Not too long ago, designers were content with just dressing people. Then they branched out into home furnishings. Next came hotels and luxury apartments. Now, international fashion designers think the ubiquitous mobile phone is fair game.
From Dolce & Gabbana to Armani and Prada, our purveyors of everything that is fashionable and chic are looking to grab a piece of the mobile action.
And why not? With worldwide mobile usage surpassing industry predictions, fashion and mobile phones will soon good bedfellows make, insiders are saying.
According to a study by the United Kingdom-based research company Informa, worldwide mobile telephone subscriptions reached 3.3 billion in November last year – equivalent to half the global population and that figure is growing steadily.
“The mobile industry has constantly outperformed even the most optimistic forecasts for subscriber growth,” said Mark Newman, head of research at Informa.
But the Italian fashion supremos are not the only ones joining in the fray. Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer and the concept design arm of Germany’s Porsche have also joined the luxury phones market. And so has French fashion house Christian Dior, while rumours are rife that luxury crystal specialist Swarovski is all set to follow suit.
“At the premium segment, there will always be demand for something that makes people stand out,” says Hamad Malik, the marketing director for LG Electronics in the Middle East and Africa.
“That type of demand will always keep the marketers thinking and encourage them to go for alliances with well-known names.”
While designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana started the trend when they put their name and their distinct D&G logo on a special edition gold Motorola Razr a little over a year ago, LG Electronics’ Malik says his company’s Prada-designed offering – launched a few weeks later – went beyond just nomenclature.
“The whole design was conceptualised by Miuccia Prada herself,” he says, referring to the owner of the Prada empire.
Now that both Motorola and LG have tasted success with their designer mobile phones, South Korean giant Samsung is all set to unleash its Armani phone into the Middle East market soon.
“Today fashion has expanded to encompass our way of life, not just how we dress, but how we design our homes, the hotels we stay in, the car we drive and the technology we buy,” said Giorgio Armani when announcing the alliance.
The 74-year-old design icon’s partnership with the South Korean manufacturer will extend beyond mobile phones and include both portable and home consumer electronic products.
Ashraf Fawakherji, the sales and marketing manager for Samsung Gulf Electronics’ handheld phones division, says both parties stand to gain from these alliances.
“The whole concept is a common interest for both parties. They get the maximum exposure,” he says. Whether or not the Samsung Armani phone will deliver a blow to Apple’s iPhone sales, only time will tell.
But in an industry whose growth is spurred mainly by constantly falling phone and call prices coupled with the fast emerging economies of China and India, how much business sense does it make to produce exclusive mobile phones that cut deeper still into consumers’ pockets?
The limited edition Porsche Design phone, made by French company Sagem, costs Dh6,000 while the gold Motorola D&G and LG Prada phones were priced at around Dh1,900 and Dh3,700 respectively when launched.
The soon-to-be-launched Samsung Armani phone will cost around Dh3,200, including an Aramani Blutooth headset.
“There is a fixed segment of consumers who not only look for technology, but also for design and added value,” says Samsung’s Fawakherji. “And the segment is growing. Testement to this fact is our waiting list for the Armani phone.”
LG official Malik agrees. “Mobiles are becoming fashion accessories and it is an extension of someone’s personality, just like jewellery,” he says. “There will always be a market for people looking for exclusivity and an edge over others.”
However, this new crop of fashion designers and luxury goods manufacturers have to contend with a number of players already catering to the high-end segment.
Finnish leader Nokia launched its luxury phones manufacturing subsidiary Vertu in 2002 with product price tags ranging from Dh300,000 to Dh1 million or more, while Canadian firm Mobiado and Russia-based Gresso have also staked their claim.
“Features and technology [in phones] are becoming generic and increasingly the focus is on design,” says Malik.
The marketing chief also reveals that his company is planning to launch a product, similar to the LG Prada, in the latter half of this year.
“We will be introducing something along similar lines,” he says, adding that in a segment dictated by ever-emerging technologies, it is innovations in design that will set products apart from their competitors.
“We focus on creating differentiable innovative technology. You cannot have all your products designed by some designer, but it is a niche and the trend will continue.”
Mobiles undergo designer makeover