Into the metaverse we go!
As Metaverse Fashion Week began to loom in the fashion industry’s rearview mirror, watchers of the web3 fashion space seemed to fall into one of two camps: incredibly excited for what they saw as a giant leap forward for fashion, or quietly trying to make sense of what the metaverse even is. But innovation waits for no befuddled fashion professional, and MVFW exploded to the forefront of our minds and social media feeds before any fashion-tech luddites could find the answers to their questions.
But no matter! For Metaverse Fashion Week, hosted by Decentraland, a “decentralized virtual reality platform”, was an engrossing flurry of virtual activity distinctly uninterested in answering questions beyond those that would help guests buy or sell virtual wares. Refreshingly inclusive and apolitical vibes could be felt floating about everywhere, and you could almost hear the fashion crowd in attendance uttering a collective sigh of relief: it’s so nice to have something else to think about as the economy, the environment and war-torn countries are crumbling all around us! And who can blame us? For the fashion fan, a bit of escapism is exactly what we need in these trying times.
Decentraland – or DCL, as “The Community” fondly refers to it – is an easy place to get lost in. That’s not because of its immersive graphics, but rather because of its daunting size. Being a relatively intrepid internet user and wanting to avoid looking like a total idiot on the day of the event, I logged in early to get my bearings, but I quickly realized that I had no need to be concerned about any technological learning barriers. (Could the rumors be true – that this whole Metaverse thing could really be accessible to anyone with internet access?)
But I have to admit, since I’ve spent WAY too many hours playing online open world games in my life, I was a bit disappointed by the appearance of the virtual environment, and especially by the fact that my avatar didn’t have a sword. My avatar couldn’t actually do anything, other than walk around and chat with other users or click on virtual billboards, NFTs, and links to a few Discord channels. Philosophically speaking, a decentralized social platform managed and built by its users sounds incredibly cool, but in its current iteration Decentraland still feels more like a sea of traversable ad space that desperately needs to be purged of its reigning crypto bro overlords.
Glitz, glamor and glitches
But lest we forget the point of this expedition into the digital unknown, let us return to the fashion. It was clear from day one that all the avatars in attendance were here to check out the clothes and the clothes only, and not to prance around virtual medieval towns or flush excrement-shaped NFTs down virtual toilets (an unfortunate early discovery of mine; this is what I mean by needing to take the power back).
All easy jabs at toxic metaversal culture aside, the clothes – and I say this without even a smidge of irony – had magical powers: they inspired a feeling of hope for the fashion industry’s future, a feeling that many of us in the industry have not felt in a long time. There were entirely new narratives and new ideas hidden amongst the digital folds of garments that seemed to be begging for release from their clunky and awkward forms. This is not an insult to the masterful designers at work, but rather recognition that the digital fashion industry and the technologies that support it are still in their infancy.
IRL labels like Dolce & Gabbana, Phillip Plein and Etro hosted shows, to varying degrees of success, at a brand-new catwalk, built in an impressive stadium-like digital building that unfortunately seemed to outshine and swallow up the garments as they came down the runway. D&G showed a series of futuristic suits and dresses worn by animals. (Think Fantastic Mr. Fox attends a session on intergalactic trade policy in the 23nd century.) Etro’s bright collection of resortwear pieces in classic paisley prints – presented here in DCL for the first time, but only available for purchase in physical form – were ill-fitted for low-resolution graphics and the prevailing “go big or go home” ethos of MVFW. In fact, the clothes shown by real-world labels in Metaverse Fashion Week were completely overshadowed by the new school of digital fashion houses whose otherworldly looks dominated the event. Three labels already well-established in the metaverse stood out from the crowd: Tribute Brand, Placebo, and Auroboros.
Tribute Brand, who describe themselves as a “platform for contactless cyber fashion”, released a limited-edition collection of wearables “inspired by Tekken’s Devil Jin and GTA’s ladies of the night” at the first official MVFW afterparty. The party brought out the DCL fashion elite, who showed up dressed to impress in dazzling digital looks. A few were wearing the ensembles that Tribute had just dropped, which included a bikini top, a micro miniskirt, thigh-high boots with matching gloves, and a hairstyle with devil horns. The hairstyle was on sale in the marketplace for around 600 MANA, which is what the digital currency of DCL is called; converted into GBP, that’s about £1200.
Digital fashion house Placebo has a permanent storefront in DCL. Their signature aesthetic (“ageless, sizeless, genderless tech-couture”) mixes cozy puffers with a slick, liquid-like cyber-latex “fabric” and muted all-over logo prints. They manage to fit in perfectly with the fashion landscape of 2022 and feel like the future at the same time. In their typical form - as garments that can be photoshopped onto images, rather than the blocky wearables worn by avatars in DCL - their looks are so enticing, they made me wish they existed offline just so I could touch them.
Auroboros hosted the closing event of MVFW, which was promoted as an “immersive concert experience” in collaboration with Grimes but received a lukewarm reception. The concert took place in their impressive store, a towering black spire with plenty of space to showcase their intriguing nature-inspired garments. They feature elements such as gravity-defying spikes, shimmering stripes that pulse and slither around the body, and translucent layers that show the “veins” of other garments underneath. Auroboros take full advantage of the fact that designing for the virtual world doesn’t need to be anchored in gravity or time, but they also make physical garments that are deeply rooted in the natural world: their bespoke couture designs literally grow on the bodies that wear them, undergoing a “crystallization process” that takes 6 to 12 hours. That might just be the coolest thing to happen to couture since Hussein Chalayan’s garments started shapeshifting before our very eyes for his One Hundred & Eleven show in 2007.
Is this the future of fashion?
And now for the burning question on everyone’s minds: was Metaverse Fashion Week a success? The answer is complicated. There were plenty of problems, like shows starting late due to technical difficulties and a lack of cohesive communication from event organizers. One person made a snide comment as my avatar was strolling around DCL’s luxury district, sponsored by NFT marketplace UNXD: “really? Is this supposed to be the future of fashion?” I can understand their frustration, but the creators behind Metaverse Fashion Week aren’t the right ones to blame. Sometimes, the hype and obsessive marketing push behind the metaverse seems disproportionate to how much of it has already been built, which is essentially none of it. Metaverse Fashion Week was supposed to be about the clothes, and not a discussion on digital infrastructure, but it can be very difficult to separate the topics from each other during this early stage when everything is still an experiment.
An exchange between two partygoers I witnessed at the closing day event sums up the whole Metaverse Fashion Week experience nicely:
“NGL this is disappointing!! No way this is supposed to be a historic moment. Grimes isn’t even playing live. And where are my free NFTs??!”
“Dude…please just shut up and enjoy the show.”