High-tech accessories


There are two kinds of shoppers who have rarely intermingled: those who love fashion and those who love gadgets.

Lately, however, a hybrid group has emerged. It's prom queen loves computer club president, supermodel meets Star Wars addict. Apparently, a growing number of shoppers like their fashion gadget-y and their gadgets fashionable.

For them, toting a plain gray laptop is deadly dull and having MP3 player wires hanging haphazardly from a Juicy Couture jacket is a sin of epic proportions.

So they buy iKuffs, cufflinks that light up, or TechTether, a colorful, jeweled chain that connects cell phones to handbags or jeans pockets. They wear jackets made with touch-sensitive fabric so they can control their iPods without unzipping. They carry Kate Spade computer bags and Coach electronics cases. Even their ear sets are tricked-out.

"The future is here," says style maven Steven Cojocaru, a former contributor to fashion segments on the Today show and Entertainment Tonight, and now a fashion consultant for the Ultrafashionable Laptop PC, a joint venture by Intel and Ultrasuede.

"We've always lived in an image-driven society but now we've moved into an uber-image-driven society. ... So everything, from your iPod to your laptop, it's got to have a flair to it."

The combination of technology and fashion is a new frontier in accessorizing -- the true marriage of form and function, experts say. And it was a long time coming.

"If you think about the stereotypical fashion designer, you don't think of a gadget guy or girl," says Scott E. Jordan, founder of SCOTTeVEST, a line of "functional and fashionable clothing." "So I think there's been a huge gap between people who are designing clothes and the people who are wearing them. People don't just want something that's good-looking. They want something that's going to help them simplify their lives."

Jordan's patented jackets and vests are high-tech -- with dozens of pockets and hidden conduits to store and string any gadget junkie's myriad earpieces, cell phones, pagers, tape recorders and PDAs.

"I wanted it to be practical like a photographer's vest or a fisherman's vest," says Jordan, whose frequent travels as a corporate lawyer inspired the idea five years ago. "But I wanted to make it look a lot more stealthy, something a businessman would be comfortable carrying."

The fusion of fashion and technology has hit just about everywhere. Mary Bennett and Mary Maron, two mothers (of four kids each) in Medina, Wash., are the co-founders of one of the latest trends in tech-fashion -- the TechTether, which stylishly connects those all-too-easily-lost cell phones and MP3 players to purse straps, backpacks or belt loops, with chains made of beads, jewels or even Swarovski crystals.

"Madonna and Paris Hilton carry one," says Bennett. "It has really exploded."

At the online store Gifts.com, "accessorized technology" has been the site's biggest seller for six months, says Leigh Zarelli, head of merchandising.

Ski hats with earphones sewn into them, for the "snowboard fashion set." Cuff bracelets with flash drives built in. Funky laptop bags. Valentino iPod cases. Even crystal-covered earbuds. "I don't think anybody realized how popular that item was going to be," Zarelli says, of the iced-out earpieces.

"The popularity of portable technology, such as petite cell phones and mini-MP3 players, has elevated the concept of functional fashion from gimmicky to groovy," says Peter Klaus, a youth marketing and interactive strategist at Fleishman-Hillard in Washington.

Even underwear are not immune to this trend. When Jeff Danzer kept seeing his two oldest sons walking around the house with their iPods precariously stuck into the waistbands of their underclothes, he knew he'd discovered an untapped niche.

"I said, 'Why are you doing that? Let's just put a pocket there,'" Danzer says.

And so the iBoxer was born. The boxer shorts have been widely praised for simply having a place for half-dressed loungers and lazybones to carry their MP3 players. Since Thanksgiving, when the first pairs were introduced, more than 55,000 have been sold, Danzer says.

Danzer targets 18- to 28-year-olds, but has found a market among iPod users from age 14 to age 40, he says. Some customers have praised iBoxer for the simple luxury, saying they even put credit cards and ID cards in the pocket when exercising or going out.

The Ultrafashionable Laptop PC from Intel and Ultrasuede will marry function and style by melding soft microfiber directly into the casing of a laptop PC in a colorful and stylish pattern. The idea is just a concept now, but whenever Desmond McLaughlin, director of marketing and sales for Toray Ultrasuede Inc., walks through an airport with the concept PC, he says he's nearly attacked by admirers, most of them female.



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