Come on, Apple: Become the brand new Celine

Come on, Apple: Become the brand new Celine

So Jony Ive, the former design chief and consultant for Apple, and the man most responsible for the visual lure of Apple products – the man who helped transform computers and phones into objects of desire, who made them more than just vectors for functionality, but rather identity marks – and his former employer has reportedly agreed to cut their last ties.

What does this mean for the “mixed reality” headset, the doorway to the meta-verse worn over the eyes that, rumor has it, Apple may release in the second quarter of next year? What does it mean, in other words, for those of us whose willingness to engage in alternative reality can be transformed by such a unit?

After all, if ever a company could solve the problem of how to design a device that would make you want to put something in your face that would allow you to enter another world while your body existed in it, it would it be Apple.

If a company could ever overcome the precedent of Google Glass and even Oculus to make a laptop that did not look like a computer, it would be the company that did it with laptops, music, earphones and above all the smartphone. If a brand could ever solve the challenge of making the entrance to the metaverse fashionable – after all, another problem, then make fashion for the metaverse, but one that is just as crucial to making the metaverse meaningful (and accessible) – the odds would be Apple.

Except maybe not anymore.

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

In any case, it heralds a paradigm shift of a different kind.

For most technology companies, a designer’s departure would not cause a blip in the public eye, but part of Apple’s brilliance lay in the way the company borrowed from the fashion world to drive consumption.

It was Steve Jobs’ understanding that fashion strategies could be coordinated and applied to previously boring and tedious consumer electronics, so that they became tactile and visually seductive – thinner, slimmer, more elegant – and helped the company transcend its industry. It was Mr. Jobs who embraced the value of a new model for each season; who understood how planned obsolescence, an essential premise of fashion, could be used to function; and how a value system could be built into the aerodynamic lines of a unit so that it became more than the mechanical sum of the 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 an entire fashion week’s brands to make accessories (iPad covers, iPhone covers) for the offers.

It’s not insignificant that after Mr. Jobs’ death in 2011, Mr. Ive went out of the shadows, along with Tim Cook, CEO, to become the company’s face to the outside world. If Mr. Cook was the unpretentious technocrat, Mr. Ive was the visionary: friend of Marc Newson (designer of the Lockheed lounge) and designer Azzedine Alaïa, spokesman for the merging of technology and fashion that took place around the Apple Watch’s debut in 2014.

First came a frequency of hiring – Paul Deneve, the former CEO of YSL, to 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 CEO of Burberry, as senior vice president of retail – and then the rollout.

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

But in the end (and despite a collaboration with Hermès), the watch did not become so much a fashion nuisance as a health and wellness facility. Mr. Deneve left in 2016; Ms. Ahrendts and Mr. Pruniaux in 2019, the same year that Mr. Ive became a consultant.

Since then, Apple has not had a design manager, and there has been no design voice among the chorus in the upper tier of Apple executives; no single, presiding visual point of view. Instead, Mr. Ives’ mandate was split between Evans Hankey, vice president of industrial design, and Alan Dye, vice president of user interface design.

Nevertheless, Ms. Hankey and Mr. Dye worked with Mr. Ive for years on products such as the MacBook Air and the watch, and it seemed that Mr. Ive had at least nominally kept his bands guarding the flame and aesthetics. .

Until now. That’s why the upcoming headset and what it will look like means so much. Perhaps, given the potential timing, it will be the latest product to feature Mr. Ives’ fingerprints on the design. But maybe it could be a sign of something more.

Both Apple and Mr. Ive declined to comment on their relationship for this article. But if Apple is to prove that this could be the beginning of a new era, and not the beginning of the end of their commitment to style as a designation – not the beginning of diluted versions of what came before, with the almost clichéd rounded edges and an elegant silver box – this will be the first real test. It is an opportunity to redesign not just a product, but to examine how we think about the product, and Apple itself. And although Mr. Ive reportedly had a nod on the headset in the final years of his contract, it may be preferable not to repeat as much as to redefine.

In fact, the fact that the watch did not turn out to be a game changer or industry move means that there is a possibility for Ms. Hankey (or anyone else, who knows?) To assert himself by creating something new, as designers do when they take over a brand.

Think of it this way: Gucci and Celine or MaxMara? Upgrade everything we think we know and recreate it for a new reality or just go through the motions reliably, albeit uninspiring, over and over again? All the characters point to the MaxMara model, but if there is one fashion that teaches us, it is that brands can survive a change in the designer, as long as the company actually cares about, and strengthens, that designer.

There was a time when Apple learned some valuable lessons from fashion. We’ll see if it can do it again.

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