Would you buy clothes that don’t exist? How much are you willing to pay for a virtual outfit? The metaverse, a concept that has become the latest buzzword in tech circles, has been acknowledged as the future of the internet. Fashion is now embracing this new world that’s going to shake things up.
There are multiple layers to the relationship between fashion design and the metaverse. Virtual fashion is going to become ubiquitous and buying virtual fashion is going to become an intrinsic part of our lifestyles, especially for the digitally native generation. It’s all about blurring the line between digital and physical worlds to redefine what is real, and moving from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional environment.
After all, the metaverse grew out of the gaming industry, where people spent billions of dollars on virtual goods for their avatars. And now, fashion designers are finding innovative ways to use it as well. Some allow users to try clothes on digitally, some are selling digital clothing that avatars can wear, while others create an immersive experience of a runway show.
Following the success of Balenciaga and Gucci in showing their collections and selling digital wearables in the metaverse, Decentraland hosted its first Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) between 24-27 March. The MVFW, a free and open-to-all event on Decentraland, gave visitors the opportunity to buy NFTs of fashion brands using the platform’s own decentralised cryptocurrency MANA.
Events like these are an opportunity to disrupt the fashion system from its production cycle to accessibility, and also provide our avatars with well-designed clothes.
At the Dolce and Gabbana show, a virtual catwalk was sewn together with the real one. The big screen had avatars wearing the new collection strutting towards the audience in a 3D form. A physical catwalk was projected from the screen into the venue, and when the virtual models reached the catwalk, they disappeared and were replaced by real models, who walked the runway. Truly a gripping and immersive experience.
As the Fashion industry moves into virtual grounds to reach younger consumers, fashion students are wondering how their real-life education will translate. Essentially, visual storytelling will remain the focus of the metaverse as it is in all aspects of design. Once the designers understand the needs of their target audience, collections can be inspired by the virtual world they’re designing for and blend into the environment. Balenciaga is a prime example with the release of their capsule collection in collaboration with Fortnite by Epic Games that were launched in the game as well as in stores.
Designers and the fashion industry will have to collaborate more than ever before in order to create wearable works of art in the metaverse. To start with, they’ll need to join forces with professionals from the game industry to make their designs virtually wearable by both real-life consumers and metaverse avatars. This being the case, there will be a strong need for 3D design skills, modeling, and prototyping. They must now not only push themselves with creating great quality designs using 3D software like CLO3D, but also have an understanding of how game engines work. They might also need to know how to make their designs easy to convert into other interactive forms, like AR filters and various metaverse worlds that utilize avatars with wearable digital garments.
The challenge lies in how to effectively bring the designs to life in the various formats. The predominant technology used to build engaging metaverse worlds has mostly been built by gaming companies, and so today when it comes to creating 3D projects, knowing how to port your project into the world supported by the gaming engine and maximizing the use of native features of the gaming world are still relatively rare skill sets. There aren’t many fashion-designer friendly YouTube video tutorials teaching you how to do that.
As entertainment producers and platforms continue to venture deeper into experiences that are enabled by 3D and blockchain, fashion designers and brands may also need to be able to contribute to cross platform gaming worlds, scripted shows and movies – where the properties of the garments might have specific functions and behaviors that can be viewed in a 360 degree format and not just get one angle shot by VFX artists.
Furthermore, a fundamental understanding of what Web 3.0 is, is vital. Rather than mere consumption, designs for web 3 work best when the digital asset empowers participation and intuitive follow-up actions. Having such an approach can dramatically change a designer’s outlook not only towards creating pieces but also how they market themselves.
In addition to the digital mindset, designers need to find the connection to the physical world when researching the zeitgeist and working with elements like technical trimmings, fabrics, etc. Learning how to work with it and blend the real with virtual, is the skill that can help designers make their transition smooth towards the new future.
Just like couture designers, digital designs can create an outfit for a customer that’s a unique asset – a creative NFT that can only exist within the metaverse. “There are around 5000 fashion graduates each year in the UK alone, with limited opportunities for employment. I see the metaverse as opening up new marketplaces, new opportunities, and new occupations for creative people in fashion” says Leslie Holden, co-founder of The Digital Fashion Group. There’s a huge potential for young designers to emerge into this world with endless possibilities in an ever-changing landscape. The metaverse can ensure that there is less waste of fashion talent and can supply the answer to a lack of opportunity in the traditional fashion industry.
Antonio Maurizio Grioli is Dean, School of Fashion & Design, Pearl Academy.