Sure, the recently unveiled Apple Watch aims to revolutionize your life by performing myriad practical functions for you, but can it read your thoughts, quash your inhibitions and bring out your inner fashionista? The Muse, a new computerized headband that, according to its inventor, promises to "manage your mind," is the brainchild of Toronto's Ariel Garten, a 35-year-old designer, neuroscientist, psychotherapist and the CEO of InteraXon, which produces the device (it sells for $299).
According to Garten, the Muse monitors brain activity with the help of an app called Calm, transforming it into information that can be tracked on a wireless device. By determining how much you are – or aren't – concentrating, it can also teach you, its designer claims, how to shut out negative thoughts, thereby liberating you to, among other things, dress how you really want.
"Muse teaches you to silence the voices in your head," she says, "so you're not worried about how good you look, about whether your shoes match your purse – you're just living life as you want to." It's a heady notion – and it's winning Garten, whose mother is the artist Vivian Reiss, lots of attention south of the border.
During a recent interview in her company's King Street West headquarters, she spoke about the relationship between fashion and tech, the future of wearable computers and the Apple Watch.
You have a very eclectic résumé. How did it all come together?
I was always interested in how things work. In fashion, it was about creating garments that allowed people to think about an aspect of the world and their relationship to it. The visual experience of going through the world is also very important to me. So I've been preoccupied with a combination of the way things work: How do we learn from that? How does it deepen our experience as humans? How do we create things that look interesting, delight our visual senses, give us aesthetic pleasure through this visual experience? When I was working as a psychotherapist, I would see clients and we'd delve into questions around the self. I always wondered how you create tools that let people ask better questions and come up with better understandings about themselves. So I set about building this company that would let people interact with their minds in these very tangible ways and give them these novel experiences of self and self-discovery.
Do you think that fashion has kept up with technology? Wearable technology is just now becoming mainstream.
Polyester was an amazing fashion technology, as were rayon and fleece. The materials that we wear and the processes that are used to create the fabrics, the stretch, the fit, the finish, how long it lasts – all of that is amazing fashion technology. The addition of this new component – electronic and computational technology – is just taking it to the next level.
But have we really advanced? I mean, why don't we have climate-controlled clothing? Why don't we have self-cleaning clothes?
I guess it actually hasn't changed that much. Rayon is a great fashion technology, but that was 60 years ago!
Are designers just more consumed with decorative beauty than function when it comes to clothes?
Wearable technology has typically got to come from two different camps. In order to make our devices, for example, you need to have someone who has a really strong technological background and who also has a background in fashion design. Typically, people who are in fashion design only come up through standard channels, where you learn how to draft patterns, draw and fit garments. There has also been a kind of technological bottleneck. It's only since the advent of the iPhone and very, very small electronics that we can have devices that really do things on us.
What do you think the new Apple Watch is going to do to conventional watches?
On the one hand, everybody else is going to have to up their game because people are going to expect the devices on their wrist to do more than just tell them the time. We're probably going to see the same kind of backlash we've seen with e-readers and books. You may also see a resurgence in the popularity of watches in general. After all, the watch has [already] been in decline, since we all have timepieces in our pockets in the form of smartphones. But with the Apple Watch, there may be a general awareness and an awakening of [interest in] watches. People may pull their old timepieces out again and think, "Oh yeah, I have a watch."
Now telling time will be a tiny part of the spectrum.
Yes, but I've also heard people say, "Okay, I'll wear my Apple Watch during the day. But when I go out in the evening to the opera, I'll put on my fine watch."
That'll be an interesting way of incorporating the two technologies into your life.
Totally. Watches will come back into the vernacular as something people really think about as part of their garb.
This interview has been condensed and edited.