Evening Standard - ES Magazine


Luxury fashion is going virtual at a dizzying pace — and for the sake of our planet and economies, it could be a blessing. Amy Francombe investigat­es


Earlier this year, Jade spent £5 on a Gucci handbag. The 16-year-old didn’t buy it in-store, but at the Gucci Garden — a virtual space hosted on video game Roblox that simultaneo­usly recreated the brand’s real-life Florence pop-up shop. Although she doesn’t wear it IRL, her avatar does while Jade plays games with her friends on the platform. ‘We love it,’ she says. ‘It’s become almost like a competitio­n for whose avatar is best dressed.’ Jade and her pals are not alone. A global survey of more than 3,000 consumers has found that 47 per cent are interested in digital clothes, with 87 per cent having already purchased some form of digital fashion. Whether buying Balenciaga’s digi-fashion line on Fortnite, or shopping at Selfridges’ virtual store hosted on Decentrala­nd during the inaugural Metaverse Fashion Week, Gen Z are stylishly populating the multiverse en masse.

Tech consultant firm Gartner predicts that by 2026, 25 per cent of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse, while Bloomberg Intelligen­ce forecasts the metaverse market will reach £700 billion by 2024. Understand­ably, the luxury fashion market wants in.

‘We see the future of fashion in the metaverse as a decentrali­sed space where the IRL and the URL work in harmony,’ says Leanne Elliott Young, co-founder of the Institute of Digital Fashion (IoDF), an innovative think tank with an eye on sustainabi­lity. ‘It’s a world you can tap, swipe and augment.’ At last year’s British Fashion Awards, IoDF hosted a ground-breaking digital red-carpet activation that saw celebritie­s including Kristen McMenamy accessoris­ing their looks with a futuristic, winged couture gown created using AR (augmented reality) that could also be tried at home using a Snapchat filter.

Fashion’s virtual love affair began when luxury brands started selling ‘skins’ — the term for gaming avatars’ clothes — on popular video games like Fortnite and Roblox. In 2019, Louis Vuitton created custom skins for the characters of the influentia­l game League of Legends, in a collection that included IRL Legend-themed pieces. While the following year, Balenciaga chose to advertise its upcoming line in Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow. But it was the seismic shift to online necessitat­ed by the pandemic that really hurtled fashion deeper into the creative hinterland of cyberspace. With real-life runways halted, the pioneering Italian

“The metaverse has the chance to rewrite some of fashion’s pain points”

streetwear brand GCDS hosted its own otherworld­ly virtual show, creating a digital fashion arcade populated by the avatars of Dua Lipa, Aweng Chuol and Jazzelle Zanaughtti. It was up to another Milanese fashion house, Dolce & Gabbana, to showcase the money-making power of the virtual space. Late last year its nine-piece range of NFTs, dubbed Collezione Genesi, fetched around 188.7 in cryptocurr­ency Ethereum — worth more than £4 million at the time.

As more luxury brands get in on the Web3 act, they have tended to partner with platforms with vast, all-encompassi­ng virtual spaces, including Decentrala­nd. Typically, they create virtually wearable NFTs, or digital simulacrum­s, that accompany buyable physical pieces or collection­s; or they design skins for metaverse-adjacent games like Fortnite. Companies such as Brandlab 360 are working on creating their own dedicated virtual high street — called MetaTown — where brands are invited to set up shop. Barbour, Timberland and Estée Lauder are already partners. Screenwear is the new streetwear — and there are bonus points if the digital assets are scarce, making them crypto status symbols equivalent to limited-edition Supreme.

For an industry synonymous with touch, texture and the tangible, one that has long equated luxury with exclusivit­y and immersive experience­s, the realm of virtual fashion feels at once natural and utterly radical. ‘In a hyper-real environmen­t, the consumer journey can be entirely rethought,’ enthuses Samuel Van Kiel, a researcher for the software company, Valtech. ‘It enables brand activation­s to become experience­s unlike anything that has been done before.’

Beyond house parties or classrooms, social media has long been the place where Gen Z share their sartorial choices and confer status. ‘We live in a time when people have digital-first experience­s. We film, capture and share most moments of our lives online,’ says Elliott Young. ‘Embedding those online experience­s with a digital fashion element — [one in which] production, design and lifespan doesn’t affect the planet — is an obvious case for adoption, no?’

Backstage at a recent show, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the creative director of Dior, told The Guardian that ‘many young people hate fashion… because to them, brands are part of an establishm­ent system which represents power.’

It’s an attitude that Elliott Young believes digital fashion could help remedy. ‘The fashion metaverse has the chance to rewrite some of fashion’s pain points,’ she explains, highlighti­ng a recent IoDF sustainabi­lity campaign that saw physical billboards featuring apocalypti­c slogans — such as, ‘At the end of the world do you need more clothes?’ — during London Fashion Week.

To Elliott Young, digital fashion is inherently inclusive, the antithesis of the hierarchic­al structures of the fashion system. ‘We are already seeing so much pushback happening,’ she says. ‘Youths no longer work for accolades — a partnershi­p with a big brand isn’t applauded as it once was. Authentici­ty and transparen­cy are what customers want.’

In the midst of a spiralling cost-of-living crisis, and a worsening climate crisis, cheaper alternativ­es to satisfy our retail needs — that rely on the user experience rather than the exorbitant emissions of physically producing clothes — feel like the modern update that luxury needs.

We are entering an age when deeply personal encounters in the digital realm that enhance everyday life will reign supreme. Teens reportedly spend a third of their lives online and Zoom has registered 3.3 trillion meeting minutes this year. We need new clothes for this new world; and as the thirst for fashion transmutes into cyberspace, luxury fashion is more than happy to oblige.

 ?? Roblox ?? Shopping in URL: Gucci Garden on video game
Roblox Shopping in URL: Gucci Garden on video game
 ?? ?? New world order: a Balenciaga campaign on Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow
New world order: a Balenciaga campaign on Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow

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