Bloated like a third-trimester mum-to-be? Worried that your fancy new skirt makes you look like a numpty? Really not sure about the teeny-tiny sunglasses that looked so good on Zendaya? Fret not. Your most negative thoughts about your own appearance need remain vague, nebulous fears no longer – they can now be confirmed, thanks to H&M’s new voice-interactive mirrors. That Snow White fairytale? It just came true, only some might argue it’s a nightmare.
“Mirror mirror, on the wall: who is the most ridiculous-looking woman in the entire store? Wait, what?”
Currently being trialled in H&M’s flagship Times Square store in New York, the mirror “wakes up” through facial recognition when someone looks at it long enough – a bit like an iPhone X, only more opinionated. As well as dispensing style advice, the mirror also offers high-resolution selfies (designed to look like magazine covers) and discounts, though, frankly, even if the discount was “100% plus a free puppy” I’d still run screaming in the other direction. Why? That would be because a piece of tech that sounds like the freaky love-child of Alexa and Gok Wan gives me the chills.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in fashion and style knows that some of the best ideas, inventions and killer looks grew out of crazy experiments and random mistakes
Alas, it appears I’m going to need to turn up the central heating. Next up, in the pantheon of Amazon Smart Tech That Promises You The World Provided You Don’t Speak With a Regional Accent, comes the Echo Look camera, a device that promises to analyse your clothing style and make “fashionable recommendations through machine learning”, a phrase that sounds almost as promising as “taking style tips from a cat”. For $200 (it’s as yet only available in the US), the camera also has functions allowing you to add pics of your favourite clothes to an Echo Look app, from where you can organise them into “collections”, like an ersatz Stella McCartney. Best of all (or worst of all, depending on your view), the device also has a Style Check feature, which claims to review photos of different outfits to provide “a second opinion on which looks best on you”, evaluating “fit, colour, styling and current trends”.
I know what you’re thinking. Who, exactly, is doing the evaluating? Gok? Trinny? Your cat? Nope – that’d be an algorithm. However, Amazon does claim that “human fashion experts” will also have input – presumably into the algorithm, as opposed to actually sitting in a bunker somewhere in Silicon Valley judging your trouser choices. I mean, Trinny has better things to do. And so, to be fair, does your cat.
Tech is a wonderful thing. Smart tech is even better. OK, so it doesn’t always work, but when it does, few would disagree that it has the potential to make our lives easier. Far be it from me to halt the progress of technology – namely because I can’t – but the idea of getting dressed by algorithm feels weird. Fashion is a means of personal expression, one of the most unique, intimate and joyful ones there is. No algorithm, however smart, can replicate the quirkiness of my favourite dressers and, while I’m not exactly the fashion blogger and renowned "good dresser", Susie Bubble, in the style stakes, I still hate the thought of an algorithm trying to advise or second-guess me, or tell me what I want to wear on any given day. “Red and pink don’t go together. Try red and blue instead,” I can imagine some flat Robovoice incanting. Tell that to Roksanda Ilincic (the doyenne of unexpected colour combinations). “You have a stray wisp of hair falling out of your bun.” OK, but so did Meghan Markle on her wedding day. What Robovoice might perceive as a flaw, others might perceive as a bonus – the very thing that makes an outfit sing.
Nobody illustrates this point better than Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist whom the fashion industry has been crushing on ever since her 1930s heyday and who is the subject of a new exhibition opening at London’s Victoria and Albert museum this weekend. What would an algorithm have advised Kahlo to do: pluck her eyebrows? Quit dressing like the Tehuana people and put on one of those nice, pretty flapper dresses that were all the rage instead? Probably. Anyone with more than a passing interest in fashion and style knows that some of the best ideas, inventions and killer looks grew out of crazy experiments and random mistakes. The point is that, to be human, we have to be free to make them. Otherwise, we may as well be machines.