Is the New York fashion industry ready for the metaverse?
Like the city itself, the New York fashion community generally takes the lead especially concerning technology, diversity and social causes. The latest trend is the metaverse; a concept coined in 1992 in Neal Stephenson's novel 'Snow Crash' and finally understood with Travis Scott’s VR concert to 12.3 million Fortnight players.
Fashion began to dabble in NFTs (non fungible tokens) in 2020, beginning with the GucciGhost by Trevor "Trouble" Andrew and Kate Moss's now-infamous sleeping NFT.
Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed the metaverse had arrived in October of 2021. As art forms and design creation dominate this new world, designers are likely first adopters. The question is, are designers ready to jump on yet one more platform?
La La Land
California-based designer Jonathan Simkhai embraced the medium, showing his collection digitally with avatars and NFT clothing. The medium melds the brand’s physical New York roots with its current innovative tech-base Los Angeles. He paired with EveryRealm, a metaverse real estate developer, and Blueberry Inc, a digital wearables production studio; both deft hands to experiment with.
"It was important we entered the space in a thoughtful way true to the brand," Simkhai told Fashion Network, adding, "They understood the importance for this project to be meaningful and reflective of the brand IRL."
The designer worked tirelessly in "virtual fittings" with Blueberry's founder, ensuring the garments maintained the same integrity as the actual clothing.
"My brand is about dichotomies, hard vs. soft or masculine vs. feminine. Physical vs. digital is the ultimate dichotomy. I'm fascinated one could be anyone they choose in this space, ultimately celebrating different backgrounds, body types, and beauty. I don't believe digital will surpass the physical experience, but the optionality introduces a new era for our industry," Simkhai continued.
The brand is currently testing six styles from the runway on OpenSea, an online non-fungible token marketplace, and will scale the offerings according to demand. Ideally, they will sell the NFTs alongside the physical clothes on their website.
A show of firsts
Marrisa Wilson, an exuberant designer and woman of color, held her first runway collection at NYFW. The designer launched the exclusive streetwear-meets-tailored-custom-prints label, celebrating multicultural women, in 2016. She discovered the metaverse in the summer of 2021 and wondered how to fit into it.
"If I, as a black woman, was trying to find my way in the fashion industry, how will I find my way into this new digital world?" she asked herself. Wilson set out to learn everything she could about the space.
For Fall 2022, she embraced the medium further by creating three hand-drawn sketches that were digitized and a special limited-edition bomber jacket, each coming with a unique NFT available via OpenSea.
"This is all new to me, but I wanted to show black female artists that this new digital world might seem scary— and to be honest, it IS scary— we can figure it out. There's too much opportunity, and too many great artists and communities already in the Web3 (the worldwide web based on blockchain technology), NFT space, to just dismiss it because it's new and hard to understand."
She hopes her brave leap paves the way for others and breaks down the practical.
"I see myself as a bridge from the one world —the traditional apparel industry—to this new, unfamiliar world of NFTs, crypto, Web3 while staying true and authentic to my art and craft," said Wilson.
She insists the two collections are harmonious but cautions the end-user might not be.
“Consider the audience and make sure you're showing up correctly. The fashion audience is very different from the NFT community. A best-seller from your top door may not translate into the highest bid on a digital garment," she explained.
"As much as this new technology might feel sterile and synthetic, there's a real sense of humanity in the space and communities built within them," she continued, noting she was eager to explore further. "It's gonna get weird!"
Aku explores NYFW
The luxe streetwear brand Who Decides War by Ev Bravado and Téla D'Amore joined the virtual world with their live-streamed NYFW Fall 2022 fashion show. They partnered with Micah Johnson, crypto-mogul and former MLB player, who created a digital character named Aku, an avid black space explorer. The designers were connected to Johnson via streetwear influencer Mike Camargo aka Upscale Vandal.
“We’re friends with Micah and the Aku team and were brought on to bring Aku to life in a fashion sense. The Fall/Winter 2022 line debut seemed the perfect time to merge the two worlds,” said Bravado.
After a traditional live-streamed runway show, the film morphs into a digital portrayal of the candle-lit, flower-strewn runway in a Mexican church and showed Aku in a digitized version of the brands' styles. It's a teaser of the Aku avatar launch to be announced in March. The Aku avatars, in collaboration with Who Decides War, will soon be available to purchase online.
“We have been heavily interested in Web3 and the NFT space and do more within the metaverse in the future such as creating a WDW community space, this seemed like a great introduction point to get the conversation going,” noted D’Amore.
Virtual horse play
One unassuming brand to venture into the space is Àcheval, a niche brand based on the Argentinian gaucho lifestyle founded by Lucila Sperber and Sofia Achaval de Montaigu. The duo presented during NYFW via an intimate dinner at Socialista featuring an emotional performance by photographer-cum-singer Sebastián Faena.
Some of the tightly-edited collection shown on mannequins would be coming to life on the Sandbox, which is, according to the website, "a dynamic virtual world that brings players and creators together to build, own, and monetize unique experiences in the Ethereum blockchain."
The partnership informed the childlike whimsy aimed as Gen Z, who will experience the clothing virtually.
"We have a new partner Arthur Madrid of Sandbox. The collection will twin between the metaverse and the real world," said Sperber. The first drop will be in both worlds in June with new products every two months.
"Gen Z will discover on metaverse and then buy in real life, for instance. They are sometimes one person in the metaverse and another in real life," noted Lucila.
"We wanted to capture the e-commerce vibe, and we see that we can match reality with cyberspace," she continued.
Madrid, who subsequently invested in the brand, is a fan of the brand as a lover of polo and horses and a major collector of NFTs. The duo spent a year developing a strategic technology plan to expand reach to new audiences and firmly believe the metaverse is for them.
The waiting game
Not all designers who show during NYFW are ready to take the plunge. Claudia Li told Fashion Network backstage post-show she was still very uncertain about the 'verse.
"Everyone's talking about it, and I am getting a feeling for where people stand. It's interesting, but I want to wait. I don't know a lot about that world," she admitted.
Peter Do, a staple of NYFW for two seasons, showed a well-received collection displaying further refinement after perfecting the clothes in the physical world.
“What do I think about the metaverse? I am still in this world and still trying to understand it for my brand."
Prabal Gurung was a bit more philosophical about it.
"To be completely honest, I'm in a zen-like place, having listened to a Buddhist podcast for the last six months. The concept of impermanence is more real than ever. The metaverse is something I haven't even thought about."
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