March 2022 marks the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week, demonstrating the increasing interest and demand for virtual clothing. Iconic British department store Selfridges will start the week by unveiling their flagship virtual store; and brands such as Elie Saab, Guo Pei, Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, Cavalli, Paco Rabanne are expected to participate.
Hosted by Decentraland, the virtual event is open to the fashionistas, the tech community and the public. It is being heralded as the first major opportunity for anyone, anywhere in the world to see runway presentations and purchase designer virtual garments for their online avatars. From the perspective of designers, the possibilities for revenues and profits are limitless. Virtual fashions have limited labour costs, no material costs and zero transport and logistical costs. From the perspective of the consumer, these virtual fashions are an opportunity to express their identity in the digital realm just as passionately as they do in the real world.
But, does it all sound a bit too much? A lot of people are struggling with the idea of virtual fashions, and many are dismissing it as a fad. But the truth is, we’re already using virtual goods all the time. The CD has long since been replaced by a digital file, the photo album has been replaced by Instagram, books are now downloaded to Kindles, and movies are streamed directly to our TVs. We choose the characteristics and outfits of avatars in the games we play, and millions of people augment their features or wear virtual accessories in their social media selfies. People are engaging with intangible objects all the time and clothing is a natural extension of that.
What was once a novelty is now becoming an everyday reality of the online experience. As we move into a more integrated and personal digital world, why wouldn’t people want their virtual selves to have a virtual wardrobe? Research conducted by Squarespace revealed that 60% of Gen-Z and 62% of Millennials believe “how you present yourself online is more important than how you present yourself in person.” A positive virtual reputation is vital and as these people shift from social media into the Metaverse, appearances will be of primary importance.
Designers, always quick to embrace the latest trends, have made a move into the NFT, digital fashion sphere. In 2022 Dolce & Gabbana set a new record by selling a nine-piece NFT collection for $5.7 million. Fellow Italian brand, Gucci has taken a strong interest in both the Metaverse and NFTs. This year they produced a film co-directed by Alessandro Michele and award-winning photographer and director Floria Sigismondi. The film, inspired by their 2022 Aria real-world catwalk collection, was then ‘minted’ as an NFT and sold by Christie’s auction house for $25,000. Before this, the brand had created an exclusive digital-only collection with Roblox where limited-edition Gucci items could be found hidden away in the virtual gaming space or bought by users. The game’s demographic of 9 – 15 year-olds could then dress their gaming avatars in these Gucci items. Lastly, the Spanish and French luxury house Balenciaga is also making its presence known in another vastly popular online world. The popular online multiplayer game Fortnite has partnered with Balenciaga to create in-game fashions and accessories along with real-world apparel. Epic Games’ Senior Manager of Partnerships, Emily Levy, explained “Fortnite is essentially at its core all about fashion and self-expression, agency and fantasy,” adding “As we think about Fortnite expanding into a social entertainment ecosystem, fashion is really at the core of culture.”
Right now, most of the Metaverse fashions are being glimpsed through NFTs or in-game collaborations. In time these digital fashions may be able to hop from one platform to another. The Hermes scarf your gaming avatar wears in Animal Crossing will still be around your virtual neck at the Team’s meeting on Monday morning.
Of course, Metaverse avatars can be an idealized version of the user, a total fantasy or a facsimile. Users can be anyone or anything they like in the Metaverse. However, in some instances, it will be necessary and appropriate for an avatar to be an accurate representation of the real-life user. Business meetings in a virtual boardroom, won’t be the environment to present as a panda or a clown. Creating an accurate digital representation requires cutting edge technology, which is where the Metaverse and digital sizing technologies capable of accurately capturing the physical dimensions of the human body, will intersect.
As we enter the Metaverse, this technology will be used to map the body and create a true-to-life avatar. With accurate sizing data online and off, digital and real fashions can be made to fit more accurately creating a more bespoke online experience and a more convenient and less wasteful offline shopping experience.
As Metaverse Fashion Week returns season after season, the technology and investment will grow. What seems difficult to imagine today, will become normalized tomorrow. In the future, instead of buying office wear for yourself, you might be buying virtual office wear for your work avatar.
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