Sometime in November 2019, while scrolling through social media, you might have come across an interesting snippet of news that had gone viral. An article on BBC’s website, entitled “The £7,500 dress that does not exist”, captured the attention of many when it was published. Richard Ma, the CEO of blockchain security company Quantstamp, had bought his wife Mary Ren a couture piece. Designed by digital fashion house The Fabricant, the “Iridescence” dress sold for US$9,500. This made the news, not because of how expensive the dress was, but because “Iridescent” was not even real. In fact, it was the world’s first digital-only dress on the blockchain.
At that time, when Ma bought the dress, many questioned his decision – why on earth would someone purchase clothes that couldn’t be worn in real life? To them, it was neither fashionable nor cool. However, Ma had his reasons: “I think of it as an investment. In the next 10 years, everyone will be ‘wearing’ digital fashion.”
Barely two years later, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the introduction of Meta, a gateway to the metaverse. Presented as “the successor to mobile internet”, Meta offers an interconnection of digital spaces where people can play, live, and interact through the usage of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The world took to it instantly – brands, designers, and even the general public started flocking to this fully immersive virtual world.
While we continue to explore the depths (or lack thereof) of the metaverse, it must be said that the fashion industry has already seen its fair share of AR, VR, filters, and virtual models.
As early as 2016, Louis Vuitton cast Lightning, the heroine from the Final Fantasy game series, to headline its campaign. “Speaking” to The Telegraph in an interview, the pink-haired warrior shared how the clothes she modeled had changed the way she looked at fashion. “I thought the only style that suited me was one that mirrored who I was: strong and tough. I used to see clothes as nothing more than armour to stay alive. But I was wrong. When I laid eyes on the collection, it was as if I was hit by a bolt of lightning,” she said.
In 2020, Gucci’s AR filter on Snapchat enabled people to “try on” and purchase sneakers. By simply pointing a smartphone at their feet, users could compare how different designs looked before deciding which pair to buy. And just last year, Balenciaga held its first-ever VR runway show, presenting its AW21 collection through Oculus headsets as its “attendees” immersed themselves in a dystopian-inspired showcase from the comfort of their own homes.
FASHION COMES TOGETHER IN THE METAVERSE
Born during the pandemic, Crypto Fashion Week is an event that emphasises the relevance of crypto fashion. Currently in its second year, its co-organiser Lady Phe0nix tells NYLON, “Digital fashion might overtake physical sales sooner than we think. Especially now, people aren't really dressing to impress anywhere but the internet. If you think about the ways that digital fashion can phase out production costs, save manufacturing costs, save landfill costs, and then if I'm wearing it just to show off on social to my friends or to show up in a video game, then it may as well be something digital because these environments are digital environments.”
Virtual gaming world Decentraland also recently kicked off its first-ever virtual event, Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW), in March 2022. Featuring a lineup of luxury brands from the likes of Etro, Elie Saab, Nicholas Kirkwood, Franck Muller, Tommy Hilfiger, and more, MVFW boasted a schedule that was as impressive as how it would have been in real life. Guests were able to check out runway shows, pop-up shops, get first dibs on exclusive NFT drops, and even dance the night away at after-parties.
EXPERIMENTING WITH HIGH EXCLUSIVITY
The luxury market thrives on scarcity – products that are hard to come by naturally command high prices, and are seen as “investments”. With every change of hands, their value increases. Likewise, high-end NFTs share the same characteristics, but with more perks for the collector. Blockchain technology helps preserve complete related records for these NFTS, encrypting them through artist signatures. This means that every piece has a unique identity, effectively eliminating the possibility of counterfeiting, which is commonplace in the luxury fashion scene. Plus, because virtual works can be stored permanently, one does not have to worry about product damage or deterioration. Financial investment company Morgan Stanley estimates that by 2030, luxury branded NFTs could become a US$56 billion market.
Gucci, which has always been keen to explore new possibilities, was one of the first luxury brands to branch out into the metaverse. In conjunction with the brand’s 100th anniversary in 2021, a Gucci Garden multimedia experience was unveiled on Roblox, recreating creative director Alessandro Michele’s iconic advertising campaigns. While Roblox’s demographic is markedly much younger (with 51% aged 12 or below), more and more brands are turning to this online game creation platform to bring the “metaverse experience” to life.
Since then, Gucci has dabbled in multiple NFT projects, the latest one being Gucci Grail, where well-known digital craftsman Wagmi-san offered one-of-a-kind Gucci NFTs through his store, 10KTF, located in New Tokyo (in the metaverse, but of course). Serious buyers only – to enter the shop and see the collection, buyers needed to pay 1 ETH (equivalent to US$2,700) and own at least one NFT from past projects.
More info here: the Gucci metaverse
Last year, Burberry also launched its first NFT – Sharky B, a digital vinyl toy from Mythical Games’ Blankos Block Party flagship game, which sold out within 30 seconds. The limited-edition Sharky B comes adorned with Burberry’s monogram, and can be played like any other Blanko character in the game. Blanko players who missed out on the opportunity to get their hands on Sharky B could instead try their luck at purchasing in-game Burberry NFT accessories like a jetpack, armbands, and pool shoes.
No stranger to the world of NFTs, French fashion house Balmain also pushed boundaries by teaming up with Barbie to showcase a ready-to-wear collection, as well as a series of NFTs, which were auctioned on mintNFT. The three NFTs featured a racially diverse set of avatars, clothed in Balmain x Barbie outfits, which revolved around the concept of “genderless fashion”. As an additional benefit, buyers who successfully secured ownership of the NFTs would also receive the same outfit in Barbie-sized proportions.
Fancy a timepiece instead? Jacob & Co.’s SF24 Tourbillion NFT fetched US$100,000 at an auction in April just recently. What makes it unique is its split-flap feature, like the ones you often see in airports that display city names. But on this virtual watch, it displays cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, Bitcoin, and Fantom. Like any Jacob & Co. watch purchased in real life, the SF24 Tourbillion also comes in its own digital box.
A few weeks later, Jacob & Co. generated buzz again with Astronomia Metaverso, a collection of eight jewel-encrusted NFT timepieces personally designed by its founder, Jacob Arabo. Inspired by planets from our solar system, the watches from the five closest planets to the sun will come with a physical version of the watch, while the three most distant planets are purely NFTs.
More info here: Astronomia Metaverso drop on UNXD
STREET STYLE GOES VIRTUAL
Of course, the metaversal fashion playground isn’t just reserved for high-end designers – sportswear brands like Adidas also dropped its first NFT project, Into the Metaverse, in 2021. Teaming up with Bored Ape Yacht Club, PUNK Comic and Gmoney, a total of 30,000 Adidas Originals NFTs minted on the Ethereum blockchain were made available. Within just one afternoon, all 20,000 of the early access tokens had sold out. The remaining 10,000, which were released to the public, were snapped up in less than a second.
In addition to getting access to Adidas’ plot in the Sandbox metaverse, NFT owners can also show off their virtual swag within the game. But that’s not all – they also get to claim exclusive Into the Metaverse merch, which includes a hoodie, tracksuit and beanie, getting the best of both worlds in terms of a fresh digital experience and trendy money-can’t-buy physical products.
More info here: Adidas’ Into the Metaverse
Taking into account the logistics issues related to pre-pandemic queues for limited edition sneaker launches, it makes more sense for sports brands to consider a more active presence in the virtual product market nowadays. In early 2022, Nike announced its partnership with Roblox to develop Nikeland, a virtual sports park. Inspired by Nike’s real-life headquarters, Nikeland allows the Roblox community to play (and even create) games with their friends, while sporting special Nike products from the likes of the Air Force 1 Fontanka or the Air Max 2021.
Late last year, Nike also acquired RTFKT Studios, an NFT apparel and footwear start-up. Known for its high-tech aesthetic, RTFKT’s designs have been seen on Kanye West, DJ Khaled, and Elon Musk. In April, the Nike CryptoKicks collection was launched on OpenSea, raking in approximately 3,100 ETH (equivalent to US$8.7 million) in trade volume. By purchasing “skin vials”, customers can customise these NFT sneakers. One of the rare colourways, designed by Takashi Murakami, is now valued at 70 ETH (equivalent to US$141,000)!
More info here: Nike X RTFKT CryptoKicks drop
It is said that the metaverse is the spiritual utopia that humans aspire to exist in, where diversity is truly celebrated and one no longer has to worry about appearances. In the metaverse, you can be anyone or anything you desire. Every individual is presented as an “avatar”, which has infinite possibilities: change your looks a hundred times a day, or dress however you like – the metaverse is an all-accepting space.
Based on the theme of “Your World, Your Rules”, Vans and Roblox created a skateboard-themed metaverse that allows users to experience the fun of skateboarding and its lifestyle (minus the real-life scrapes and scratches). Even if you know nothing about skateboarding, you can partake in virtual skill challenges, interact with others, attend music performances, and deck your avatar out in customised skate equipment.
More info here: Vans World on Roblox
American fashion photographer Bill Cunningham once said: “Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life”. But what if this time, everyday life isn’t real? In that case, does fashion still exist? By blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s not, fashion brands are able to tap into a new group of consumers who are younger, more dynamic, and more adventurous.
As the public’s attention towards the metaverse and NFTs grows, more and more independent designers have begun to emerge. No longer constrained by the physical limitations of materials and fabrics, they can put their passion back where it belongs – to create from the heart and move people with their work. With the sheer untapped possibilities of what could be, we have a pretty good feeling that the fashion industry in the metaverse will continue to flourish.
Cover Credit: A Paper Creative
Writer | Michelle Tan
Having spent the past decade turning her passion into profession, Michelle is a freelance writer/translator based in Malaysia. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.