Designed over the past year by New York-based fashion label Opening Ceremony and engineered by Intel, My Intelligent Communication Accessory (MICA) , unveiled this week, is the rare wearable device that fashion kids may actually want to wear.
Unlike many wearable devices that scream “tech nerd”–the unsexy Apple Watch, rubbery bracelets like the Fitbit or Jawbone Up–MICA is a glamorous piece of jewelry, adorned with semi-precious stones, pearls, and obsidian. It’s equipped with a discreet sapphire display screen on the inner wrist that allows the wearer to send and receive text messages, and to access Yelp and Gmail notifications, Facebook events, and Google Calendar. Starting in December, MICA will sell for $495 at Barneys and Opening Ceremony stores. And unlike, say, designer Tory Burch’s glitzy disguise for the usually homely Fitbit, MICA is equipped with tech features developed in tandem with its style. It’s geared not toward obsessive self-quantifiers–it doesn’t track sleep or fitness–but instead toward busy, working women who want to stay socially connected.
On the occasion of MICA’s unveiling, Co.Design caught up with Opening Ceremony designer Humberto Leon, who co-founded the company in 2002 with Carol Lim after they met at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2012, the pair was named creative directors of French fashion house Kenzo. Here, Leon talks about his 12-year business partnership with Lim (“There’s no time for fighting”); his design inspirations (including Elvis Presley, JFK, Spike Jonze, his parents); and the thinking behind MICA (“It doesn’t scream ‘tech'”).
Co.Design: How do you and your cofounder Carol Lim collaborate? Do you ever fight?
Humberto Leon: Carol and I have always worked really closely. We started the business 12 years ago with just two people, so we each had to wear a lot of hats. Carol works on the business side of things and I work on the creative side. The design process has always been very natural. I always lead it, but I go back to her and ask, “Would you wear this? How would you wear it?” She’s always my eyes and ears for everything. We work very fluidly together.
We work on so many projects that there’s no time for fighting. It’s about resolution–we both have very strong points of view, and she might think one thing and I think another, but at the end of the day, I make creative decisions and she makes business decisions. That’s always worked out really well.
Who are your role models and inspirations as a designer?
Carol and I would both say our parents are really big role models. They’re first-generation Americans. They moved here and made something of themselves and made sure their kids worked really hard.
Aesthetically, everyone from Elvis Presley to JFK to Spike Jonze to Chloë Sevigny influence us. Our inspirations are people around us, people in our community–amazing people, like Jessica Alba, Solange, Beyonce. Musicians, artists. The commonality is that everyone we look up to does something we really love and respect.
What interested you in this Intel collaboration?
What was most interesting about partnering with Intel was that when they approached us, they were open to letting us be more than decorators. They were open to hearing our points of view and gave us a strong voice in creating the wearable. We came in looking at the piece in terms of both style and function, and wanted to speak authentically to the woman who would wear MICA. What does she wear it with? How is she going to live with it on a daily basis?
Who is MICA geared toward?
It’s geared toward a woman who is very busy in her day-to-day life. Like all of us, she has a phone–we didn’t want to be blind to that; we’re not trying to make MICA replace the phone. But the starting point is that she’s busy, and she does everything with her phone. She’s given her number to countless people, and has 600 to 1,000 contacts, but she wants a device that can limit that. MICA lets her say, “I’m in a meeting and there are only 10, 15, 100 people that I’d actually need to reply back to right now. I don’t need to hear from my dry cleaner, just my spouse, my parent, my nanny, by best friend, maybe my boss.” She can choose. If you want to invite 300 people, you’re more than welcome to. It gives you a great opportunity to edit in a life when you’re usually unedited–you get texts from everyone you’ve ever given your number to.
What was the process of designing MICA like? How is it different from existing wearable devices?
We wanted to create a jewelry piece, not a tech jewelry piece, focusing on style first. Something people would be really proud to wear. We purposely positioned the screen on the inside of the wrist, so the piece doesn’t just scream “tech.” It can just be your own little secret.
At first, we wanted the whole thing to be metal, but Intel told us that was totally impossible, because cellular data couldn’t get through metal. They gave us limitations.
Aesthetically, we were very specific about what we wanted. The bracelet works with all kinds of styles–whether it’s day or night, with jeans or a dress. We talked to a ton of girls after it came out, from students to professors to workout women, and everyone said they could wear it with a gown or with jeans. It’s versatile.
How did you decide which tech features to include, and which to exclude (like sleep and fitness tracking)?
We interviewed over 100 people in the community of Opening Ceremony and asked, “What would make you want to wear a device?” The five features we launched MICA with–text messages, Yelp, Gmail notifications, Facebook events and Google Calendar–are the top five things that people asked for.
There are other wearables out there that are great for tracking sleep and fitness. We weren’t blind in thinking people might want more than one smart item. We didn’t need to make the ultimate smart item that cooks for you and can call a nanny for you. It was really targeted.