Target's Holograms: The Innovation Angle

On Wednesday, big-box retailer Target will begin running ads about the world’s first “model-less” fashion show in New York on November 6 and 7, featuring a holographic illusion of three-dimensional, disembodied clothes. Yes, the Wall Street Journal reported this yesterday in an advertising story; what the Journal didn’t report is an innovation story on the technology behind the event and how it might save on fashion-show costs or be applied in other settings as a corporate communication or retail tool. I spoke with James Rock, a director of Musion Systems Limited, the maker of the hologram system used, on these topics. And I also chatted with fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and long-time Target brand name, whose clothes will be featured alongside those of a number of high-profile designers creating exclusive “masstige” lines for Target this season.

First, let’s take a look at one of Target’s behind-the-scenes concept sketches for the fashion show, which will be staged at Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, projected on a stage every ten minutes on November 6 from 12:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m., and November 7 from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.:

And here’s a glimpse of what this concept will look like at the Target fashion show:

The holographic effect used, from Musion, isn’t new—Richard Branson used it to address a conference in 2005. Here’s some YouTube video of the event:

You’ll see the hologram is eerily real, and it gives you a sense of what the Target experience might be like. According to Rock of Musion, the technology is based on an old-school magic trick from the 19th century, involving glass mirrors and reflections. The updated system involves giant foil screens instead of glass, and videotaping models whose images are projected against the foil, in High Definition. Their bodies are then edited out of the video. At the event, the taped images will be projected in front of live audience.

Rock won’t disclose the cost of the Target project, although he said it took about 10-12 weeks to develop on the Musion side, but that smaller holographic productions can take as little as 3-4 hours to produce or up to 3-4 years, depending on complexity. “Every project is bespoke,” Rock says. So far, the tech is favored by car-makers: BMW, Land Rover, GM, and Honda have used Musion holograms at trade events. Fiat used it at a product launch this year in Italy, showing off a customizable car at a public event in which consumers customized a car on a computer, and then this car was then transformed into a hologram before their eyes. In other words, they could see in 3D and in life-sized proportions, their custom car, in the colors they chose, with the features they chose, rather than merely on a flat computer monitor.

But other types of companies have used it as well to showcase products – General Electric and Adidas, for example.

Rock foresees the technology as a potential way of conducting business meetings, the next step beyond sophisticated video conferencing such as HP’s Halo system. Holograms provide an even more realistic presence for remote workers at meetings than a flat, ultra-high-resolution screen.

Isaac Mizrahi, the fashion designer, told me he thinks that the holograms might evolve into an innovative retail feature. “I keep thinking, wouldn’t it be great to go into a dressing room and see how clothes might fit without having to putting them on?” He says, adding that perhaps stores might feature 3D holograms for customers to see on body types that match their own. “I think there are so many ways this technology will advance and help fashion develop.”

Mizrahi also feels that the continuous, every-ten-minutes public fashion show “democratizes fashion even further,” he says, referring to Target’s famous design-for-all strategy. “The show gives Target guests—which is what the company calls customers--put themselves in the clothes.”

Laura Sandall, Target's director of events marketing and publicity, also says that the holographic show is “cost effective.” A typical fashion show, she says, costs about $200,000 to produce. And, if you’ve ever been to one, you know that they only last about 15 minutes. The Model-less shows on November 6 and 7 will be shown 144 times, says Sandall.

“We expect 750,000 people to pass through Vanderbilt Hall. We will hit over a million people each day,” Sandall says. “And then it will live online, on, Facebook, and YouTube.” The goal is to spread the video virally, too.

We have about a week until the Model-less show debuts. It will be interesting to see how the public responds. And how Target responds, as the company now has pressure to “best itself,” as Sandall says, after staging this spectacle that just might inspire some innovative new uses of holograms and holographic technologies.

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