Hearst Fashion Hack Brings the Geek to New York Fashion Week

Mark Drapeau (New York, NY) —
When you think of New York Fashion Week, you probably think of beautiful models, high-end fashion shows, and late-night parties. And you’d be right. But this past weekend, the Hearst Corporation — publisher of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and many other popular titles — hosted its first hackathon at its midtown headquarters, the Hearst Tower. (You can search for tweets from the event using #HearstFashionHack.)

Hackers, hustlers, and designers working hard on projects at Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan.

Hearst invited “geek” and “chic” people alike to learn from each other, collaborate into the wee hours of the night, and present the results of a 24-hour marathon work session to a VIP panel of judges that included David Carey, the President of Hearst Magazines, and Phil Wiser, the Chief Technology Officer of Hearst Corp. Kicking off the event, Carey pointed out that Hearst was “blessed with so much IP” and he was looking forward to seeing what participants in the hackathon could do with it (in 24 hours, no less).

As Hearst evolves into a media, information, entertainment, and services company, they are keen to build stronger relationships with large technology and internet companies, not to mention startups in the technology, fashion, and media verticals. Microsoft, along with numerous other companies including HTC, Amazon, GILT, and Klout, was a proud sponsor of the event, providing technical support about our Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Azure cloud, and Kinect platforms, and offering prizes to the most innovative hacks built on Microsoft platforms: two Lenovo “Yoga” laptop computers, each worth about $2,000. Cheers to my colleagues Hong Choing, Neha Bhaskar, Maria Naggaga Nakanwagi, and Rachel Appel for supporting the event with technical advice, and helping to judge the hackathon participants.

Microsoft’s evangelism team that judged hacks: (l-r) Maria Naggaga Nakanwagi, Rachel Appel, Hong Choing. (not pictured: Neha Bhaskar)

One of the Lenovo “Yoga” computers Microsoft gave away as a prize; next to a Microsoft Surface RT tablet.

The grand prize was $10,000 cash for best use of Hearst’s APIs, giving hackers access to editorial, photo, and other content in their databases.

Despite a delayed start last Saturday morning — and thus less overall time to hack — due to a small blizzard hitting New York and New England the night before (which yours truly braved during his train ride into the Big Apple), some of the hacks were really good. Here is a sampling of some that I really liked:

  • Co-Fashion correlates static content from Hearst’s magazines with trending social conversations (on Twitter, etc.), filtered and curated by influence and theme. For example, I could pull up all the Esquire articles about coats from 2012 and cross-reference that with what coats influential people are sharing photos of online; I may find that Esquire recommends bold plaid coats, but that influencers I follow outside of New York City and Boston haven’t bought into the message yet.
  • Zine helps you self-publish your own magazine based on Hearst’s content. Their tag line is “Ziners gotta zine.” For example, if I wanted to I could publish a zine that deciphers women’s fashion trends for urban men (I’d call it Mysterious.)
  • Shop Up extends the retail experience by empowering you to pull up Hearst content about a specific item of clothing. If you’re like me and one dress shirt looks a bit like the next one, you can actually scan the bar code and learn that Esquire recommends (say) the Ralph Lauren dress shirts but never discusses Hugo Boss ones, and that may influence your purchasing decision (this one would be nice to see on kiosks in in retail stores too, perhaps).
  • Hearst Throb uses APIs from HTC to use a Polar H7 heart rate monitor to measure your blood pressure reaction to different kinds of Hearst content. (Maybe Playboy should license this one…)

That should give you the idea. We laughed, we cried, and sometimes we felt like, Why didn’t I think of that? For example, this app that lets you project Hearst content on the inside of your umbrella:

Yes, that’s Hearst magazine content being projected inside an umbrella so you can read while you’re walking in the rain.

Microsoft decided its two winners — one for Windows 8 and one for Windows Phone — from among the 40 or so overall participant teams (some of whom used Microsoft’s platforms, some didn’t — there were plenty to choose from). Our first prize went to Arcadiusz Kazimierski for creating a stylish Windows 8 “tile” interface for sorting Hearst content by various filters, including designer (i.e., you can pull up every Hearst magazine or newspaper photo of a Prabal Gurung dress and then scroll through tiles of dresses vertically or horizontally by touch or by mouse). Arcadiusz also made good use of Windows 8 “charms” (easy-access tools in a secret control menu); the share charm allows you to easily share a single tile with friends via Facebook, Twitter, email and more, and the search charm lets you search within tiles for even more specific options (i.e., within Prabal Gurung dresses you could search for ones tagged with “red” or “Michelle Obama”).

Screenshot of the Microsoft winning app at the Hearst Fashion Hack.

Microsoft’s second prize went to Gary-Yau Chan and Ian Flynn for developing Dice Maniac, perhaps the funniest app of the Hearst Fashion Hack. An anti-fashion app of sorts aimed at men who can’t dress themselves, Dice Maniac uses the Windows Phone 8 interface to turn getting dressed into a game during which items of clothing — shirts, pants, shoes — are put on dies which are then rolled to determine in which combination you wear them. It’s so silly, people would probably love playing it with clothes you feature in Esquire, Hearst (better snag it before someone else does…). One of my colleagues asked Gary what his experience at Hearst Fashion Hack was, and he reported the following: “Fantastic! …I never had an experience like this before at a hackathon – being able to talk to so many top designers and learning from them. We wanted to create something fun for us and with a cool design and we made the Dice game. Me and my buddy are going to launch this in the Windows store after working on it a bit — like adding videos and making it a social party dice game.”

Microsoft also awarded some runner-up prizes, including one very cool one that amounted to hacking Kinect to create something termed a Virtual Mannequin, a 3D representation of clothing.

With startups like ModCloth, StyleSeat, Birchbox and others merging fashion and technology and making Fast Company’s “most innovative companies in technology” list for 2013, it’s more important than ever for fashion brands, media companies, and other entities in the space to be building relationships with tech-savvy idea people, developers, and established entrepreneurs. By that standard, Hearst Fashion Hack was a success for its namesake. I didn’t get a final headcount, but well over 100 people formed about 40 teams that presented projects, and a dozen tech or tech-related companies came in as sponsors and participants themselves.

Phil Wiser, the aforementioned CTO of Hearst, summed it up nicely for me just before the judging: “This event has already exceeded our expectations…Everything is upside from here.” I’m looking forward to seeing if Hearst Fashion Hack becomes a yearly New York Fashion Week staple.

Mark Drapeau, Ph.D. is the director of innovative engagement for public sector at Microsoft, and the founder and producer of the Microsoft-Bloomingdale’s charity fashion show series Geek 2 Chic. You can follow him on Twitter at @cheeky_geeky .

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