Hey DoCoMo Pimp my handset! NTT is shrugging off some of that infamous group-think mentality promoting trendy young designs in an eye-popping line of custom jackets for the P901iS series. Skulls, pistols, snakeskin, Samba Samurai and flower camo transform mobile phones into Japanese pop culture icons — complete with matching phone straps. D-@-mo (datmo design project) is turning out some of the best P901iS covers, but P901iS manufacturer Panasonic plus a host of licensees have Japanese strutting down urban catwalks flashing their phones like designer clutches .
The cell phones transformation into fashion statement is something Americans are slowly catching on to. Coach, Hermes and Gucci got it right away and started marketing phone straps, charms or Keitai cases for brand loving locals. Custom painted, and completely illegal, rip offs of Chanel and Dior logos decorate jewel-encrusted handsets on pretty young things but everyone knows real brands are better. Now licensed names by youth culture designers and even game-obsessed Otaku brands are spreading onto handsets like a virus – a shiny, happy moneymaking virus.
Datmo is the unlikely pairing of corporate NTT DoCoMo with young Japanese entertainment producer, Masato Ochi. With a string of hip TV hits and celebrity status, he and some of DoCoMo’s forward looking marketers branched out from hardware to hard fashion. The partnership produces licensed covers and accessories for the 901i series and especially the new P901iS targeted at young consumers in their high teens to mid-20s. Most are available exclusively through the online shop or a new real world boutique. Edgy pistol-packing images from Saburo Hamanaka’s Roar label and Nicky Hilton for Samantha Tavasa New York are just two of Datmo?fs increasingly diverse range of designers. Samba samurai sensation Ken Matsudaira has his own line of newly minted glitz covers. Datmo mobile site members can download images for the P901iS cover screen (dubbed, “private window”). Custom covers start at 4000 yen (US$36). An exclusive Datmo P901i handset decorated with the Datmo logo and carnival mask image goes for 28,140 yen (US$257).
DoCoMo explains that the concept behind the Datmo collaboration was, “It’s DoCoMo but it’s not. It’s keitai (mobile phone) buts it’s fashion.” Eye catching and unlikely parings of technology with hip and even controversial designs are bringing in young shoppers. At the Datmo boutique in Shibuya, 20-year old university student Kimiko Suzuki was looking at the Medicom http://www.bearbrick.com/series9/index2.html custom jackets. “I really like the idea of changing the cover and phone strap to match my mood. Funny bears and Samantha Tavasa celeb (celebrity) style, I want to be both!” (Probably on the same day.) Her 21-year old first-name-only-please friend Emiko added, “What I like is the covers aren’t cheap looking. They have style and really look like part of the phone.” Already DoCoMo owners, both women are planning to trade up to P901iS handsets with money from summer jobs, “We’ll match!” they say together.
Young men are also firmly caught in the cross hairs of phone chic. Clad in leather pants, jacket and skull chain belt, a tall rangy “no comment” biker wannabe checked out a Loveless brand custom Abraham Lincoln jacket and “Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die”, skull and crossbones logo from Mastermind. Ah Japan, what a country. In the land of the super-consumer even counter culture people want to show off with a name brand statement and 3G phone.
The cult of custom jackets is not limited to Datmo licensing. Disney Stores in Japan have racks of low cost 901i Disney-themed custom jackets for under $10. Electronic superstore Sakuraya has a ring binder full of P901i jackets next to their first floor display. Panasonic itself debuted the P901i series with a catalog of covers and a personal design-your-own option online at P-Jacket Creator.
Hurrah for modest inroads into individual expression (with a corporate slant).
Panasonic hot-wired in another design feature turning up in street customized handsets – LED light effects. The cover of every P901iS has a window displaying programmable light effects in simple kinetic
geometric patterns: pinwheels swirl, balls bounce around the screen (oh no, it’s Pong!), little skyrockets burst into light shows. The multi-service window flashes weather report icons, incoming and outgoing mail icons, the time, and a music equalizer. Different custom jackets can be fine tuned to matching light displays like the fireworks for the Yozora (night sky) model. Covers at Datmo also play the private window screen card with translucent patterns incorporated into cover designs over the light displays. Datmo’s advantage over the Panasonic designs is many of them include coordinating phone straps. Never forget, phone straps are an obsession in Asia.
Mobile phones have given communication a personal edge that transcends technology to provoke a pure emotional response. Unless you’re Amish or a Luddite, who doesn’t want to pimp out their phone? Human nature, as base as it is, loves something shiny. Custom Jackets for a handset like the smart 3G P901iS fuses fashion and technology into a formidable marketing package consumers find hard to resist.
– Gail Nakada