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Kate Bosworth hops on board Style Thief's snappy brand of shopping

Kate Bosworth hops on board Style Thief's snappy brand of shopping
Kate Bosworth, right, is Style Thief's chief marketing officer. Samantha Russ, left, dreamed up the fashion-identification app. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Stealing someone else's style in the blink of an eye? It isn't quite that easy yet. But a new app is getting shoppers a big step closer to the holy grail of retail, thanks to image-recognition technology that can search the inventory of more than 350 retailers with just the snap of a shutter and a swipe of a finger.

Called Style Thief, it's the brainchild of L.A.-based entrepreneur Samantha Russ and actress Kate Bosworth. The idea started percolating in the aughts when Russ was spending cold Midwestern winters cyber-shopping while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "I'd see somebody wearing exactly what I wanted, and when I went to a store [and described it], they'd be like: 'I think we have something kind of like that,' and I'd be like, 'No, no, no, I don't want to trust your description,'" she said. "That's when I realized that there's no better way to get closer than a photo — you just snap it and go."

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In 2012, Russ took the idea to her father, American Rag co-owner Larry Russ, "to see if it had legs," and she's been hard at work ever since. (Not coincidentally, the senior Russ serves as Style Thief's chief executive officer.)

Bosworth, whose previous fashion-tech experience includes a multiyear partnership with subscription-based accessories line JewelMint, is one of a growing number of celebrities who see potential in the e-commerce arena (a short list includes Ashton Kutcher, Rachel Zoe, Justin Timberlake and Steve Nash). Introduced to Russ through a mutual friend, she officially signed on as Style Thief's chief marketing officer a few months ago. Bosworth said she chose to invest in the project (literally — both she and her husband, director Michael Polish, are among the venture's investor partners) because it mirrors the way she likes to shop.

"There's a certain simplicity to the tool that I'm attracted to," Bosworth said. "Shopping on the Internet should be a one- maybe two-step process at the most, and that's what this app does. You take a photo, it searches in real time and finds you an item that's either an exact match or similar, and you're good to go."

Available free at the iTunes store (Android and other platforms are to come), the app uses image-recognition software to scrutinize photos (either snapped on the fly or pulled from an existing photo library), with the user inputting his or her gender and garment preferences. Women can choose from categories such as dresses, skirts and tops; men's options include suits and sport coats, among other things. Pinch and expand a photo to zoom in on a particular element (say a specific print or the color of a contrast pocket), click "use" and the software goes to work, serving up in a matter of seconds a list of results from a database of retailers such as Net-a-porter.com, Macy's, farfetch.com and Neiman Marcus.

Another couple of swipes and those results can be sorted (by price or relevance) or filtered (by price, retailer, brand, color or category) before clicking through to purchase at the individual retailer's website. Style Thief makes a commission on each completed sale.

Thanks to improvements in technology, image recognition is becoming the next frontier in mobile retail, and Style Thief joins a handful of fashion-focused start-ups (Snap Fashion, Asap54 and Style-Eyes, to name three) trying to stand out from the pack.

If Bosworth's celebrity (and style) cachet ultimately helps Style Thief steal the hearts, minds and wallets of the online shopping crowd, Russ has big plans for the image-recognition app. "Right now we need to get a lot of users," she said. "But really the possibilities are endless — furniture would be one good example."

Sofa Thief, anyone?

Twitter: @ARTschorn

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