Dialing a New Market: Fashion Designers Set To Invade Cell Phones

Brrrrring, brrrrring. Cell phone companies are the latest sector calling on fashion designers.

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A Vertu phone.

Photo By WWD Staff

Levi's first cell phone.

Photo By WWD Staff

The Ted Baker cell.

Photo By WWD Staff

Brrrrring, brrrrring.

Cell phone companies are the latest sector calling on fashion designers. Label it a triumph of form over function — or part of the continuing push to extend their reach — but designers are increasingly being tapped to create their own phones.

The Apple iPhone is proof of the growing demand for stylish handsets from known brands, becoming one of the hottest sellers of the holiday season even as apparel sales — including those of designer labels — lagged. The mobile phone industry is the biggest consumer electronics market in the world, with more than one billion cell phones produced each year, and industry experts predict that by 2011 more than 200 million mobile phones a year will come from nontraditional brands, including fashion ones.

The linkup only makes sense. Hatching a new product every three months, the cell phone industry is one of the few consumer sectors that mirrors fashion's breakneck turnaround cycles. And for designers, the numbers are nothing but attractive: Dolce & Gabbana's limited edition MotoRAZR V3i cell phone for Motorola that retailed worldwide for about $550 and included a swinging gold pendant with the initials DG, three disco polyphonic ring tones and a voice that announces the name of the fashion house when the phone is switched on or off had sales of $256 million in 12 months, equivalent to more than 465,000 phones.

"The market is segmenting into those who want a phone with all of the latest technological whistles and bells and those who want to make a style statement," said Chris Harris, global marketing director for Vertu, Nokia's luxury mobile phone subsidiary. "It's only just dawning on people to what extent the cell phone has become a ubiquitous status symbol."

Lifestyle categories are also gaining prominence in the sector.

"Demand is changing, with the cell phone market specializing in [sectors] such as fashion, cars, sport and music," commented Julien Le Tourneur, marketing manager for LG Group.

The firm produced Prada's touch screen handset, which has sold around 500,000 units since its launch in the spring. "More than anything, it's confirmed our positioning as an aspirational, high-end brand," said Le Tourneur of the collaboration.
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