Fashion first? Designer Michael Bastian sets his sights on wearable technology

It’s a chicken or egg question — what will drive the adoption of wearable tech? Will it be chic looks or cool features? A new collaboration by designer Michael Bastian’s studio and HP appears to betting on style first.
Pictured above is a new fashion-first wearable wrist computer, announced on Thursday in men’s style rags like GQ. It’s “engineered by HP(s hpq)” but designed by Michael Bastian’s studio, which is best known for classic American menswear. This device definitely focused on looks first, and it’s the latest sign that the SoHo glitterati have their eyes on the hot emerging category of wearable gadgets. The device will be available on Gilt starting in October but no price was announced.
We don’t know what software the watch will run, but the HP-designed watch promises to sync with iOS(s appl) and Android(s goog) apps to allow the wearer to receive notifications and control their music and other apps — the same basic features included in Android Wear devices, the Pebble, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, and other smartwatches currently on the market.
This isn’t the first piece of wearable tech to tout high-fashion bonafides. Earlier this year, Google Glass got a makeover from Diane von Fürstenberg sold through high-fashion e-tailer Net-a-Porter. And Apple’s hired executives from Burberry and Tag Heuer ahead of its own smartwatch launch expected later this year.
The Michael Bastian co-sign doesn’t necessarily mean this watch will be expensive or even that stylish. High fashion designers are notorious for using their luxury brand to sell watches at prices that seem cheap, especially next to the brand’s expensive clothing. A $300 watch looks like a bargain next to jackets retailing for two or three times that price.
But those watches — whether they’re branded Gant by Michael Bastian, or Burberry, or Shinola — usually aren’t special. They often sport quartz movements, usually made in China. They’re generic timepieces, largely the same as a $20 Timex, but with a flashy brand name. And until we hear more about the features of this Michael Bastian-designed HP watch, I have to suspect this one will be more of the same, focused on its exterior look instead of its interior workings.
The difference between smartwatches and regular fashion watches is that consumers expect a fashion watch to do one thing: tell time, and cheap quartz movements do that just as well — or even better — than precision engineered Swiss clockwork. But it’s a lot harder to convince savvy digital consumers that a smartwatch is doing what they want it to: for me, at least, features are going to have to come before looks.