Haute couture goes from Paris to the Metaverse
Fashion influencer Dani Loftus shares her latest outfit on Instagram: It’s a shimmery pink party dress with LED lights shining on her bustier, she stands in a doorway with a Great Dane wearing a similar cut, which makes it a true twin to Jeff Koons’ iconic sculpture of a balloon dog. Her futuristic outfit, more ideal for the Met Gala red carpet than for walking a 100-pound dog, doesn’t even exist in the real world. It is a virtual outfit designed and rendered in 3D then superimposed on the photo. She has an impressive wardrobe of digital clothing, ranging from a liquid dress with patterns that change in real time to a winged ballgown that resembles the famous sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike.
Loftus calls her digital couture phy-gital, which means digital clothing worn by humans, and she believes they are the next frontier in fashion. These garments are designed and manufactured in the digital world; they are virtual renderings of clothing that do not exist in the physical realm. Using AR technology, people can wear virtual clothes in real time and move and pose with them. But it is not yet a highly accessible technology. Digital fashion blurs the lines between social media and the metaverse, shifting the concept of an immersive and imaginative space. Loftus’ mods aren’t just Photoshopped, but closer to the culture of gaming skins like Fortnite taken to another level. Beyond its phy-gital fashion, designers have created digital clothing, clothing or body items designed for metaverse avatars. They are stored on the blockchain and can be bought and sold like any other NFT collectible.
It’s not just Loftus working in digital clothing – iconic fashion houses like Gucci and Balenciaga have started designing virtual clothing. Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg predicts that everyone will own virtual clothes in the near future. “Avatar is going to be as common as profile pictures today…You’re going to have a wardrobe of virtual clothes for different occasions designed by different creators and from different apps and experiences,” Zuckerberg said. Clothing is an essential part of maintaining identity, and this is also true for avatars in the metaverse.
Even though digital fashion is a mix of 3D motion design and blockchain technology, the design process is not that different from making physical clothes: the designer first needs a conceptual narrative, then reduce to mood boards, and finally to cut out patterns. But there’s no need for scissors or cutting tables; instead, it’s all happening on high-resolution screens. Most designers come from traditional fashion design backgrounds and are migrating their skills to the digital environment. “Our clothes need to be flowing and fitted,” said Michaela Larosse, chief content officer at The Fabricator Studio, one of the first blockchain-powered digital fashion brands. “We create a walk cycle for the avatar, so the clothes move the right way, everything is lit the right way.”
The metallic pink dress Loftus wore was designed by Tribute Brand, a digital fashion brand based in Croatia. Loftus said the dress cost around $500, which isn’t outrageously expensive for tailoring. But all she gets for that money is a photo of her in the dress and a digital fitting experience. She doesn’t own it; it is not an NFT on the blockchain, which she would own and could trade. But if Loftus’ dress was an NFT, it would likely be much more expensive. In 2021, Dolce & Gabbana raised $5.65 million by auctioning off a selection of virtual outfits. Loftus and its DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization), a group of 50 digital fashion investors, collectively purchased a crown from Dolce & Gabbana, which has digital and physical versions, for $1.27 million. A pair of virtual Nike NFT sneakers, called Cryptokicks, recently sold for $130,000. Even limited-edition Yeezys can’t match that record.
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It might seem silly for people to spend thousands of dollars on clothes that only exist as an image, but a 2021 survey found that Gen Z and Millennials value their online presence more than their IRL representation. Fashion has always been an expression of identity, and Larosse believes that both PFP projects and digital fashion projects are all about building identity. “Our clothes are going to be the front line of your identity in virtual spaces. So what are you communicating? How do you feel? Which me would you like to inhabit today? asked Larosse. The decentralized nature of the metaverse and the creative possibilities of digital fashion also allow users to become fashion designers themselves. The Maker Studio recently introduced an online studio that allows users to combine different raw materials, patterns and trims, all uploaded by designers and brands, to create unique new garments and save them as NFTs.
Since digital fashion is not bound by the law of gravity, fashion houses can embrace limitless creativity. Gala Marija Vrbanic, founder of Tribute Brand, wants to “create a new language of fashion”, she said, which is not “constrained by physical forms”. One of Loftus’ dresses reflects this otherworldly approach. He completely disguises her figure and transforms her into an octopus-like creature. “In virtual worlds, we don’t even have to look like humans, so how would you like to dress a form that isn’t even human?” You know, what if someone wants to become a club? Vrbanic suggested.
This is not an exaggeration. During Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) hosted by virtual marketplace Decentraland in March, cat-faced avatars dressed in Dolce & Gabbana digital clothing strutted down the runway. When an avatar can look like anything, there’s no need to judge whether an item of clothing flatters, fails, or can be worn on a human body. The data looks good for everyone. Over 100,000 avatars attended Fashion Week, making it one of Decentraland’s most popular events. But there hasn’t been another fashion event since. Despite the excitement, the biggest question for Loftus and other digital fashion enthusiasts is whether the technology can keep up. “It’s not like we still have a place to show it. That’s what needs to grow,” Loftus said.
Both Vrbanic and Larosse believe that digital fashion is the future of couture. Finally, Larosse thinks that “we will talk about the heritage fashion industry or the traditional fashion industry” when referring to IRL fashion. During MVFW, more than 60 brands, both new digital-only fashion houses like Manufacturer and Tribute and historic names like Louis Vuitton, participated in the events. One day soon, you too will be able to log into your virtual world wearing ratty sweatshirts while your avatar sports high-end creative tailoring.