Agent of Presence: Where Prada meets Apple

By Kym McNicholas , written on December 3, 2012

From The News Desk

I first got a glimpse of the high-tech runway when Pop17’s video blogger Sarah Austin was my intern at Forbes in June, 2011. In this video, She interviewed former reality star Diana Eng, who has a line of high-tech fashions that cost between $10,000 and $20,000. The dresses, with circuit boards hidden behind the fabric powering lights flashing in not-so-subtle ways, were not ones the average person would ever wear to a cocktail party or even a Black Tie affair, unless they wanted to be considered the showpiece of the event. Most of the high-tech fashions you see on the runway, as the one pictured to the left, make the models look like walking Christmas trees.

I never thought the trend would catch on. In fact, it hasn’t. I was right. But I’m about to be proven wrong. Alison Lewis, a former Web designer, who’s moved into high-tech fashion, having graduated from Parsons school for design (and also taught there), might just have the right touch of style which could appeal to the masses. Lewis, voted one of Fast Company's Most influential women in tech in 2010 for her approach to fashion tech, has created an embeddable sensor and lighting technology, and is debuting her first high-tech fashion product at LeWeb today, with her company, Agent Of Presence.

Take a look:

Lewis’s first product for the market is a black leather handbag with what is meant to be a representation of the moonlight coming down through the cherry blossoms and reflecting on to the sidewalk. It’s called, “Geometry Darling.” The light changes are so subtle that you almost have to do a double-take to notice them at all. It’s incredibly classy. Only 200 will be available in the first run at a price of $1,200 to $3,000, depending on the number of lights requested by the buyer.

Lewis plans to make more bags, but she has to sell these first to fund the next run. Oh, and a few Angel Investors would help as well. She hasn't been able to attract a lot of interest from the investment community at this point, because until now she hasn't had anything but a showpiece. It's an under garment which has sensors that make its lights blink to the beat of its wearer's heart. It can be worn under loose dresses. You can see how it works in the video above. While it is cool, it's not something that would appeal to the masses.

Fashion is a tough sell in Silicon Valley anyway, especially to investors. You would think it would be an easier sell to Angels in New York, although the competition there is fierce. But either here or there, even with a tangible product, Lewis will find some investors expressing concern that Chanel or another high-end fashion brand could easily come in and light up the world with high-tech accessories, and Lewis could be out of business.

But Lewis doesn't share this concern. "I'll just use the technology to make something else," she says.

Lewis believes the large luxury brands will be in awe of her technology and want to simply license it. She's open to that. Although, she still would prefer to build her own brand. The purse is just the start.

Lewis has big dreams for “Agent Of Presence.” She has partnered with Forster Rohner AG of Switzerland, the market leader for fashionable embroideries in Haute Couture, Prêt-à-porter and Lingerie, to take her innovative textile lighting and embroider it into swatches to create a whole new dimension to fabrics (see the video above to see how it's different from what you see on the runway). Lewis imagines creating dresses that change color to match a person's latest accessories or skin tone, and even lingerie that goes on lockdown when the wrong guy comes around.

Lewis' technology could have much bigger uses even in the medical field. She doesn't see creating medical products herself, but she hopes to license it so that, for example, her lights and sensors can be embroidered into hospital gowns that will allow doctors to take a patient’s temperature, or monitor their heartbeat, without being hooked up to a bunch of equipment.

Lewis imagines that her sensor technology could also be embedded into "shoes that measure your calorie consumption, talk to your other shoes, and talk to your diet company."

But that's not her focus at the moment. It's simply to "focus purely on the dream of making an elegant fashionable Internet of things."

[Image via Cute Circuit]