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Apple’s hire of Burberry exec underscores its long history in the fashion business

Apple got better at the fashion thing after Steve Job's 1997 return.

Apple got better at the fashion thing after Steve Job’s 1997 return. In November 1983, Microsoft made a surprise announcement at Comdex in Las Vegas that would send Apple’s Steve Jobs into one of his famous fits of fury.

What they unveiled, of course, was a mouse-based, graphical user interface system called Windows.

“You’re ripping us off!”, Jobs reportedly screamed at the unassuming Microsoft founder. “I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!”

Gates response, reportedly delivered with an uncharacteristic calm, has become the stuff of legend.

“Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it,” he offered plainly. “I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

Today’s announcement that Apple had hired Angela Ahrendts, the woman who is generally credited with rescuing the Burberry brand, to oversee the expansion of its Apple stores, is unsurprising to observers of recent tech history because Apple has always been at least as much about fashion as it has technology.

The Ahrendts news actually falls on the heels of the hiring Paul Deneve, former CEO and president of the Yves Saint Laurent, whom Apple this past summer announced will serve as vice president of “special projects”, reporting directly to company CEO Tim Cook.

The newest product line Deneve will be looking out at is the recently released lower cost plastic iPhone 5C, which is available in a rainbow of colours. The phones may seem like a stark departure from the recent all-white Apple product theme, but it’s actually a return to the company’s roots.

Upon resurfacing at Apple in 1997, Jobs insisted that the iMac be made available in a range of bright colors. The success of the desktop computer, which was the first Apple product to use the now ubiquitous “i” prefix, set Apple on its modern course.

imac colors

David Hounshell, a professor of technology and social change at Carnegie Mellon University, says this is the moment when Apple became the technology company that could command much higher margins than others.

“Remember, Apple was in the dumps when Jobs came back to it. Apple released a lot of shit products, and I know they were shit because I owned them,” he told Live Science recently. “Since Jobs came back the second time, it’s been an aesthetic experience to even open the package.”

This, says NYU Media Research Lab professor Ken Perlin was Jobs’s true genius.

“Apple is not a technology company. That’s not what they’re selling you. That’s why I think Jobs was a towering genius of his time, but not for the reasons people generally think.”

But Apple hasn’t always batted a thousand in the fashion game.

In 1986, Apple even had a clothing line, dubbed “The Apple Collection”. It looked as you might expect a corporate fashion collection to look in the 1980’s: one part Sears catalogue, two parts Punky Brewster. Jobs, meanwhile, stuck to the black turtleneck.

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About The Author /

Nick Waddell
Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.

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