Back in February, Digital Fashion Week New York's much hyped Metaverse Fashion Show, hosted on the platform Second Life, fell through due to technical issues. Although the technology needed to create virtual catwalk shows is still in its infancy, the first ever Metaverse Fashion Week went full steam ahead inside the 3D world of Decentraland over the weekend, and marked a decidedly more mainstream shift towards virtual fashion presentations. A roster of real world luxury brands took part alongside digital innovators, with shows attended by gamers and fashion followers alike, with the virtual event picked up by non-fashion news sites including The Independent.
In 2020, when lockdowns put restrictions on physical fashion shows, the Italian brand GCDS turned to virtual reality to host a pre-filmed runway show complete with avatar models and a front row featuring Dua Lipa and Aweng Chuol. Although the clothes were sold as real life garments rather than digital wearables, by veering away from the traditional physical catwalk format GCDS created a fresh buzz around the brand as one of the few to embrace such a presentation. Other designers have chosen to present a live virtual experience more akin to the traditional show, however so far this has resulted in glitching, awkward presentations which undermine the spectacle of a fashion show. Jonathan Simkai was one such example during Digital Fashion Week New York, where viewers created avatars and could navigate around the show space before viewing the designer's A/W 22 collection in digital form, but clothes appeared more like blurred cartoons than digital revelations.
Etro had more success with their specially designed Liquid Paisley collection, launched during Metaverse Fashion Week, as did the other brands who veered away from the runway format and instead invested in immersive virtual pop-up spaces. This enabled Nicholas Kirkwood, Dundas and Tommy Hilfiger to create custom virtual worlds, inviting visitors to experience the visual aesthetic of each brand.
Italian luxury brand Hogan also hosted a pop-up store within Boston Protocol's metaverse marketplace, selling a digital re-edition of Hogan's first trainer in tandem with the physical item, bridging IRL and URL. They teamed up with the NFT marketplace Exclusible to debut a Hogan Untraditional NFT Collection, curated by the creative studio Braw Haus, featuring work by five artists; Silvio Rondelli, Yoann De Geetere, Linear, Vincent Ghiotti and Finn Berenbroek. The collection was launched at an after-party featuring a dance competition soundtracked by the DJ Bob Sinclair- being able to make your avatar dance on Decentraland with the click of a button was one of the more amusing, and more successful, capabilities of the platform.
Selfridges and Paco Rabanne chose to team up to reimagine their physical London exhibition - which combines the trippy Op art works by Victor Vasarely with the Space Age fashion designer's most iconic designs made of metal, laser discs and transparent plastic - as a virtual space featuring 12 digital dresses sold as NFTs. The lesson here, it seems, is to invest in a custom experience, and to avoid a cut-and-paste approach when it comes to digitising physical craft. Philip Plein, who has made his namesake label metaverse-native by accepting cryptocurrency as payment in store, unveiled digital wearables as NFTs inside the Plein Plaza skyscraper. Having purchased $1.4 million worth of land in Decentraland, the Plein Plaza also encompasses an NFT art gallery and hotel.
It's worth noting that the digital designers who took part, including DRESSX, Auroboros and Imitation of Christ (who pivoted to digital fashion in February), also embraced a hybrid approach, mixing runway shows, music performances and pop-up retail stores. Auroboros, who launched the first fully digital collection to be presented at a fashion week last year, hosted a musical performance by Grimes to close the event, with the globally renowned star appearing in an 360 degree immersive soundscape featuring images from previous Auroboros collections, with Grimes wearing the Auroboros 'Mystique' bodysuit. Grimes, who launched her own avatar War Nymph last year to promote her new album and to cover an editorial for The Face, was much more technically advanced with a unique visual appearance created by Digital Realm and designed with the performer. In comparison, the low resolution avatar who appeared on Sunday evening was barely recognisable. Brands are, however, limited by the capacities of the platforms they are hosted on. The success of Travis Scott's 2020 performance on Fortnite (who have also created capsule collections with Moncler and 1017 ALYX 9SM and Balenciaga), is a testament to this, and brands taking part in Metaverse Fashion Week were restricted to the overall aesthetics of Decentraland. This is likely why the line-up didn't include a wider range of blockbuster names.
When we look to the wider sphere of luxury fashion brands, digital assets and gaming, the leaders in the space are creating entirely new URL experiences in tandem with physical runway shows. Balenciaga are a prime example, first presenting Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, a video game created by Dimension Studio, to launch their A/W 21 collection. The accompanying lookbook was cleverly styled to mirror in-game aesthetics, blurring the lines between the two spaces. The brand, who like Gucci have since launched a dedicated metaverse unit, have chosen to create unique virtual experiences rather than trying to replicate the ritual of the catwalk which relies on a unique physical atmosphere and audience. It's a wise move, as replicas have so far proven to be far less exciting than the new and sprawling immersive possibilities which the metaverse can offer.