The Dawn Of Digital Fashion
When Valve introduced video game skins in 2012 in Team Fortress 2 and CS:GO to create more excitement and player engagement, the developer couldn’t have predicted the massive revolution it would cause. 9 years on, and skins remain an enticement for players, as a reward – but they’ve become an even bigger incentive for major fashion houses because surprise surprise, they want a slice of the pie too. Fashion isn’t solely about the clothing anymore. To be a designer or a brand with any skin in the game, you require a multimedia presence – think creative films, interactive Instagrams, and just a general, overpowering digital presence.
And as most fashion weeks have turned digital – to a point where SS’21 shows have been dubbed as ‘movie nights’ – a rare breed of designers are exploring uncharted territory by deep-diving into the realm of tech, and coming up with unique ways to present their clothing – along the lines of Twitch streams, video games, and even an OnlyFans account. Sounds pretty absurd, right?
Well, you best believe they’re doing it anyway. It all filtered into the mainstream when Louis Vuitton partnered up with Final Fantasy XIII in 2016 with a virtually stimulating concept for their spring-summer campaign. The brand used the character ‘Lightning’ from the video game in its advertising campaign to showcase the new collection. While LV definitely overestimated the overlap between high fashion geeks and the audience for Final Fantasy, the campaign certainly left its mark.
And this isn’t where the brand’s tryst with video games ends; Louis Vuitton also released an ‘80s-style video game, called , inspired by Virgil Abloh’s Autumn Winter 2019 show, and also launched its League of Legends capsule collection in partnership with Riot Games. (It's worth noting that one Louis Vuitton jacket costs about 200 games, but that's neither here nor there for now.)
Now, other designers are incorporating their designs into different video games to appeal to a larger audience – and hey, even if the audience isn’t necessarily their target audience, it makes for good press. Pandemic-favourite video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, experiences a spurt of fashion interest, which resulted in Marc Jacobs creating six designs for the game in staple, sugary colours from their spring/summer 2020 and pre-fall 2020 collections, and Valentino creating custom looks for the game as well. The interest further peaked with an in-game fashion show organised by fashion photographer Kara Chung and Berlin-based Reference Festival, where avatars walked in pieces inspired by designer labels such as Loewe, Prada, and Fendi, and it definitely explains the existence of Instagram pages like .
Balenciaga took it up a notch by announcing that it was displaying its entire Fall/Winter 2021 collection as a video game. Titled , the futuristic game imagines a dystopian future, and a wonderland-esque world, in which the player simply has to walk through to witness the brand’s space-age collection adorned by characters – and also, encounter a secret rave in the process.
Gucci, too, unveiled a series of new app features including the Arcade App, inviting customers to play with popular house motifs and characters, plus AR technology that allows them to virtually "try on" sneakers and watches. The Italian brand also launched a collaboration with The Sims and a tennis-themed outfit game, Tennis Clash. Moschino, too, designed a capsule collection for The Sims in 2019, as well as an equivalent collection that was available to buy.
And if you thought the digital-mania was purely limited to video games, think again. British heritage brand Burberry became the first luxury fashion label to partner with streaming service Twitch, and streamed its Spring 2021 show on the platform, instead of opting for a digital film.
Designer Rebecca Minkoff created an OnlyFans account for NYFW SS’21, using the platform to share exclusive style content ahead of her show. Now available to follow, Minkoff’s profile features never-before-seen video content of past NYFW events and allows a glimpse into the life of the designer. Designer Ralph Lauren, too, collaborated with Snapchat to create virtual clothing for personal Bitmojis.
The crypto-craze has also permeated the fashion world; the first Crypto Fashion Week, which took place in Feb earlier this year is proof. Bridging the gap between the world of fashion, art, and the digital ‘metaverse', artists, designers, and tech experts showcased their latest innovations in the fields of cryptocurrency, blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality – from developing virtual sneakers for more sustainable consumption to people uploading and selling their designs on blockchain marketplaces and the infinite possibilities of digital couture.
But this begs the question – is this infiltration a mere marketing tool or a means of evolution? While it may be a mixture of both, we need to keep in mind that from economic crises to health outbreaks, fashion has always responded to the cultural zeitgeist, adapted and survived. With our lives now predominantly online, the only plausible response is to present ourselves and shape our identity digitally – and this applies to the people trying to sell us clothes as well.
As the pandemic resulted in an upsurge of gaming activity, it is understandable why luxury fashion brands (hit hard by store closures and unsold stock) are keen to get involved in lucrative gaming partnerships. At the same time, with gaming giants also benefiting from the cultural relevance and potential sponsorship money that fashion brands can bring in, it’s a win-win for both worlds – and a creative partnership that looks set to continue in future.