For fashionistas and everyone else, 2022 will be remembered as the year the metaverse went mainstream.
The writing has been on the wall ever since Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s name change from Facebook to Meta last October. A virtual wall, of course. Soon after came all the signs of a cultural tipping point – the Super Bowl wave of cryptocurrency exchange ads (LeBron James for crypto.com, Larry David for FTX), the jokes and sketches of the metaverse live on saturday night, and Snoop Dogg’s release of the first music video in the Metaverse, featuring a digitized avatar of the rap mogul smoking blunts and chilling in his “Snoopverse,” a virtual world he’s building online (Early Access passes are $2,000 each ).
Fashion designers pay attention to this. Plagued by the fashion industry’s ongoing sustainability issue and more recent supply chain issues, labels are looking for some lift. “In the real world, the possibilities are limited,” says designer Philipp Plein. “The Metaverse opens up a whole new frontier.”
Plein, whose luxury brand now accepts more than 20 different cryptocurrencies across its online and brick-and-mortar stores, recently spent $1.4 million buying virtual properties on Decentraland, a popular online platform that allows users to have an immersive 3-D metaverse to create experience. He built a 120-meter-tall virtual skyscraper in time for Metaverse Fashion Week, or MVFW, the world’s largest all-digital fashion event, which took place over four days in Decentraland in March.
Unlike real-life fashion weeks, MVFW was free and open to the public, with avatar models, animated runways and after-parties featuring more than 70 brands and artists including Karl Lagerfeld, Tommy Hilfiger, Elie Saab, Cavalli, Etro, Dolce & Gabbana, Estée Lauder and Selfridges, and digital-native creators – makers of virtual, non-real garments – such as Auroboros, Fewocious and The Fabricant
“Brands inherently tend to expand and create their own universes,” says Plein, pointing to fashion designers’ forays into home decor, hospitality, automotive and more. In the Metaverse, he suggests, you could see a “luxury brand zoo, a hospital, [even a] State with its own cryptocurrency.”
The fashion industry has been dipping its pedicured toes in these waters for a couple of years, whether we’re talking about the metaverse itself (alternative 3-D environments accessed via virtual reality headsets and online platforms), wearables (the digital garments that your avatar wears). these platforms), non-fungible tokens (aka NFTs, unique collectibles
in the form of digital images, videos, or audio files) or cryptocurrency (the digital dollars used in the Metaverse to purchase wearables, NFTs, and more).
Last year, Christie’s auctioned off a Gucci NFT, the first by a luxury brand to fetch $25,000. A “Baby Birkin” NFT inspired by the famous Hermès handbag (this one in animated form depicting a translucent bag and a developing fetus inside) was created by two Los Angeles artists, not the brand itself, and caused quite a stir and was sold at auction for $47,000. Paris Fashion Week offered NFTs to select guests. Burberry, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton followed. Nike bought virtual sneaker outfit RTFKT and partnered with Roblox (a Metaverse platform) to create its immersive Nikeland. Adidas bought “Land” for its own spot in the Sandbox (another Metaverse platform).
“We live in a time where technology continues to blur the lines between our physical and digital lives,” says Giovanna Graziosi Casimiro, Head of MVFW at Decentraland. MVFW attracted 108,000 unique participants. They strolled through sci-fi like locations, some in fantastical robes with wings, dragon heads, illuminated ponytails and twinkling orbiting lights. Others in hoodies or gym shorts.
Such democratization fuels enthusiasm for the metaverse.
“Very few people have access to this crazy world of luxury in real life,” says Sofia Sanchez de Betak, whose Chufy brand is typically sold at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and The Webster. “This is an opportunity for a lot of people to take a look.”
Chufy built a virtual pop-up shop in Decentraland’s fashion district for MVFW. It looked like a toy store on Paris’ Avenue Montaigne, but with a geisha print on the outside and floating mannequins and 3-D waves on the inside.
For Sanchez de Betak, the metaverse fuels a new kind of wanderlust and excitement reminiscent of the days when places like Cuba or Myanmar opened up to tourism. “It’s like going into another dimension,” she says.
There sure are kinks in the metaverse. Currently, Metaverse technology differs on each platform, so a fabulous NFT purchased on one site cannot be worn on another. And the environmental costs are debatable – proponents stress that virtual fashion can satisfy our hunger for fast fashion and help protect the environment. Naysayers point out that the cryptocurrencies underlying all of this activity are connected to blockchains, the digital ledgers that verify these transactions, requiring banks of computers and massive amounts of energy.
Nevertheless, a designer can dream.
“We research,” says Sanchez de Betak. “To the generation that’s already in this world, let’s just say hello and try to figure out what it’s all about.”
This article appeared in the June 2022 issue of penta Magazine.