There’s a longstanding assumption in the creative world that formula is anathema to enlightenment. That inspiration is divine. That you can’t learn. That “the eye has to travel.” Or, as Tad Allagash (via Jay McInerney) so succinctly put it, that “taste, is a matter of taste.”
In fashion, most take the word of Anna Wintour, of Olivier Zahm, of Katie Grand, as that of God. And yet these luminaries are increasingly supplemented by the vagaries of crowdsourcing. By likes and +1s. Not just by coolhunters tracking dissemination of product groups outside the Tsutaya at Shibuya crossing. Our technology has drastically furthered our creative endeavours like at no other point in history. Instagrammatic metamorphoses from fauxtog to photog. Twitter as Tulpa in text. Speech bubbles in the comic books of our lives, playing for an audience the likes of which Stan Lee never imagined. Ebay was thrifting for sport and profit, but Etsy is the Pacific Mall of our artistic whims. Technology has made leaps and bounds in allowing a collective outpouring of preferences and tastes, of attitudinal tattoos. But up to now it has still relied directly on our specific statements of partiality. And yet for all the wealth of information we “share” on a daily basis, technology is only now beginning to invest it in our future taste; to use advanced computations to present us with what we want before we want it.
A new Vancouver-based fashion startup, Wantering, has designs on doing just that. It culls fashion choices from around the web, using some four or five hundred fashion blogs, as well as sources such as Svpply and Polyvore, and presents them in a simple and clean pictoral flow, arranged by new or popular. The crux: after you “heart” enough things, selections are made for you algorithmically (remember the Netflix prize?). Sort of an aggregator, rather than arbiter, of taste. Vr33land.
Wantering, currently online at beta.wantering.com, presents an antidote to traditional e-commerce. Everything is purchasable, but through outside sources. There is no advertising, no recommendations, no ‘special offers.’As co-founder Nicholas Molnar says, “We realized that there was all this expertise and thought going into fashion articles, but then when you went to a store it all got lost. There was a total disconnect. And so we started looking at ways that we could take the expertise inherent in fashion blogs, and Svpply, Polyvore, and Pinterest, and channel it into a more productive use.” I would say leave it to a techie to discuss the signal to noise ratio connundrum inherent in catering to our more fashionable ambitions, but Mr. Molnar (here speaking at TED X Vancouver), has clearly demonstrated that he views technology as a means to a very humanistic end.
Wantering is evidently in its early stages. They are accepting requests for invitations to the full, logged-in experience. It will allow the inevitable Facebook Connect login, though it will also be one of the first sites to allow Tumblr logins too. As Mr. Molnar says, “With the kind of content we’re dealing with Tumblr is a much better fit than Twitter, or even Facebook. Tumblr is so much more visual.” They are also working on Pinterest integration, which is a bit more difficult as Pinterest doesn’t have an open API. “Pinterest is a high priority for us. It’s interesting in the sense that it’s aspirational. It’s not about the more mundane aspects of the day to day. It’s about big picture stuff, about what you would be doing if reality wasn’t a constraint.”
All of this is particularly interesting in the context of taste. Of whether algorithms can genuinely interpret our fashion predilections. Whether it can truly garner that phantom understanding of self-reference that allows the crossing of the River Styx through the aesthetic equivalent of two gold coins. And yet thirty seconds after admiring an Alexander Wang bike lock via Twitter (maybe that’ll prevent my next Vespa from being stolen 36 hours after taking delivery), there it was, at the top of my Wantering feed. And so, on with the new. Or, to paraphrase René Ricard: We’ve seen something, then seen something else, thrown ourselves on the dance floor, then gone on to dance another way.
Byron Hawes is a Toronto-based writer with a peripatetic past and a dilettante-ish list of interests.