The tech couture includes bikinis that surf and jewelry that sends email

By Glenn Gaslin
Updated April 16, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

As a man and a woman pass on the street, their Internet connected sunglasses display each other’s names, hobbies, and favorite movies, while infrared sensors in their necklaces exchange phone numbers. Another vision of future schlock? In fact, based on the newfangled webwear recently unveiled at the Fashionably Unwired World Technology Fashion Show in Las Vegas, it’s a not so unlikely scenario.

The models at the Sands Expo Center sported gadgets that could soon turn the Web into a lifestyle and fashion accessory: A hipster in a Nice Collective sweatshirt strutted the stage to a thudding techno beat, his sneakers monitoring vital signs, able to call 911 if his heart stops. A woman in a shiny silver bikini surfed the Web through sunglasses. And six models in slinky cocktail dresses (by Sheri Bodell and Claudia Kim) listened to email via simple silver earrings, dictating their own email missives into elegant chokers.

The event, mounted by Beverly Hills e- wear merchants Charmed Technology, promises a tomorrow in which we wear the Web — gloves as computer keyboards, monocles as monitors — and become ”mobile walking Internet portals.” But with iffy technology, high prices, and slow connections, only one thing’s for sure: The stuff looks mahvelous, even if it might not all work perfectly.

The first wave of webwear makers — including Swatch and Levi’s — prove you can take the Web with you and still be chic. ”It’s not clear where all this will go,” says Maggie Orth, artist – technologist at MIT’s Media Lab, where she creates wired fabrics. ”But it’s definitely going to be related to fashion.”

In Europe last fall, Levi’s began selling $600 plus jackets embedded with phones and MP3 players — speakers in the hood, microphone on the collar — by Italian designer Massimo Osti. And Charmed offers the $2,000 CharmIT, a metallic box that hangs off your belt and is wired to a visor (like the one Cyclops wears in ”X-Men”). It can get you connected to the Web, via Windows — but let’s face it, it only looks good on a supermodel.

Charmed’s CEO, Alex Lightman, says this latest trend is the beginning of ”a Roger Rabbit world” come to life, where your glasses tap into the Net and add an e- layer to whatever you see: Translate signs into Japanese. Put virtual name tags on everyone at a party. ”Or have your favorite Hollywood celebrity walking next to you, all the time,” says Lightman.

Not so fast, says MIT’s Orth, who believes that eventually we’ll see bikini surfers but that the technology ”has a long way to go.” First, she says, we’ll see more stylish versions of simple items like cell phones and MP3 players. For example, Nokia is wiring clothes with phones and speakers for designer Oliver Lapidus and board sport outfitters Reima. And Hewlett-Packard is making a Web ticking Swatch watch. But Charmed exec Katrina Barillova, a former runway model, says that in order for webwear to win acceptance, it’s got to look good: ”Very few people are willing to sacrifice being called nerds for the sake of technology.”