Why Fashion Labels' Branded Gadgets Aren't Really That Great

Maybe they just don’t care enough.

  • Louis Vuitton’s $2,890.00 Horizon Light-Up Speaker looks like a 1980s UFO.
  • Luxury brands often outsource their tech product productions.
  • Even Apple isn’t immune. Remember the gold Apple Watch Edition?
Louis Vuitton’s $2,890.00 Horizon Light Up Speaker on a fancy side table

Louis Vuitton

From the Walkman to the iPod to Fujifilm’s X100 cameras, tech companies have long made cool gear that’s appreciated by stylish people. But when fashion companies make gadgets, they can feel like terrible, ugly junk.

Exhibit A: The Louis Vuitton Horizon Light Up Speaker. It’s like a $30 novelty from that dodgy no-name electronics store near downtown, but it goes for a cool $2,890. Is it a spinning top? Is it a Goth-friendly version of that classic '80s electronic memory game Simon? Or is it a glass, steel, and leather AirPlay 2/Bluetooth speaker “inspired by the Toupie handbag” ($3,120)? Why can’t luxury fashion brands make anything other than overpriced novelties?

“The easy answer is that fashion brands are…not a milieu that attracts tech-savvy people, and they don't know what they're looking at or how it fits into people's lives,” journalist, programmer, and opulent-tat expert Rob Beschizza told Lifewire via DM.

Branded Gadgets Vs Gadget Brands

The difference between Louis Vuitton’s Horizon speaker and something like Apple’s AirPods is that the AirPods are designed from scratch to not only work great, but also to look great. The design of tech products combines both form and function, and in the best ones, the two aspects are indistinguishable. 

Fashion brands, however, might just commission a device and slap a label on it. 

Side view of Louis Vuitton’s Horizon speaker

Louis Vuitton

“If you visit CES the answer is clear,” Daniel Rasmus, founder of boutique analyst company Serious Insights, told Lifewire via email. “These companies outsource design, and more importantly, manufacturing, to second-tier tech companies. The products are not core to their brand, so they don’t spend much time worrying about them, tactically or strategically.”

The utility of the device is not the main concern, and in a way, that makes perfect sense. The Vuitton Toupie purse that inspired the speaker is itself far from utilitarian, nor would anyone expect it to be. It’s about looking great and being beautifully made. Unfortunately, for a gadget, more is required. 

“Fashion labels tend to focus too much on how they can make the gadgets look fancier but tend to add underwhelming technological features. In the end, it just ends up looking like an odd piece that is trying to pass off as a gadget.” Nathan Hughes, marketing director of Diggity Marketing, told Lifewire via email. 

Built In Obsolescence 

“Fashion labels tend to focus too much on how they can make the gadgets look fancier but tend to add underwhelming technological features."

You may remember Vertu, a luxury phone brand that put Nokia guts into luxury shells. The concept was to present the cellphone in the same light as a Rolex or Cartier watch. Vertu even tried to circumvent the biggest problem of luxury digital goods—they are soon obsolete. Vertu (originally created by Nokia, and since sold, bankrupted, and reborn) would swap out the electronic parts where possible, which turned the outside of the handset into little more than a fancy case. 

“Technology is a playground of culture, of branding plays for authenticity and relevance, with a hard and merciless obsolescence curve. Matching traditional fashion branding to this is always going to invite comedy, if not outright disaster,” said Beschizza.

Apple Watch Gold Edition

Apple

Even Apple has run into this problem, with its gold Apple Watch Edition. This was an Apple Watch with an 18-carat gold case and bracelet, starting at $10,000. So far, so good. It used the same tech as a standard Apple Watch, which puts it ahead of the usually outsourced “luxury” cash-ins, but now, six years on, it’s as useless as any other six-year-old piece of tech. At least you can sell it for the gold.

In tech, then, the function of the device itself is the most important part, and if well-designed, that functionality also will look good. The iPad Pro is designed to be as minimal as possible: a screen plus whatever is needed to support that screen. The resulting device is beautiful in its stark simplicity. Whereas the Vuitton Horizon speaker looks like a crown that your kids made for a fancy-dress party.

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