You may have tried on the Buy Less, Use Less Instagram filter for sustainability awareness, or interacted with VR and AR for ART SCHOOL A/W 20 at London Fashion Week Men's. All of these tech experiences were made by CommuneEAST, a creative agency and platform bringing STEM perspectives to the fashion and art worlds through conversations, experiences and installations.
CommuneEAST were commissioned to create digital activations and live event experiences to support ART SCHOOL's A/W 20 FEARLESS LOVE show and afterparty. The platform created Instagram filters - like insects crawling over your phone's screen and objects floating in mid-air - that were activated for the show at the Truman Brewery. Come the afterparty at the Curtain Hotel in London, virtual VR/AR drawings were created and broadcasted in real time.
Given increasingly urgent climate crisis pressures that have rendered over-production and over-consumption unpalatable, AR and VR could theoretically become ways to create novel fashion experiences without the physical toll on the planet of producing merchandise. Our money's on CommuneEAST to be leaders of what fashion will look like over the next decade.
CommuneEAST co-founder, Leanne Elliott Young talked to SHOWstudio about the ART SCHOOL Instagram filters, dual identities and how AR and VR technology could impact the rest of the fashion industry:
What was the idea behind the CommuneEAST collaboration with ART SCHOOL?
We were asking ourselves what it means to engage with a fashion show now - for us, the digital age is all about the democratisation of fashion. In addition, ART SCHOOL as a brand is very much about community. We created the filters, not only to capture the essence of what the show was about, but also have pieces from the collection that you could wear digitally. Not everyone can afford an ART SCHOOL design, but with our filters, you can have ART SCHOOL in your home. Someone on the other side of the globe, who might be the only non-binary individual where they live, can be a part of an ART SCHOOL catwalk show in London, wearing the ART SCHOOL digital contact lenses, and be part of this community.
How do these filters bring consumer and brand closer together?
The filters give the opportunity to bring your personality into a brand by trying things on and playing with them. For the brand, it almost becomes a collaboration with the consumer, because they can see what products people are wearing, and how they are wearing them. The filters become a two-way street. Often digital tech can feel gimmicky, therefore, we're interested in seeing how you can push it to be more powerful.
What has the response been to the filters you've produced?
We have had people from Dubai wear the ART SCHOOL filter, which has made that project spread incredibly widely. Regarding our sustainability Buy Less, Use Less filter for London Fashion Week, we had over a million shares and people started using it naked, saying it was the only thing to wear. We had people from PR companies wearing it, we had musicians, influencers, artists, non-binary individuals and even Anna Wintour was wearing one. It was a really broad aspect of people using it, and extraordinary to see.
The ART SCHOOL activations aren't CommuneEAST's first foray into AR/VR, as you've also collaborated with Liam Hodges - what did you work on and how did the partnership come about?
Liam wanted to have a conversation around his brand and its very young consumer demographic, Gen Z. We hosted a store event with him in 2019 called IRL URL Conundrums, which was open to customers and fans of the brand. As you arrived, you could go into what looked like a regular photo booth, and wear Liam Hodges’ face digitally. We thought it was really funny, but it also brought up conversations about dual identity. The physical and digital worlds are so entwined now that it’s difficult to separate one from the other. At that event, Liam Hodges was physically in the store, but he was also digitally in the face of everyone in the room.
What are the questions we should be asking about the incursion of the digital onto our physical reality?
At the IRL URL Conundrums event, we organised a really strong debate with CHARLai, an AI femme bot, asking questions to me, Gen Z psychologist Dina Grishin, professor of fashion psychology Dawnn Karen, artist Alfie Kungu and Liam Hodges himself. We discussed how has fashion and our digital experiences changed in the last five years? What does it mean to navigate a dual digital/physical identity, and how can you stay well and healthy while doing it? We were and are worried not only about the impact of technology on fashion, but also how to maintain authority and integrity in that space. Liam Hodges' brand has absolute integrity - what you see is what you get. He integrates a personal narrative in his work and he is very open, so it’s really interesting to talk about how a brand that has that level of integrity exists in a digital space, and how digital developments will affect the future of his brand.
There is a lot of talk about how the digital space is dangerous. How do you see these filters in relation to that?
The world is in sociopolitical crisis right now and we're stepping into a very scary future. Navigating digital and physical realities simultaneously can be psychologically damaging. However, if CommuneEAST can build something that aids creativity, but also pushes conversations to a wider audience, then it's important we do so. Consumers are now investigating much more deeply than simply scratching the surface - they want to know more about where brands and figures stand on the issues, and at the same time, political agendas are increasingly becoming part of people’s work and creative practice. The creative industries are so powerful because we have the ability to translate anger, disillusion and hope in a really innovative way, and our filters are just one experiment of many in trying to do that.
What other parts of the fashion industry could these filters and QR codes be applied to?
We very much want to work with a magazine publication and build a digital narrative that is entwined with a physical one, and the technology we have been working with could be applied to that. We're looking at a technology where you can just scan images that then take you to further information, instead of needing a QR code. We're also looking at how you can incorporate digital information into images without having to use an app as you have to, right now. We've also got a couple of projects coming up regarding in-store experiences, where we look at ways to deliver more information - we're building physical sculptures and interesting content on craft, artisan and sustainability, so when you walk into a store, you are able to take away information on a product’s journey, for example, with just a click.