The ICD+ jacket: Slip into my office, please

It plays your favourite tunes in the hood, lets you call work by talking into the collar, and has a remote-control pad up its sleeve.
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So is the ICD+ jacket the mobile workplace of the future - or just the ultimate anorak's anorak?

So is the ICD+ jacket the mobile workplace of the future - or just the ultimate anorak's anorak?

I am walking down the street listening to my MP3 player when, suddenly, my mobile phone rings. The MP3 player slows automatically to a polite stop, allowing me to take the call. I listen to my friend through the same earphones that, just a second ago, were bringing eardrum-busting tunes to my head. I have to call the office. I speak into the microphone that's built into my jacket and the phone, with the aid of fancy voice-recognition technology, dials the number for me. I don't have to press a single button. Well, sort of.

This natty fashion and technology combo is one of the first commercial triumphs of a collaboration between Levi's and the electronics firm Philips. Together the duo are launching an initial range of four jackets under the ICD+ label (ICD stands for Industrial Clothing Division), which attempt to cater for the needs of what they term urban nomads: people who live their lives on the move, who need to be a walking office.

Both partners are nothing short of evangelical in their belief that they are entering uncharted territory, changing forever the world of fashion, mapping out our futures. You see the people at Philips claim that the digital revolution has resulted in consumers "increasingly demanding total mobility and total connectivity and more freedom and comfort. People are carrying around more and more electronic products - mobile phones, palm-top computers, personal CD players, and MP3 players - and more are on their way." The solution to coping with all this gadgetry isn't just more pockets, but getting all of these boxes of tricks working together, while leaving your hands as free as possible.

Levi's, a company that prides itself on creating workwear that works, makes the ideal partner. In its mission statement for ICD+, it talks about creating clothes that meet the needs of the "millennium worker". What's more, to make sure the clothes actually cut the mustard in the style stakes, Levi's has brought on board the designer Massimo Osti, the Italian who created labels such as Stone Island, and who is known for his subtle and skilful use of hi-tech fabrics. But does the anorak for anoraks work?

A week ago Levi's let us road test the CS106/Mooring jacket which provides an "adaptable solution for a typical nomadic character found working in modern cities". The Philips phone and MP3 player are tucked into the see-through pockets of a gilet and the wiring that connects the two runs through the material. It's all very neat. There's also a remote-control pad and little docking stations for each earpiece so they don't swing around when not in use. Over the top of the gilet goes the main jacket, making the electronics invisible (otherwise you'd be a target for muggers).

Now the downside: it didn't quite work as well as I had hoped. The connections to the MP3 player were temperamental and the phone didn't like my SIM card. And it was also not the ideal day (a rare hot and sunny one) to be racing around in a multi-layered weather-proof outfit. Levi's also pointed out other deficiencies which it intends to correct before ICD+ hits the shops later this month: on my prototype the MP3 player had to be taken out of its protective pocket and switched on manually before it would respond to the remote-control panel.

But these are quibbles - the possible benefits were very clear. The jacket didn't feel cumbersome, looked great, and you felt that you had everything you needed at your fingertips. I have to call Pieterbas Stehmann, associate brand manager for ICD+, and congratulate him. Unfortunately I can't quite manage it in the roving office.

Straightaway Stehmann wants to make clear that this is only the first step and that the most exciting developments are still a little way off. "We have a wish list which includes people having computers on board but, at the moment, they are still quite bulky. The next step should be the use of wireless technology which will make everything look and work more smoothly. We are also looking at absolute modularity - sweaters and pants, say, containing different products which would synchronise when worn together. We also want to see the prices coming right down, we want to bring these electronics to a more commercial market." See, I said they were evangelical.

Stehmann goes on to explain that when Levi's first started in the 1850s, its clothes were made for the miners of the Californian Gold Rush and that these new garments are for the men and women on the new millennium's gold rush... information technology. He's genuinely excited about the project and talks with glee about the reaction he gets from people when he demonstrates to them the inner workings of his coat. Demand for the ICD+ jackets has proved greater than he anticipated. He thinks their initial audience will be what he describes as "edge consumers" - that's skaters, snowboarders and "people living on the street" by which he does not mean tramps. ICD+ will also appeal to "modernists", people as old as 29 who like to be seen with the latest products. But he is convinced that, ultimately, we will all succumb. And I'm not sure he's wrong - but then, at the age of six, I thought that the compass in the heel of your shoe was here to stay.

Levi's and Philips are not the only contenders in this game (and actually, before we go any further, let's remember that sportswear for the likes of sailors and skiers is already available packed with technological wizardry, including GPS systems that will allow a satellite to locate your exact position on the earth). In California, Charmed Technology is also investing in fashion futures. The company is a spin-off of the MIT Media Lab and has business alliances with numerous companies including Motorola and Penton Media.

The Charmed team are equally zealous about their aims and the potential of their products. This is their plan. "Our vision is to incorporate unwired internet into fashion, lifestyle and health applications by creating inexpensive wireless mobile devices that will allow individuals to access the World Wide Web anywhere and anytime through wireless technology... Charmed technology will allow individuals to be connected to the internet via their eyeglasses, necklaces or lapel pins, even a child's toy."

From its Los Angeles HQ, spokeswoman Susan Ortega says that the first two products will be launched by the end of this year. "We are going to bring out the Charmed Communicator, which is a computer you wear. There's a pair of eyeglasses that are your screen, then a piece about the size of a mobile phone which can be attached to your belt - that's the server - and a small keyboard on which you can type up to 70 words a minute. Then there's the Charmed Badge which was supposed to be ready for use at the Democratic convention and which will sell for just $10. It's an electronic business card and is intended for use at events. You enter your information and then, when you are standing next to somebody else wearing one, it will swop your information. So when you leave at the end of the day, you'll be able to get a list of all the people you met and what they do."

Ortega also tells me about how you will be able to buy rings and necklaces that flash when someone calls your mobile, then there's the Charmed Sensor that will spray the smell of roses "if you are around a dirty area or the person next to you smells". But that's another story.

Ortega, doing her Billy Graham speech, insists that Charmed products will change the world, "we want people in Africa to have them - places where they can't even get the internet! Even in some place that has nothing!" All very good, but will they be bringing out a shoe with a compass in the heel? I know somebody who would snap that up.

Levi's ICD+ jackets are available from Cinch, 5 Newburgh Street, London, W1 (020 7287 4941).

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