Heidi Schumann for The New York Times
LAST winter, Chanel flew planeloads of style setters to Las Vegas for a party celebrating Numéros Privés, an exhibition showcasing the brand at the Wynn hotel. There, guests including Diane Kruger, Jessica Alba and Rachel Zoe mingled inside a giant red-lighted replica of a black Chanel 2.55 handbag.
But when it came time for dinner, Chanel’s president, John Galantic, didn’t sit at a table with actresses, but one with Silicon Valley tech executives, like Marissa Mayer (wearing a gray beaded Chanel cocktail dress) and Alison Pincus (in a classic black Chanel shift).
Silicon Valley has long been known for semiconductors and social networks, not stilettos and socialites. But in a place where the most highly prized style is to appear to ignore style altogether and the hottest accessory is the newest phone, a growing group of women is bucking convention not only by being women in a male-dominated industry, but also by unabashedly embracing fashion.
Despite the geek stereotypes of hoodie sweatshirts, flip-flops and thick glasses, it makes perfect sense, these women say, for people interested in technology to be intrigued by fashion.
“Designing software and products isn’t all that different from the design of clothes,” Ms. Mayer, 37, the new chief executive of Yahoo, said in an interview last February. She once paid $ 60,000 at an auction for lunch with Oscar de la Renta. “Like components of software,” she said, “fashion designers learned how to do this shoulder, put pleats on the skirt that way.”
Ms. Mayer, who for years was responsible for the design of Google’s search engine, proved her point when she asked Naeem Khan to make the dress for her wedding to Zachary Bogue, a financier, in 2009. She gave the designer a spec (a set of requirements that engineers write for new products) for the gown, including scalloped trim, an A-line skirt and lace, preferably with snowflakes.
“A side zip was eliminated because it would get caught on the lace and embroidery, so we realized that wasn’t feasible from an engineering perspective,” Ms. Mayer said.
Not every fashionable techie is so collaborative, but designers are nonetheless eager to explore a client base with not only money to burn but also a forward-looking ethos.
“Definitely my New York clients want to penetrate the valley,” said Allison Speer, founder of Allison Speer Public Relations, who helps introduce designers to customers in Northern California. “When we opened Bottega Veneta, they said: ‘We don’t want the social girls who do everything. We want the up-and-coming tech girls.’ ”
Alice & Olivia recently opened a San Francisco store and started a career line of peplum blouses, blazers and cropped pants to cater to women in tech, said Stacey Bendet Eisner, the brand’s designer.
“Women in the tech world aren’t confined to wearing a standard black suit, so they can have more fun with their day clothes,” Ms. Bendet Eisner said. “They also want an element of sophistication to their clothes because they want to be taken seriously. Hollywood women are more focused on sex appeal.”
FOR the men who have so long dominated Silicon Valley, the casualness of their clothing has seemed to bear an inverse proportion to the magnitude of their innovations. But despite Steve Jobs’s baggy dad jeans, his black turtlenecks were made by Issey Miyake. And Mark Zuckerberg’s signature hoodies and shower sandals are nothing if not a style statement.
As the area ages and settles, however, more of its denizens are starting to think about dressing for the office rather than the dorm room. And while some women here still worry that they will not be considered serious technologists if they care about clothes, as Katrina Garnett was when she wore a slinky black Hervé Léger bandage dress in ads for her business software company, many are confident enough to dress the way they want to.
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