If you don’t think the future is digital then do I have some bad news for you. From NFTs to cryptocurrency becoming mainstream, recent years have seen a boom in the developments (and interest) in the digital space across all industries. This, of course, includes fashion with heritage houses from Gucci to Louis Vuitton embracing the world of Web 3.0 with their very own digital drops. While virtual fashion has emphasised the ability for unbridled creativity (just look at the designs for SHOWstudio’s NFT project ikon-1), the capabilities of digital fashion can change how we think about preservation and education.
At least that’s the goal for digital fashion pioneer Assaf Reeb and The Digital Fashion Archive. Looking to bridge the gap between fashion’s past and its digital future, Reeb’s team of London and Berlin-based designers is on a mission to create the largest archive of high-fidelity 3D garments. It’s precisely this commitment to immortalising fashion design as faithfully to the physical original as possible that sets The Digital Fashion Archive apart from today’s digital fashion aficionados.
To kick start their foray into digital archiving, The Digital Fashion Archive pays tribute to two influential designers who helped shape London fashion with their rebellious approach to creativity; Louise Gray and the late Richard Nicoll. For their first drop the archive digitised Gray’s S/S 19 patchwork taffeta dress and paper headpiece, along with a dress from her 2007 Central Saint Martins MA graduation collection. As for Nicoll, the archive decided on a look from A/W 11 and S/S 15 (his last before passing in 2016).
Like many developing Web 3.0 tools, one of the exciting aspects of The Digital Fashion Archive are its democratic applications. ‘It’s not about freezing something in time’, Reeb explains. ‘As we transition into these digital realms, we control what moves there and what doesn’t. If we don’t capture these things, they might be kept out by the gatekeepers of those worlds.’
For Reeb going digital means going beyond the limitations of physical archives. ‘Even if you are privileged enough to access physical archives, you still don't get the full experience’. He explains that traditional archiving prevents the wearing of garments or even putting them on models. ‘Garments deteriorate. If they are 30 or 50 years old they aren’t going to look exactly like the designer originally intended.’
Acknowledging the importance of documenting and understanding fashion's past, The Digital Fashion Archive employs a pattern-first approach to recreate garments digitally. Precision and realism are at the forefront, with meticulous data collected from each design. The garments are then presented on MetaHuman avatars, a diverse collection of highly realistic digital characters to capture the fit of each garment as the designer intended.
‘I love fashion. At least the nice parts of it.’ Reeb admits that while many issues are tainting the industry today, from rising costs making it next to impossible for today’s creatives to get their fit in the door to fast fashion’s global impact on the environment, he still hasn’t lost an appreciation for fashion design as an art form. An alum of Central Saint Martins MA Fashion programme under the late Louise Wilson, it’s there Reeb learned first-hand just how nuanced fashion design can be.
As The Digital Fashion Archive continues to pioneer how the digital space can be used to immortalise fashion and connect the past and the future, Reeb’s present plans are centred around celebrating the work of London’s most influential talents, telling me they’re currently working with Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY on digitising designs from their archive. As The Digital Fashion Archive continues to carve out a very important space in the digital world, we can't wait to see whose work they'll be digitising next.