Might Apple have a future as a fashion conglomerate?

With tech apparently heading toward inevitable wearability, might Cupertino be tempted to have a few smaller high-tech/high fashion brands under its wing?

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Angela Ahrendts, just one fashionable part of Apple. Fallon Cislo/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Things that are useful have never really inspired us.

Power drills are lovely, but all they make us feel is relief that the job's done.

Modern computer technology, though, is different. We don't just want to use it, we want to be inspired by its looks, the way it feels.

We want to be seen with it, as the choice of brand says something about who we are.

This is something Apple has understood from the very beginning. It never tried to create a product that just did things. Instead, Apple's wares exude a style and a personality.

It isn't necessarily one that everyone warms to. But it's definite, distinctive, and never downscale.

In recent times, style has crept into technological thinking as never before. We're being told that we won't be just carrying gadgets around, we'll be wearing them on our bodies, our faces, our wrists and, who knows, our ears.

We all know what we like about things we wear. We stare in the mirror, check ourselves out, hoping to find reassurance that the look presents us at our most attractive.

But what happens when technology doesn't just become a fashion, but is fashion itself?

Lately, Apple has been hiring the tasteful from another world. First it was Paul Deneve from Yves Saint-Laurent. Then it was Angela Ahrendts from Burberry. This week, it was Patrick Pruniaux from Tag Heuer.

Are these style-conscious people all working to dress up Apple, as Apple prepares to dress us up?

Their hiring seems to indicate a recognition that technology needs to contribute a spirit and an experience as never before.

One thing fashion brands understand is the creation of an atmosphere, an identity around a brand. Another thing they understand is that it's possible -- and not a good idea -- to wear too much from one label.

If you're all-over Gucci, or all-over Burberry, there's something curiously pedestrian about your thinking. Too much of one fashion label makes you unfashionable.

On the other hand, if you understand the heart of fashion and luxury, you have the ability to manage any number of brands whose taste you appreciate.

A classic example is Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. Founded in 1987, when the fashion and luggage maker came together with the champagne and brandy people, LVMH now has 60 brands in its palace of taste.

There's everything from Dior to Donna Karan, Thomas Pink to, well, Tag Heuer.

There's a certain art to the management and selling of a luxury brand. If you look at all LVMH's brands, they have a certain but no identical taste. They also manage to expand the company's reach in giving customers various labels, various palettes and palates, to which they can become attached.

The company describes the essence of its mission as representing "L'Art De Vivre." The Art of Living.

Which leads me to Apple. There's surely a limit to how many Apple logos one person can sport. It's the same as any other fashion label.

However, if Apple can be the patron and owner of a small (and increasing) number of tasteful, stylish tech brands, it can expand its essence to more markets and profits.

Where LVMH is about the Art Of Living, Apple's conglomerate could be about the Art Of Tech. Where LVMH was called by the Economist "The Empire Of Desire," Apple could be "The Empire Of Tech Desire."

The acquisition of Beats might be one example. Some believe the Beats brand will die. However, at the World Cup, when Brazil's Neymar defies the FIFA strictures and wears his Beats headphones to a press conference, it's less an act of defiance or a strict tech preference. It's more a fashion statement.

Apple and Beats have their own very different sorts of style. Now, Apple can profit from both. Now both brands can benefit from the Apple ecosystem.

In time, more small brands will emerge that offer that elusive and lucrative blend of tech and style. Tesla is the most obvious one that is currently plowing its own way, but certainly wouldn't look out of place in an Apple conglomerate. There will be more.

Might Apple have one eye on scooping any and all tasteful tech brands under its wing, hence creating a broader conglomerate of brands, managed with all the discipline that Apple can muster?

No one is better at selling stylish tech than Apple. Now that it is hiring more experts from the fashion world, might they expand the possibilities, seek out alternative brands that have both style and tech at their heart, in order to expand the Apple portfolio?

As our bodies and images become more at one with technology - until our bodies are largely made up of technology - more brands will attempt to straddle the fashion/tech continuum. Taste and style will become ever more significant. Fashion brands make their own cell phones, after all.

How tempting it will be for new designers of both worlds to try and meld the fashionable with some sort of tech usage.

Might it be tempting for Apple, too, to have at least a few brands that could never be mistaken for tech H&Ms?