At this exact moment, which of the following is closest to your person: your wallet, your keys, or your phone?
The answer is most likely your phone. They have become the things we are never parted from; they are the things that most quickly induce bag-scrabbling panic if they momentarily disappear from our eyeline. So it is only logical that this year’s It accessory isn’t a handbag, but a phone case.
For the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2017 catwalk show, designer Nicolas Ghesquière had “a simple idea, yet no one had ever thought to do it before”. He reproduced “the finishings and intricate details found on an original Louis Vuitton trunk” in the Eye-Trunk iPhone case.
At the show in the Place Vendôme in Paris, the very first model on to the catwalk wore a gunmetal grey draped jersey dress and carried no handbag, but instead held in her hand a phone case styled as a tiny version of the classic monogrammed trunk, complete with studded edging and a miniature gold lock. The case is now on sale, for £745. Jaden Smith has one. You should probably get one, too.
Like the Rolex watch, the crocodile Filofax and the Mont Blanc fountain pen before it – and the signet ring for stamping on the sealing wax of your missives, some time before that – the phone is a status symbol that tells the world how busy and important you are. (Full disclosure slash mea culpa: I have a phone case that says: “I AM VERY BUSY”, in gold letters on blue.) This trend is about life, not just fashion. And the escalating importance of how our phones look reflects the fact that the phone is as much a part of our visual world as our functional one.
If someone is “on their phone” these days, that is more likely to mean their screen is in front of them, in their hands – and therefore displaying their phone case to the world – than being held to their ear. The mirror selfie, the dominant photographic meme of our time, puts the phone case in bullseye position. The two most omnipresent items in lifestyle-themed “flat lay” still lives that break up the mirror selfies on Instagram are artisan coffees, and prettily accessorised smartphones.
When power stylists Charlotte Stockdale and Katie Lyall launched their fashion and lifestyle brand Chaos last year, they put luxury cases at the heart of what they do. Reports at the weekend that Apple’s chief design officer Jony Ive is an investor in Chaos were categorically denied – but the fact that the rumour was there at all tells you all you need to know about the buzz around Chaos, which also makes chic luggage accessories and supermodel-approved personalised tracksuits.
“The phone case is the new desk stationery,” says Stockdale, “except in the new world, there is no desk any more. You can do most things through your phone now, including pay for things, so you almost don’t need a wallet. The phone is in your hand and in your field of vision all day long.”
Anders Christian Madsen, fashion features director at i-D magazine, was one of the many taking their catwalk shots from the front row on phones decked out with a personalised Chaos deerskin cover. A scroll through their recent Instagrams shows that Marc Jacobs’ Chaos phone has white initials on a black background, while Alexa Chung has gone for pink on green. “I used to think dressing up electronic equipment was kind of like putting plastic on a sofa. Déclassé, that is,” says Madsen. But the rules have changed. “I’ve been told Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and I are the only people in the world to have three initials on our Chaos cases,” he says proudly.
“The smartphone itself has ceased to be a status symbol, because everyone has one,” says Eleanor Robinson, accessories director at Selfridges. “But it’s still important to be seen to be on it. At fashion week, you see these girls typing away as they walk into shows and you think: ‘What’s really so important that you have to be doing it right now?’
The phone has become something that puts distance between you and the rest of the world. Status now comes from being busy, in having to deal with important emails or take photos to share with your followers. And so your phone needs to be in your hand, not in your handbag.”
With the same few phones dominating the market, humour and personality are key differentiators. If you are a 14-year-old girl and have the same phone as your dad, you can solve this with a Skinny Dip case with a fluffy flamingo or a glittery WTF on it. Both Robinson and Net-a-Porter’s senior accessories buyer Billie Faricy-Hyett point to the Moschino novelty cases – french fries in 2013, the Barbie mirror in 2014 – as firestarters in the market. (“We did several reorders of the french fries case,” says Robinson. “We sold thousands. We could not keep it in stock.”) To Cassie Smart of Matches fashion.com (biggest phone case brand: Stella McCartney), cases are “a great way to be part of a specific tribe”.
In the self-obsessed world of social media, having a sense of humour with your phone case – whether that’s a £12 watermelon, or the subtle conceit of travelling light with Louis Vuitton’s miniature steamer trunk – can be used to offset your vanity. “If you’re taking a mirror selfie, then having a silly phone case makes it look as if you are almost poking fun at yourself,” says Robinson.
Ghesquière, who co-chaired last year’s fashion and technology themed Met Gala at the Costume Institute in New York and has experimented with using digital avatars in place of models in advertising, sees the intersection of technology and fashion as “a new way of communicating, and a way to talk to milennials”. Where tech has ingrained itself in the texture of everyday life, fashion is here to make it look nice.
“We’re thinking about what do with chargers next,” says Stockdale, “because they don’t look pretty at all, do they? We need to beautify what’s in our handbags.” The phone isn’t going away, so we might as well make it attractive. “The idea,” says Stockdale, “is that you put your phone on the table at a restaurant, because you’ve got a call you actually can’t miss, and instead of people thinking you’re rude they think: ‘Oh, what a nice phone case.’”
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