W e have grown a lot while navigating through the Covid 19 pandemic and so has the fashion industry. The lockdowns have forced companies to rethink their approaches, their manners of production and even what kind of garments they create. Designers and their teams have had to learn new ways of working together, resulting in more digital approaches within the design and sample process. Whereas pre-covid inspiration was geared towards environmental reasons, the pandemic has accelerated measures that support those initiatives and goals.
Part of the processes that have been innovated has been the runway. A 20th century construct, it allows all senses to be engaged, bringing a fullness of the design house's vision for the season it showcases. But once travel was shut down and lockdowns were initiated, most places had to find alternative means to get their vision out there. Some houses did produce audienceless shows with the objective of streaming, while a few brands have held shows with a much-reduced guest list and amped up social distancing measures. Some have decided to utilize digital means, resulting in accessing the latest in digital imaging and animation to breathe life into virtual images in combination with live images or in just the designs themselves.
Vaccines are expected to start being disseminated and it will take time until a sufficient percentage of the population is inoculated. When that happens, travel is likely to be restricted for the next while. Outside of the larger houses, those brands that do survive face both reduced budgets and client bases as the repercussions from the pandemic continue to unfold, and anyone in fashion will be able to tell you that a runway show is not cheap. Speaking of money, despite measures to jumpstart economies, the damage has been done and is extensive, so much of fashion will be scaled down in response. Even with a vaccine, much of the mask and distance measures will be remaining in place as we slowly monitor to ensure we reach a base level of safety before we can return to something that approaches how things were previously. The days of shoulder-to-shoulder mobs are definitely history, and this plus budgetary constraints mean it will be a long while before we return to runways.
On the flip side, as technology becomes more commonplace it becomes more affordable, and the pandemic as accelerated digital technology to the advantage of many designers, both established and aspiring. We have gone from in-house textile sample construction to scanning avatars that convert drawn ideas into digital samples that mimic textile qualities more accurately and, from those, can convert the avatars into patterns that can be forwarded to manufacturers. Those same avatars can form the foundations of images of the whole collection, ready to be shipped off to publications or directly on social media. Animated versions aren't as out of reach, either. And those designs can even be uploaded onto apps that allow people to use augmented reality (AR) to see how those designs look on themselves, so the design process can skip most of the traditional avenues that result in an almost farm-to-table design approach.
And yet, we still want to see a show and a film doesn't quite cut it. There's a huge difference between seeing the clothes in real time walk by you versus watching them on a screen, and being immersed in the presentation environment supports the tone of the collection. There is a technology that can make access at that level more possible in these challenging times, and it has an uphill battle with its reputation. But it's the changes in infrastructure along with hardware advancements might change one's mind.
What are we speaking of? Virtual reality. VR. It holds such promise and has consistently disappointed. Why? Speed. It takes a lot of bandwidth to get the kind of detailed images to upload and it takes a lot of data to make those images move in real time with us. Fashion tried to use VR before. Topshop (unfortunately now filing for bankruptcy) tried using it to show its fall 2014 runway show in stores from a few days. Tommy Hilfiger tried, also showing it in its flagship stores for its fall 2015 runway show. 7 For All Mankind showed off their spring 2015 collection to exclusive Elle customers and in-house. Rebecca Minkoff went online showing its fall 2015 runway to anyone who could get Google cardboard glasses. Then it disappeared, save forÂ when Balmain offered a VR seat at their shows for Spring Summer 2019. It's easy to see why. The quality is not enough to be a draw. Images need much higher resolution and images need to move along with us. Ask those who tried VR tech such as Oculus; when you turned your head it took time for the image to follow along, so one gets nauseous and that's not an attractive association for fashion. Cue to today: Hilfiger still offers VR as an in-store addition to review collection pieces, and Coach installed VR headsets in a few malls. But now we have a few changes. Technology and processing power has increased. Resolution, better image immersion and better movement tracking have been worked on. Comfort has also evolved with a better price point. And we haven't even brought the other half of what will make virtual reality a far more attractive reality: 5G.
As the 5G network comes into being, you can expect that the quality of VR will become a game changer and the use of digitization from the gaming world that we've seen in fashion this past year is bound to help this along. As a matter of fact, we don't have to wait for the pandemic to subside if Balenciaga gives any indication. Using the latest scanning software to upload more realistically detailed avatars, they've released a twist on gaming. It's a huge statement recognizing the deep pockets that want access to fashion that can be in both the virtual worlds and in real life. The crossover innovation not only emphasizes a wealth of market opportunities for virtual as well as actual garments, it shows that the technology can allow designers to create virtual models to create digital shows that can be uploaded onto VR. Designers will be able to provide both the traditional passive audience and an active user options on how to review a collection, and access can be widespread. and remember that existing software infrastructure exists to allow AR options for "trying on" clothes. Save for production, the entire process becomes the closest to immediate access to fashion that anyone can get
Lot's of articles have spoke about VR being the next big thing for fashion. It's a promise that many have grown weary and suspicious of. But as technology advances to fine tune the issues and gaming supports the evolution towards mass appeal, you can be sure that those promises are looking more tangible. Once we have that network and the volume of data it can process, you can be sure that this prediction will become virtually a reality.