Google Enters Fashion (NYTimes)

Source: NYTimes, Nov 2010

In a deliberate collision between nerds and fashion mavens, Google has created a new e-commerce site that significantly improves how fashion is presented and sold online. The site, Boutiques.com, which is expected to go up Wednesday morning, may also change how people shop for clothes.

It is a collection of hundreds of virtual boutiques merchandised — or, in the new parlance, “curated” — by designers, retailers, bloggers, celebrities and regular folks. You can shop in the style of, say, the actress Carey Mulligan or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen — among the celebrities who signed up for the launch — or you can build your own boutique and amass followers who can comment on your taste.

It is also a source of inspiration. In every boutique on the site, there are dozens of additional choices inspired by a designer’s or celebrity’s style — generated by algorithms — with product photos that are much larger and sharper than on other shopping sites. And if you don’t know how to wear the leopard pumps you just bought, there’s a panel of street-style photos on the right side of the site that visualizes the shoes in more expressive modes. Indeed, whatever your style preference — classic, romantic, casual — the inspiration panel automatically adjusts for them, like a support group that can read your mind with surprising precision.

And that may be Boutiques.com’s ultimate game-changer — how precisely it analyzes your preferences to give you what you requested. … The process at Boutiques.com is accomplished through visual search technology, and what style experts like Ms. Goodman and Ms. Holtz conveyed to Google code writers about the nuances of fashion — from color and pattern to silhouette and what looks good together and what does not. …

Mr. Shah is the team leader for Boutiques.com, with a left-brain-right-brain group of technicians and tastemakers. As he said in interviews conducted over the past week, “Online fashion shopping has to be universal and curatorial at the same time. This is an answer.”

Despite the amount of products that a search on Boutiques.com kicks out, the download time is very fast, and choices appear on extra-long pages so you don’t have to keep clicking. Virtually every kind of information is analyzed — price, brand, color and so on. The site also includes a system called “Complete the Look,” for which Ms. Goodman wrote “a ton of rules,” Mr. Shah said, “and our computer vision and machine learning guys implemented them.”

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