Monthly Archives: March 2017

FINDING CHIC KIDS’ CLOTHES

SYLVANA WARD-DURRETT remembers the late nights well: The former director of special projects for Vogue and mother of two (with one currently on the way) would find herself hunched over her laptop, hunting for kids clothing into the wee hours, the only spare time she had. “I would have no less than 25 browser tabs open,” she said. “You have the mass e-tailers for basics, but for more special and higher quality pieces that will last more than two wears, I’d have to scour the internet for small, indie boutiques.” After she vented to fellow Vogue alum Luisana Mendoza Roccia, a mom of three, the pair realized there had to be a better way. “You’re used to shopping for everything in your life with so many conveniences, but then you enter the children’s clothing market and you’re back to 1991,” said Ms. Mendoza Roccia.

And so the pair teamed up to create Maisonette, an online marketplace which launched this week. The site pulls together a carefully edited assortment of kids clothing, accessories and décor from a global network of boutiques and brands. You can find embroidered cotton rompers from Acorn Toy Shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., striped chino trousers from cult-favorite Spanish brand Bobo Choses or Oeuf’s mod birch twin bunk-beds. Maisonette, which features merchandise for newborns up to 12-year-olds, is a mashup ofFarfetch with its direct link to boutiques, Moda Operandi for its curated mix of brands and Net-a-Porter for its user-friendly luxury experience.

Rockets of Awesome, launched last summer by Rachel Blumenthal, wife of Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal, serves a similar market. “Parents today are really busy. Kids have this recurring need—they’re outgrowing their clothes and staining shirts so you’re replacing their wardrobes every season,” said Ms. Blumenthal, who was formerly the CEO and founder of Cricket’s Circle, a website for new and expectant mothers. Rockets uses a quiz—paired with a data-driven algorithm—to divine the fashion tastes of your children (sizes 2 to 14) and then sends a handpicked box of 8 to 12 items for them to try on. You only keep and pay for what you like. It sends boxes four times a year, at the start of each new season.

Though Ms. Blumenthal describes the company not as an apparel brand but rather “a data science and technology service that delivers a dynamic retail experience,” the clothes—designed by an in-house team of alums from J. Crew, Ralph Lauren and Gap—have plenty of charm and just enough sophistication. The signature item is a silver bomber jacket (printed with “Rockets of Awesome” on the back) that kids can customize with patches and pins. Parents can also write in special requests, such as “my son only likes dinosaur prints” or “my daughter won’t wear anything she has to pull over her head,” which the company can use to further tailor your deliveries.

Existing fashion retailers are also expanding into children’s clothes, which isn’t a surprise considering sales reached $31 billion in the U.S. last year, according to a report from market research firm Euromonitor. Last spring, Farfetch, the e-commerce site that pulls inventory from an international mix of high-end boutiques and brands, added children’s clothes. The response was immediate, said Candice Fragis, director of buying and merchandising. Its children’s selection favors high-end designers whose clothing parents may well wear themselves. Moncler, Burberry and Stella McCartney are top sellers, and Kenzo’s animal-embroidered sweatshirts fly off the site, along with anything worn by royals (see: Prince George, Princess Charlotte) and other tiny influencers (North West).

Julia Sloan, a beauty executive based in Brooklyn, N.Y., used to do a grand children’s-clothes shopping spree once a year while visiting her parents in upstate New York. “I’d take inventory and my husband and I would hit the mall while the kids stayed with the grandparents,” she said. “It was a whole-day affair.”

NEXT TOP FASHION DESIGNER? A COMPUTER

Apparel seller Stitch Fix recently introduced a coral, sleeveless blouse with a split neckline—and an unusual creative provenance. It was one of three new tops designed with the help of artificial intelligence.

The San Francisco-based e-commerce company, which sends customers boxes of preselected outfits, is leveraging computers to analyze purchasing behavior and learn what elements of style are popular. The software then recombines well-liked sleeve types, cuts and prints into new looks to maximize the odds a client “loves the resulting style,” said Erin Boyle, a Stitch Fix data scientist.

The three tops sold out as part of preselected boxes last year, according to the six-year-old company, and in February, it started selling nine more items designed with the help of computers, including dresses and tops. It plans to sell more than two dozen others by the end of the year. (AI-created styles are priced similarly to human designs, according to a company spokeswoman.)

The “hybrid designs,” as they are known inside Stitch Fix, are part of a movement in the tech industry to develop software that can be creative, and produce content such as songs, logos, videogames, clothing and special effects. The field of computational creativity dates back decades, but is flourishing thanks to advances in machine learning, plus increased access to data and computing power.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Adobe Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp. , and SonyCorp. have active research projects related to computational creativity. Some, like Adobe, have spent millions in this space. Tech companies and researchers hope that teaching computers to be creative could lead to more powerful AI systems. Long term, the results could improve processes that require complex analysis, such as computer-vision systems in self-driving cars, according to machine-learning experts. And some companies, like Stitch Fix and Adobe, are already using such software to produce products.

Can Machines Make Art That Moves Us?

Can machines make art and music that moves us? Engineers and artists are testing that notion with an array of new artificial intelligence that is expanding the boundaries of how imagery, music and videogames are created. Image: Adele Morgan/The Wall Street Journal

One primary goal for tech firms is to create so-called general artificial intelligence—machines that excel at multiple tasks. Currently, AI systems are typically good at only one thing, like categorizing objects, and training the systems can require extensive help from humans. Today’s smart systems also aren’t very good at dealing with unpredictable situations, according to machine-learning experts.

To get machines to learn on their own, some companies are employing what’s known as “adversarial training,” which pits two pieces of software against each other. The Facebook AI Research lab recently used the technique—developed at the University of Montreal—to make computer-generated images of churches and faces, among others. Others have since used it to create nearly photo-realistic images of ants, birds, monasteries and volcanoes.

During adversarial training, one network tries to create images the other network can’t tell were dreamed up by a computer. From their interactions, the generator learns to create images on its own that can pass for real-world pictures and the other network figures out what’s real—and what’s fake.

Such training is “a way of handling the uncertainty in the world,” according to FAIR chief Yann LeCun, who says such adversarial networks are the “best idea” to come out of machine-learning research in the past decade.

Other techniques, like that used by Stitch Fix, use algorithms to meld existing ideas into new combinations. Autodesk has spent the past seven years developing an AI system called Dreamcatcher that could be used in industrial design, according to Michael Bergin, a principal research scientist at the San Rafael, Calif., software firm. The system creates designs after users enter certain performance desires, materials and the tooling available.

Researchers at Autodesk created a proof-of-concept car part that was about 35% lighter than the original that could be used to connect a vehicle chassis to the wheel. Autodesk has also used Dreamcatcher to design a chair inspired by Hans J. Wegner’s Elbow chair and is working with design company Hackrod to create a car. The Hackrod team aims to reveal the design to be 3-D printed later this year, according to Autodesk.

London-based startup Jukedeck has developed an AI that composes melodies. Logojoy, a Toronto-based online service that helps small businesses, freelancers and hobbyists create logos with the help of machine-learning software, has sold 3,000 logos, according to founder Dawson Whitfield.

Online, there is also an active community of hobbyists who experiment with various AI techniques to create art, ranging from computer-generated poetry in the style of T.S. Eliot to special effects that mimic artists like Pablo Picasso.

BUYING LUXURY WATCHES FOR THE BUSY MAN

Some of the best-known online retailers include Tourneau and Saks Fifth Avenue. And some watch brands, like Rado and Bulgari, also sell through their own sites. Many others, however, such as Patek Philippe, Breguet, A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet and Rolex, refuse to sell online, either on their own sites or those of authorized dealers.

The reasoning? They’ve spent decades or longer building distribution networks and don’t want to squander that effort. They also believe buying a watch should be a special, emotional experience—one that requires a real-world environment where a customer can speak with a salesperson, try on a variety of watches and leave with the winner on his wrist. I have always purchased new watches in stores. I imagine the feeling I have coming home with a new timepiece is similar to the rush our prehistoric ancestors felt when returning after a successful hunt.

More caveats: First, there simply aren’t that many authorized online sellers. If you Google a watch model, a number of sites pop up, but most fall into the dodgy “gray market” category, sometimes associated with stolen watches or timepieces whose warranties won’t be honored. So, tread carefully and buy only from authorized dealers or brands. At reputable sites—like Cartier’s or menswear e-tailer Mr Porter—online selection can be limited. Cartier doesn’t sell its very high-end watches online. And while Mr Porter has a well-edited selection, you’ll find more options in stores.

Yet Mr Porter is worth exploring. The site is an official partner for several brands, including IWC Schaffhausen, Bremont, Oris, Zenith and Junghans and has seen success selling watches online. Toby Bateman, Mr Porter’s managing director, believes that’s due to the way their customers—mostly affluent, busy men—shop. “A lot of men will research to a large extent before they press the button on a purchase,” said Mr. Bateman. When they finally buy, he added, the purchase is often made using the Mr Porter app on a smartphone between meetings. They don’t have time for brick-and-mortar stores.

For brands, one advantage of selling online is the ability to reach a younger customer. As such, some have used the internet as a marketing tool—teaming up with a high-traffic watch website to sell a limited-edition timepiece.

In 2012, online watch magazine Fratello Watches started running an editorial feature known as “Speedy Tuesday” focused on the Omega Speedmaster chronograph. In January, the site announced a limited-edition Speedmaster ($6,500) to celebrate Speedy Tuesday’s fifth anniversary. Another editorial site, Hodinkee, partnered with Vacheron Constantin on a limited edition chronograph, priced at $45,000, inspired by a 1950s model. With both initiatives, customers requested the watch on the editorial site and were contacted by the brands to confirm the order. The brands handled the transactions and delivery.

The results? In 4 hours, 15 minutes and 43 seconds, all 2,012 Speedy Tuesday Speedmasters were ordered. It took 30 minutes to sell all 36 of the Vacheron Constantin chronographs. Impressive numbers. We are bound to see more of these partnerships. Said Raynald Aeschlimann, CEO and president of Omega, which does not sell on its own site and allows only a few authorized dealers to sell online, “It’s a new way for the people who are very interested in our watches to connect to us.” For his part, Stephen Pulvirent, managing editor and director of operations at Hodinkee, confirmed that the site is working on similar projects.

But we’re far from seeing a rush to get online. One hundred thirty-eight year-old watch retailer Wempe, which doesn’t sell on its website, recently more than doubled the size of its store on Fifth Avenue in New York. “Luxury shopping should be a pleasure,” said Wempe president Ruediger Albers, “not just a point and click and that’s the end of it.”

3 EMERGING TOP DESIGNERS ON THEIR INSPIRATIONS

Rosetta Getty

Growing up in L.A.’s bohemian Silver Lake neighborhood, Rosetta Getty, 46, started making her own clothes as a child: “Fuchsia spandex leotards and tights, little wraparound skirts,” she recalls. Her color palette may have muted since then, but her creative impulse remains intact. A former model and busy mother of four—her husband is actor Balthazar Getty, the great-grandson of oil magnate J. Paul Getty—she founded her eponymous fashion line in 2014, designing sculptural dresses with cutout shoulders; blouses with kite sleeves; cropped, pleated pants and other wearable pieces. She also makes pared-down red-carpet looks for the likes of Alicia Vikander and Patricia Arquette, a longtime friend. Getty tends to design much of her collection at her New York office and then hop on a plane back to her family in California. Perhaps it’s no surprise that she describes her work in terms of movement: “I want to support women to maneuver the way they need to.”

Brock Collection

When Kris Brock, 30, and Laura Vassar, 29, launched Brock Collection in 2014, they focused not on trends but on longevity. “We wanted to create pieces that would be passed on for generations,” explains Vassar, a former stylist. She

and Brock, a tailor, have become known for elegant construction and fine materials like mink and taffeta, which elevate their timeless designs. The two, who first teamed up at Parsons, don’t divide their labor so much as double down on it.

“We both sketch, we both design, we’re both involved in every single fitting,” says Vassar. Their partnership is personal as well as professional: They married in 2014 and are now the parents of a toddler. As their family and brand expand—the couple recently opened an L.A. office and won the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in November—they stay true to their founding principles. “In the beginning, we were thinking of a woman who wants to feel beautiful and empowered,” says Brock. “I personally always think of Laura.”

Monse

Designers Laura Kim, 34, and Fernando Garcia, 30—who met while working at Oscar de la Renta in 2009—spontaneously named their buzzy New York–based brand Monse (mon-SAY) while visiting Garcia’s family home in the Dominican Republic in 2015. “It’s my mom’s name,” explains Garcia. “Laura thought it sounded strong and feminine—like how the clothes would look.” Two years later, the clothes do reflect that concept, playfully blending notions of femininity and masculinity with deconstructed takes on men’s shirting, pinstripe sequined chiffon caftans and “dad jeans” (“They’re too big, and they look like you cinched and stapled them together,” explains Garcia). The label’s effortless, unfussy glamour has won over Hollywood, with actors like Brie Larson, Blake Lively and Lupita Nyong’o parading the designs down the red carpet. Last year, the CFDA nominated Monse for its Swarovski Award for best emerging womenswear designer. In addition, as has been widely reported, the duo will also return to Oscar de la Renta this year as co–creative directors.