When, Exactly, Did Designer Headphones Become a Thing?

Twenty years ago, headphones were clunky, utilitarian things. But when MP3s allowed music to become more portable than every, something changed. We saw the rise of the designer headphones. How did this happen? The Independent take a look.

During New York Fashion Week in February, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled the thinking behind its next costume exhibition, “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”. Eighteen months previously, a bunch of fashion editors were absent from the spring/summer 2015 season of New York because they were on a 36-hour flying visit to San Francisco to witness the unveiling of the Apple Watch. Why? Because fashion and tech are closer than ever before.

It isn’t so much about houses such as Chanel eschewing stitching in favour of selective laser sintering (read: 3D printing) to craft garments, although that makes great pictures (and, by all accounts, a wonderful Met exhibit). It’s more about pumping up technology we already have with fashion kudos – such as a cheap iPhone case glitzed with silly bits, as spun out by most designers to great commercial gain.

A more interesting luxury subset, however, has emerged in the form of headphones – not only are luxury merchants chasing the bandwagon, but entire brands are emerging to satisfy this perceived niche in the marketplace, appealing to audiophiles and the fashionable in equal measure. Dolce & Gabbana are at the forefront: they have created headphones that recall the crowns that adorn Madonnas in regional Italian Catholic shrines, attached to retro over-ear cups. As financial offerings to the gods, these are hefty: this spring’s passementerie-fringed style will set you back £3,850.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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