Illustration by Arthur Mount

Electronic aids make the new Prada store as much fun as Circuit City

Clothes shopping not your bag? We understand completely. But the latest trend in New York’s fashion world is technology, and at Prada’s brand-new flagship store in Manhattan, customers will be ogling the microchips more than the miniskirts.

Scheduled to open this month, the store is the first of four planned by the high-end Italian merchandiser, at an undisclosed (but undoubtedly extravagant) cost. The gadgetry hits you the moment you walk in, and doesn’t let up until long after you’ve left the store. For the fashion perplexed, ubiquitous computer displays help you pick a pair of pants to match that shirt you’re buying. If you’re a hard-core fashionista, the database finds clothing in your size that complements what’s in your closet. And if you need spousal approval before buying (you know who you are), log on to Prada’s Web site, where images of the clothes you tried on that day will be loaded into your personal account.

But the real fun of the store lies in the gizmos. A set of giant moving display cases dangles from the ceiling, and the dressing room mirrors let you see yourself in slow motion. Who knows? If geek chic catches on, an afternoon of clothes shopping might become as much fun as a trip to Circuit City.

Style Scanners: When you wave this PDA over special ID tags on the clothing, the device emits radio waves that bounce off the tags, linking you to the store’s databases. View that infor-mation-such as whether the item is available in your size-on a store monitor, or load it into your personal Web account for access later.

Magic Mirrors (left, center): Glass doors on a dressing room is an idea only an exhibitionist would love, until you realize that the mate-rial is actually a semi-transparent liquid crystal display. Touch a button once inside and the clear door turns opaque, ensconcing you in a space designed to let you see yourself like never before. Move slowly and the mirror reflects your image back to you normally. But if you spin around quickly, you experience what the designers call “elastic time”: The mirror slows down your image so you can view yourself from the back. This Wonderlandian trick is pulled off with hidden cameras and a screen that masquerades as a mirror.

Dramatic Displays (left, below): Huge transparent boxes filled with mannequins, clothing, and computer screens hang from above. These display cases run along a network of motorized tracks in the ceiling, so they can be shuffled around the 23,000-square-foot store. On a regular shopping day, for example, the displays might be scattered; on other days they can be compressed to make room for parties or fashion shows.