Fashion Observed

Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...

by Darryl S. Warren  

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Digital Diversion

O ne of the newest conundrums that have occurred from the Covid 19 pandemic is the acceleration of change in fashion. Not just in retail and collection creation, but the calendar and the presentation of fashion itself. No more can we have the traditional runway show for now at least, lest we set up multitudes of editors, buyers, celebrities, customers, influencers and other attendees to an extended stay at a hospital...or a morgue. Those days seem like they are on hold until a vaccine comes available, and we know fashion won't wait for that.

Announcements from some of the major houses such as Yves St. Laurent, Gucci and Georgio Armani have alerted us that the quarterly seasons are o v e r, while others such as Chanel seem to have stuck with the tried and true, so it remains to be seen just how much of the industry will ultimately bow to change. Fashion was facing burn-out from this frenetic pace, and now that the global economy is halted, it wouldn't make sense to create so much that wouldn't get purchased anyway, at least form the standpoint of most houses that don't have the scope and scale of the international behemoths. Fashion has pined for an "out" and serendipity has arrived to answer the call to slow things down and reinforcing this is economics; putting on multiple collections plus presentations can run high bills. The issue is now how to show fashion when one can't do the traditional catwalk presentation and, for many smaller houses, frugality has suddenly gained allure. The infrastructure of innovation and technology have been here, but it took our sudden isolationist lifestyle and the financial downshift that accompanied it that a global quarantine brings for an entire industry to give technology a second look. With our lives centered more on our devices providing immediate and constant solace, connectivity and entertainment, some in fashion are starting to decide that the digital landscape is its salvation.

This would appear to translate into 3D imagery via digital design and reconsidering VR and AR along with it. Platforms that have established on-demand purchasing see how digital presentations can be attractive while offering reduced expenditures on the kind of costs associated with more conventional shows. One designer, Hanifa, has already made recent headlines within the industry by presenting a digital 3D collection online (here), and this seems to be a possible stopgap for designers looking for affordable alternatives in showing their collections to an audience trained to consume via social media. Other creatives, such as Rachel Sager (here), Axel Goulee (here) and companies such as Tribute Brand (here) and Robhau (here) show that imaging advancements and exploration in contactless cyber fashion have the capability of translating ideas into viable design images, especially when looking at how the world is really parked online while in the midst of a pandemic. For Robhau, which launched recently in February, in a two-week period between March 23rd to April 5th, online store visits doubled and sales increased by five hundred per cent, and all they were selling was one submitting their image, trying on and purchasing virtual garments.

This was not lost on some innovative entrepreneurs that have capitalized on the new retail climate from the Covid 19 pandemic and the opportunity it affords via adaptation with 3D digital design. A new app from Forma Technologies Inc., launched in 2019, that allows users to "try on " garments has grown so popular that it is seeing progressive growth, with double the amount of usage versus pre-Covid 19 circumstances. Its success lies in ease of usage (one front-facing selfies all it takes) and a shared archival inventory accessible to its users. Further, it has allowed brands to add their app to their e-commerce pages; this makes the app valuable for all involved. Forma has their eyes on a unique use in this regard: on-demand shopping from the moment items hit the runways. By allowing brands to upload images in advance of presentations, people can see and try on garments literally as they roll out, and make purchases before the show even finishes and gets reviewed by editors. The data mined from this is extremely helpful for brands, allowing them to see popularity in real time at every stage. This access to data allows designers to cut down on waste by reducing overproduction. It also transforms the retail landscape as anyone can see how this effectively cuts out the middleman. Another company, Wannaby, also allows virtual try-on of sneakers, so this technology is not limited to clothing.

Not only this, designs can be digitized, working with production programs that translate 3D imagery into workable patterns that can sent to production centers, streamlining the manufacturing chain process (in itself another cost-saving measure). On-demand manufacturing and even sampling can see reduced timings when houses have more integrated processes established. And these do not have to be limited to more established houses, either. Smaller houses can collaborate to share costs with tech suppliers to ensure more people are included in the digital revolution that fashion is inviting. And as technology has advanced thanks, in part, to the gaming industry, the quality of digital presentations has vastly improved. This means that the promises of virtual reality can be revisited. This also means the intimacy of attending a fashion show can be preserved. Editors will be able to see collection details they are used to, despite being presented in digital formats as the aspects such as textile details, drape and fabric movement have come a long way.

Another unexpected revenue bonus from digitizing one's collections stems from the last time we had economic upheaval. In the earlier post 9/11 years, a plucky young company called Linden Lab created a virtual world called Second Life that exploded in popularity by 2007 to the degree that Adidas, American Apparel, Calvin Klein, Reebok, Lacoste, and Jean Paul Gaultier were selling within this platform. It caved soon after (too much effort to use, tech issues and security) though it never really died; it lives on with renewed vigor and a sizable user base as it integrates a newer VR platform called Sansar with the hopes of addressing the issues that plagued them before. Given that people have made and continue to make money within this platform (its GDP in 2016 was a reported half a billion dollars, with users taking home a collective sixty million dollars) and that this platform protects intellectual property of its "residents", this set the stage for the kind of market that seems to be reviving in part due to the pandemic.

Fashion and digital's relationship within the gaming world has been nothing new. In April 2012, several characters from Final Fantasy XIII-2 modeled clothing from Prada's 2012 Spring/Summer collection in a collaboration between Square Enix and men's fashion magazine Arena HOMME+. In January 2016, Louis Vuitton announced that it was using Final Fantasy XIII's Lightning as a model for their Series 4 campaign (both Final Fantasy collaborations can be viewed here). In April 2019, Moschino found itself collaborating with the Sims to produce a shoppable capsule collection. Adeam, Marc Jacobs, Maison Valentino and Sandy Liang are the tip of the iceberg of designers who have their fashion translated into digital renditions on the video game Animal Crossing; Instagram has an entire feed devoted to these sartorial expressions although these are more for showing than selling. Louis Vuitton reprised its connection with video games but this time for League of Legends to dress a virtual K-pop group within with its most recent collection (here). A recent addition to the gaming world called Drest is, of all things, a fashion gaming app that has seen fifty percent per month increase, which tells you something when it has only been around for half a year since inception. Imagine the smart gaming company that does a variation that allows users to win credits that can be applied to buy the actual garments from the featured designers! Well, this one doesn't do that, but you can click on the garments you favor and buy them from designers, so the link is there to allow added access to revenue potential. Another gaming platform, Roblox, allows users to go a step further by being the designers themselves, creating a market of virtual fashion that has resulted in average revenue for full-time users to be $26,000 (and a few going as high as six-figures). So, the world of gaming is finding a valid argument for expansion beyond traditional avenues. But the real draw for investigating the possibilities of digital design lies within a financial coup pulled off by a collaborative effort between Dutch startup The Fabricant, Dapper Labs and AR creative Johanna Jaskowska, selling a one-of-a-kind digital garment (here) that only exists on blockchain for $9500 at a blockchain conference. That move got the attention of many a designer. And with platforms such as Kitely offering the kind of lucrative experience as Second Life does and with Second Life looking to overhaul its platform for a more updated and improved incarnation coupled with advances in 3d digital design itself, we now have the capacity for virtual fashion to be a more possible income stream alternative.

This means that designers could collaborate to create collections for gaming platforms or mirror The Fabricant by creating digital collection separates on blockchain to be used on VR platforms. Further, with more and more people getting comfortable as home, the prospect of developing AR can be many-fold. For one, people that work from home would have the option of having virtual wardrobes for video conferencing, so the virtual wardrobes could serve in practical platforms as well as recreational, and the savings on wear and tear, cleaning, and storage alone would be great selling points. These could travel anywhere more affordably (i.e. be stored on the cloud), wouldn't need tailoring, and could be returned to the developer for modernization or colour changes as fashion moves along. Design companies would benefit from investing in this technology for a few other reasons. Clothing created on digital platforms could be connected to design programs so they could be converted to patterns and be sold as actual garments. Having software that measures accuracy of fit allow for custom fits, which could aid in reduced returns and less environmental waste. Also, this allows people to get around the obstacle of trying on garments that are restricted due to current pandemic restrictions. here, people could "try on" the garment. because the software would be in place connecting the manufacturing chain with the virtual programming, on-demand fashion resumes.

This doesn't mean the runway show is finished, as the recent Resort 2021 collection by Chanel showed that tradition still has a place (well, for now, anyway). Eventually, we will have a vaccine. Eventually, our world will reopen. And as it does, we will return to the kind of live presentations that digital landscapes cannot substitute at this time. And let's not forget the kind of lobbying the other aspects of fashion have, such as models, cosmetics and every other industry that has been in partnership with fashion. To be honest, although one can argue how impressive recent images are regarding textile detail and movement, the technology isn't quite there yet to the degree where it would replace the runway show mainly because the level of detail doesn't exactly parallel reality least as far as editors are concerned, although this pandemic scenario certainly is forcing our hands to adapt. This plus the ongoing advancements that technology has may mean that we might become accustomed to this new reality. And let's not forget that there is stigma from the last time VR and AR was lauded. People do have a right to be skeptical when promises failed to live up to reality. The initially lauded VR world is a case in point where lack of resolution put the brakes on its full inception, and fashion never found a plausible use for it that justified its replacing entrenched institutions. But these are clearly different times and, for the foreseeable future at least, the digital world is in a far better position to fill these losses when looking at social distance protocols and population assembly concerns. Given the manner in which technology improves itself, we might find the need for live presentations to be less necessary if the pace of technology is faster than the creation of a medical solution.

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