High fashion and contactless payments collided this week on the catwalk at the London Fashion Week event as Near Field Communication rings stole the show.
VIP guests at the show were given rings with NFC chips and £500 ($776 U.S.) preloaded to use on the fashion runway when spotting clothing or accessories they wanted to purchase.
A tap of the NFC ring against a leaf-shaped brooch initiated a purchase, with the leaf brooch lighting up to signal the transaction has completed, according to reports in The Telegraph from London.
This particular marriage of fashion and payments technology came from a collaboration between British fashion designer Henry Holland and the Visa Europe Collab. The NFC brooches were linked to virtual payment terminals through Bluetooth Smart technology, while Visa processed the payments as they occurred.
Visa Europe introduced its Visa Europe Collab in London five months ago to encourage this type of collaboration and develop new concepts into products. Visa Europe partners with Visa Inc. but operates as a separate organization. Visa Europe's member banks issue payment cards, acquire retailers and determine cardholder and retailer fees.
As a fashion designer, Holland had a good sense as to what would make a payment technology visible to the consumer.
"A really big thing for me was making the tech invisible, especially if I’m incorporating it into something as important as my show," Holland stated in The Telegraph report. "From my point of view it was really about creating two items – the ring and the brooch – that were really desirable pieces that people would want to wear themselves, but just happened to have those capabilities."
Even though the NFC ring in a fashion show setting comes off "a little like a gimmick," it is impressive how the Visa Europe Collab and Henry Holland were able to develop the technology in less than 100 days, said Gareth Lodge, a London-based analyst for Celent.
"The Collab runs time-restricted pilots to test ideas and see if they are viable before handing them over to the main Visa business," Lodge said. "One of the challenges that many organizations face with innovation is that they're both tied to existing processes and existing business plans."
The fashion show's use of NFC rings likely won't translate to mainstream use in the near-term because it was "carefully choreographed and closed loop," but products like Apple Watch will possibly lead the pack as payments wearables take hold with consumers, Lodge added.
Most of the recent emphasis on payments wearables has centered on smartwatches such as Apple Watch and Android Wear products.
The concept of an NFC ring is not new, though previous efforts have not made much headway into the payments industry. A U.K.-based company called NFC Ring raised funds through Kickstarter in 2013 to sell the rings initially as a second form factor for authenticating Bitcoin wallet third-party apps.