My addiction to reality competition TV took a surprising and delightful turn when I tuned in to “Project Runway All Stars”  and learned that the aspiring designers’ challenge for the week was to create runway looks incorporating various forms of light. Their typical trek to the Mood fabric store was accompanied by a visit to Barbizon Lighting Co., where a frenzied grab for neon tape, fairy lights, fiber optics and magnetic blinking lights ensued. The results were more science fiction than high fashion, but under the added drama of a blacklight, the creativity behind each outfit truly made them shine.
To introduce this illuminating episode, host Angela Lindvall proclaimed that “innovation and technology are just as much a part of the fashion world as fabric and thread.” What I am finding in our own industry is that the fashion world is just as much a part of technology as innovation.
Based on initial consumer response to LED lighting products already on the market, their biggest trepidation — particularly concerning replacement bulbs — seems to be about how foreign and unrelatably high-tech the forms appear to be. Heat-sinking fins serve a purpose but also potentially alienate those who have long preferred the uninterrupted curve of an incandescent A-lamp. It’s not just that it looks different; it looks so different — like an android version of a human being, where there are certainly parallels, but fundamental aesthetic and emotional distinctions render one colder and less inviting than the other.
The quality of LED light itself relative to incandescent’s warmth has also historically been a stumbling block. There have been recent major advances in this area, and I expect this year’s Lightfair Intl.  will showcase significant improvements in LED color temperature options. I’m hopeful that we’ll even see LEDs that replicate incandescent’s still warmer glow when dimmed.
Our industry has been presented with real challenges that are not solved in a two-hour season finale or with an extra yard of tulle. They require significant investments in research and development, and thousands of man-hours from brilliant engineers. But I would argue that it’s going to take a designer’s eye — and heart and soul — to bridge the gap to widespread consumer acceptance. That’s why the winning teams in lighting today represent equal parts art and science — Thomas Edison’s ingenuity meets Austin Scarlett’s je ne sais quoi. Apple has built a wildly successful brand on this harmonization of product performance, user experience and impeccable aesthetics. This reality TV show addict believes we can “make it work,” but the first step is admitting we have a problem.