

For most tech companies, the departure of a designer wouldn’t come as a surprise to the public eye, but part of Apple’s genius is how the company has borrowed from the fashion world to drive consumption. .

Steve Jobs understood that fashion strategies could be co-opted and applied to previously dull and boring consumer electronics so that they became tactile and visually appealing – slimmer, sleeker, more chic – and helped the company to transcend its industry. It was Mr. Jobs who embraced the value of a new model for each season; who understood how planned obsolescence, the essential premise of fashion, could be applied to operations; and how a system of values ​​could be integrated into the aerodynamic lines of an aircraft so that it becomes more than the mechanical sum of its parts.

And it was Mr Jobs who formed a partnership with a young designer named Jony Ive, a Briton from London who joined the company in 1992 and defined the look of Apple for decades, inspiring a whole week of fashion brands to create accessories (iPad covers, iPhone cases) for offers.

It is significant that after the death of Mr. Jobs in 2011, Mr. Ive emerged from the shadows, along with Tim Cook, the chief executive, to become the face of the company. If Mr. Cook was the unpretentious technocrat, Mr. Ive was the visionary: friend of Marc Newson (creator of the Lockheed salon) and designer Azzedine Alaïa, promoter of the fusion of technology and fashion that took place around from the debut of the Apple Watch in 2014.

First there was a hiring spree – Paul Deneve, the former general manager of YSL, who will be vice president of special projects in 2013; Patrick Pruniaux, formerly of Tag Heuer, as senior director, special projects, the following year; and, also in 2014, Angela Ahrendts, the former chief executive of Burberry, as senior vice president for retail – then deployment.

There was an unveiling just before New York Fashion Week; a dinner in Paris at Mr. Alaïa and a revelation at the Colette concept store; a starring role on the cover of China Vogue; and, finally, an appearance by Mr. Ive as Met Gala host with Anna Wintour in 2016.

Yet ultimately (and despite collaborating with Hermès) the watch became less of a fashion disruptor and more of a health and wellness gadget. Mr. Deneve left in 2016; Ms Ahrendts and Mr Pruniaux in 2019, the same year Mr Ive became a consultant.

Since then, Apple hasn’t had a chief design officer, and there hasn’t been a design voice among the upper echelon chorus of Apple executives; no single, predominant visual point of view. Instead, Mr. Ive’s tenure was split between Evans Hankey, the vice president of industrial design, and Alan Dye, the vice president of user interface design.

Still, Ms. Hankey and Mr. Dye worked alongside Mr. Ive for years on products like the MacBook Air and the Watch, and it seemed that at least nominally Mr. Ive had maintained his ties as guardian of flame and aesthetics. .

So far. This is why the upcoming helmet and its appearance are so important. Perhaps, given the potential timeline, this will be the last product to have Mr. Ive’s fingerprints on its design. But maybe it could be a sign of something more.

Apple and Mr. Ive declined to comment on their relationship for this article. But if Apple wants to prove that this may be the start of a new era, and not the beginning of the end of its commitment to style as a signifier – not the start of watered down versions of what has come before, with the almost cliche cliché of rounded edges and a sleek silver casing – this will be the first real test. It’s an opportunity to not just rethink a product, but to examine how we think about the product and about Apple itself. And although Mr. Ive apparently noodled the helmet in the last years of his contract, it may be better not to iterate so much as to redefine.

Indeed, the fact that the watch hasn’t been a game-changer or an industry mover means there’s an opportunity for Mrs. Hankey (or someone else, who knows?) to assert herself in creating something new, like designers do when they take over a brand.

Think of it this way: Gucci and Celine or MaxMara? Shake up everything we think we know and remake it for a new reality or just go through the motions reliably, even uninterestingly, over and over again? All signs point to the MaxMara model, but if there’s anything fashion teaches us, it’s that brands can survive a designer change, as long as the company actually cares about that designer and the empowers.

Once upon a time Apple learned valuable fashion lessons. We’ll see if he can do it again.

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