In-ear chic

Written by Sabina Sysantos

APPLE x ASOS? Dior? Gucci? Bottega Veneta? Off-White? Miu Miu? Louis Vuitton? Ferragamo? Fendi? Prada?

Last week’s Apple Event may have underwhelmed the tech world, but fashion’s biggest players are still getting creative with ways on how to piggyback off the success of the brand’s iconic AirPods.

Upon their initial launch in 2016, Apple’s innovative earphone design received endless criticism for their seemingly absurd pricing. But as meme after meme filled the internet, the world began to ideate a cultural significance surrounding AirPods (and the types of people who wear them) without even realising that this only added even more value to it than before. As trivial as it may seem, AirPods have become a tool of status signalling that brands have continually learned to work to their advantage. Four years on from the AirPods’ release, and the wireless earphones still generate as much commentary and clout as ever.

The pods have been established as a coveted fashion item in their own right. If being ripped off by a fast fashion retailer is any benchmark to go by, late last year ASOS had been selling nonfunctional ear pieces that look like AirPods for just under US$10. 

AirPod accessories of all shapes and forms have become an essential fixture of the luxury market, and nearly all of them retail for an even higher price than the AirPods themselves. Most luxury brands like Dior, Gucci, and Bottega Veneta offer calfskin sleeves that fit around the hardcase that the AirPods come in, and others have gotten creative with ways on how they can be displayed as part of an outfit. 

Off-White and Miu Miu like them worn around your neck, selling cases that come with lanyards and chains. Louis Vuitton’s cases double as bag charms. AirPods even made appearances down a few runways earlier this year — Ferragamo had them hooked onto belt loops, while Fendi strapped them onto utility belts along with lighters and pens. A personal favourite is Prada’s hot FW20 accessory: a metal casing unit attached to the wrist by a leather strap, aptly named the ‘Vanity’ bracelet.  

Jewellery label Misho sparked intrigue for their earrings that wrap around or clip onto AirPods, integrating the piece of tech with their sculptural designs. ‘Pebble Pods’ were birthed during lockdown, after the designer noticed the inconvenience of wearing AirPods over her existing earrings during nonstop phone calls and Zoom meetings. 

As the everyday technologies we use move in further synthesis with our lives, the more such objects begin to play into our ideas of self-presentation and identity formation. While wearable tech becomes increasingly normalised, so few have gotten it right quite like the AirPods do. Google glasses never made it past beta testing, and Fitbits have become forgotten. The iconic Apple product is proof that the success of wearable tech is much to do with the way it has been embedded in a social context, and relies on a good understanding of humans as much as it does a good understanding of technology. The AirPods are a feat of branding and design that has produced value in cultural meanings that transcend its specifications.

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