Fashion and gadgetry say, 'I do'

Is it the perfect union, or is one of the partners cheating on the other? Here's a peek at where this relationship is headed. Photos: Gadget cases don't have to be ugly Photos: Nokia's take on '20s glamour

A few years ago, I was working on a project and needed to carry my laptop around. The problem was that it didn't fit in the biggest tote I had, and I just couldn't bring myself to lug one of those ugly black padded computer bags--you might as well complete that look with pantyhose and sneakers.

Then a beauty-editor friend, with more swag than she knew what to do with, passed me a bag that had arrived full of products from Bliss: baby-blue leather, sturdy handles and almost the exact dimensions of my laptop. It was perfect, and every single time I carried it on the subway, women would ask me where I'd gotten it. It turned out I wasn't the only one who wanted to look more Bond Girl than "Working Girl."


The marriage of fashion and technology has long been touted as the perfect union, but one of the partners is usually cheating on the other. You have impractical little purses that can't carry more than a lipstick, or shock-absorbing shoes that make you look as if you were about to go on rounds at the hospital. And while the occasional artist constructs, say, an electronic skirt that tracks the stock market, for most of us, technological innovation has come down to one word: Lycra.

But there may be hope for this relationship after all. Modish personal gadgets have become ubiquitous, with everyone carrying at least a cell phone, often a laptop and a BlackBerry, and frequently an iPod as well. If you want proof that the tech companies are marketing to women, just look at the pastel-tinted iPod Minis, which Apple Computer calls fashionably compact. Wieger Deknatel, a marketing director at Philips, which is collaborating with Nike on MP3 players and clothing, says the company found that female consumers had just one additional demand when it came to personal technology: "that it looks nice on you."

When women are carrying that much gear, they're going to need a place to put it. "People were mentioning to the salespeople that they needed something to put their computer in," says Reed Krakoff, the executive creative director of Coach. "It had to be big enough, and they wanted padding, too." There was one item that fit the bill, but it was a diaper bag. They took it anyway. "It shows how people, when they need something, will figure out a way to make something work for their life," Krakoff says. "Now we call it the Multi-function Tote."

With accessories--meaning handbags--driving sales at many labels, designers can't afford to ignore their customers' demands for practicality. Some are even working off their own list of complaints. Tamara Mellon, Jimmy Choo's president, says that, having often rooted through her own handbag for her cell phone, laptop and BlackBerry, she knew she wanted something stylish that could carry them in a more practical way. And if fashion is going high-tech--with smarter bags; little cases for MP3 players; colorful "skins" that snap on to laptops; and loops, lariats and chains to keep hold of cell phones--technology is going high-fashion. Hewlett-Packard is sponsoring Proenza Schouler; Nokia is sponsoring Zac Posen.


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In a sign of just how seriously each industry is taking the other, Mary Alice Stephenson, the former fashion director at Harper's Bazaar (she's still a contributing editor there, as well as a sometime TV presenter), has crossed the divide to become a fashion consultant to Intel, a company known mainly for its computer chips.

I meet Stephenson, who's always been one of the more beautiful people in the front row, to talk tech over breakfast at Pastis. She slides onto the banquette next to me and opens her handbag, a Bottega Veneta with chunky inner pockets, to discuss how many images her PDA can

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