It didn’t take me long to figure out that the notion of a one-on-one meeting that I’d been expecting was a no-go. Like a boxer or a rapper, Billie Whitehouse is surrounded by a Pretorian guard of assistants, trendy media types and well dressed muscle to keep away the weirdoes. Billie moves a lot. Adult ADHD, I call it. Relentless energy. Subdued clothing. A very muscular build. Custardy tresses. The blades of her hands often moving compass points, as if being yanked at by some invisible magnet. She talks quietly, but she talks a lot.
“So, you’re from a family of designers?” the reporter from Oggi wants to know.
She’s not really interested in the question. All the stuff on Google is the mythologizing PR stuff about her mother starting a design school with a savings account of $1,000 and the usual pugnacious Aussie mix of bravado and the ability to dream big. “My mum taught me how to not be afraid. You have no idea how many of these kind of conferences I’ve been to where two or three female designers are outnumbered by scores and scores of men. I don’t get intimidated,” she says in an intimidating kind of way. “Anyway, there’s a shift going on now and it’s, like, if you’re going to conquer a castle, don’t do it alone. Reach down and pull others up.”
What the cheerful designer with the powerful trapezoids and her techy partner, Ben Moir, have done since moving from Sidney to New York two years ago is nothing short of amazing. Their company, Wearable Experiments, is so hot that the heavy-hitters at Alibaba are already rumored to have put in a bid for controlling interest in the company that’s in the low billions. Fashion is not my forté, but the Vanity Fair guy I know from way back in Sarajevo says that Wearable Experiments are truly hot, hot, hot… and of interest to Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, to the tune of $10-12 billion. That’s pretty hot, right?
Somebody says something about ‘Sex Tech’ while Billie is still explaining what a gentle, non-bossy boss she actually is and to say Billie gives him a dirty look is profound understatement. Yeah, ‘Sex Tech!’ comes up a lot on Yahoo News. It’s complicated, but the truth of Billie and Ben’s product is that it’s not-so-subtly about a kind of meat-and-potatoes, common-sense kind of practical sex conceptualized in such a manner that you might say, “Oh, could have thought of that!” when of course you didn’t and couldn’t.
Their first project reverberated throughout the fashion world every which way. Collaborating with Durex, the condom oligarchs, they came up with Fundawear, His and hers underwear with tiny vibrators built inside that could be controlled via a mobile app on iPhone 5. Boom! Eight million video hits on YouTube later, wearable experiments received 55,000 purchase requests.
The notion of mutual masturbation for separated couples may not be new, per sé, but there are more and more such relationships as the worldwide economy booms. A metaphorical toy for the ages, the idea of a couple, like my chef friend Dave inDubai and Alex, his wife, in Cape Town, South Africa, communicating is pretty cool. Wear the underwear and ‘chat’ on Skype. No Skype? Try downloading the same xxx flick simultaneously while chitchatting on the phone. Sure it’s simple, but the concept seems to have sky’s-the-limit possibilities in the realm of make your own private porn as the search for Erica Jonge’s zipless fuck goes on.
What gets talked up a lot at CES is Wearable Experiment’s new ‘Alert Shirt’, which also serves a multiplicity of purposes while being disarmingly simple. To the naked eye, it looks like a simple sports singlet, which was originally designed by Ben for Australian Rules Football. Its actual shape doesn’t really matter because the material can just as easily be adapted for sports like soccer, rugby, cricket, baseball, basketball and American football as well as regular dress shirts, casual and sweatshirts. Built-in chips woven in unison with the fibers connect to a number of computerized apps which can communicate with coaches, the players themselves (in post-game analysis), and even more cleverly, team fans who can really communicate for the first time ever with what a favorite player is actually doing on the field.
Beyond athletics and the possibility of hysterical fandom taken to new levels of intense engagement is the way the same principles can be used for couples to get in shape together. Use during the actual act of sex may be the most optimum use of voyeuristic sex yet. And for those of you who love to masturbate, there’s the ability to monitor your activities as if you were your own physician or dominatrix. A learned ability, perhaps, to prolong the act of orgasm, as if the sex were tantric.
Over the last three months since its introduction, the Alert Shirt has already sold over 4,500 units at up to $500 apiece. Soon, I was told, Alert Shirts will be as cheap as any other specialist gear sold in a sports or health-oriented store.
Newest from Whitehouse and Moir is an alternate take on Google Maps that has nothing to do with Sex Tech. The Navigator is a is a fashionable, team-type blazer that buzzes on the shoulders for lefts and rights, rendering you magically capable of safely walking the streets of strange, foreign neighborhoods without having to look down at a smartphone or smart watch. An extremely useful tool if you are say looking to buy dope in a ‘bad neighborhood’ but don’t want to make it crystal-clear to the local riffraff or police that you’re a stranger bearing beaucoup cash. Check out the model in the pink blazer. A nice young lady like her surely has good intentions in your ‘hood.
Right now, Billie says, they’re working on a number of ‘eyes-only’ projects for ‘large-brand-stores’, including, a little bird told me, Nike.
“Are you the new Elon Musk?” I ask her and she kind of jumps hither and thither, like the hyper UPS guy inn the old Mad TV show.
“Well, I do respect him,” she says. He’s got integrity and I like to think I’ve got integrity, too!”