Small players are also making moves as high-end fashion conglomerates rush for virtual reality fashion investments

Models wearing Ngali clothing wander through a virtual world in Denni Francisco’s latest film. This digital medium allowed her to take her collection to location even though she was locked down and unable to travel.

Francisco, a woman of Wiradjuri descent, found this particularly important as the film’s landscape is inspired by Taungurung Country in central Victoria. This is where Francisco was born and where her daughter lives. When she designs, she says that connection to Country is a top priority. She says, “We often talk about how what we make belongs to Country, how it connects to Country, and how it has the rightful place in Country.” The VR film will be shown at Melbourne International Games Week. Francisco was one of seven accessories and apparel designers that were part of a digital fashion incubator initiative by Creative Victoria. This project saw independent Victorian designers work with Melbourne-based AR/VR company Ignition Immersive. Francisco’s project is both artistic and pragmatic. It allows potential customers to try out accessories at home with AR filters.

four person playing virtual reality goggles

The incubator designers are not the first Australian fashion designers to play with augmented and virtual reality. Toni Maticevski designed a “digital haute couture overcoat” of molten sterling for Australian Fashion Week. It could be “tried-on” by attendees and then saved as an image to share on social media.

These steps, which were sponsored by Afterpay and Creative Victoria, are still tentative when compared to the global luxury fashion houses’ efforts. The metaverse, as it stands, is still a costly playground where the richest and most powerful brands are quickly claiming territory.

As the pandemic raged, many shops closed and dress-up opportunities disappeared, big brands raced to create their own VR/AR worlds.

Three enormous luxury conglomerates, Kering, LVMH and Richemont, embraced virtual reality showrooms and trade shows, which often required digital samples of their collections to be developed. Gucci and Dior partnered with Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, to create AR sneaker try-ons.

Balenciaga and Epic Games’ Fortnite partnered in September to allow players to purchase clothing, accessories, and weaponry. After Louis Vuitton and Burberry introduced NFTs in August, this partnership was made possible by Balenciaga. Louis Vuitton developed a whole mobile game, while Burberry’s was for Mythical Games’ Blankos Block Party.

Francisco is positive about virtual experiments’ potential and reach. “So many people can immerse themselves into culture, learn more, and understand more with this type of technology.”

Darren Vukasinovic, Ignition Immersive’s co-founder, said that VR takes the project to the next level, with a heightened sense of emotional connection.

Vukasinovic believes there is profit in VR’s future: “We want designers to monetise the digital world and create an economic system.” He suggests that the best way to do so is by selling a digital copy of a design. You may be able to buy a Ngali print to use in your virtual avatar world.”

Collaborations have already been made between the gaming industry, luxury fashion houses, as well as platforms such as DressX which sells virtual clothing edited onto an image by the user.

There is great potential for growth. In the past three years, the gaming industry has seen a rise of half a billion players. Facebook has invested in virtual reality technology and plans to make it widely available, hinting at a future where Zoom meetings are replaced by more immersive 3D experiences in which everyone has their own avatar (and can dress it accordingly).

Li Edelkoort is a trend forecaster and founded Trend Union in Paris. He said: “I have no doubt that it’s going to become an important profit center. What does it mean for society? This is a different question.

Edelkoort first concerns that technology isn’t advanced enough to capture fashion’s texture and tactility, which are the things that make fashion so “breathtaking”. She also raised the concern of sustainability. While VR and AR may slow down the consumption of real clothes if fantasy moves online, it is still resource-intensive to create a digital world.

black flat screen computer monitor with black computer keyboard

It seems like the only limit to the metaverse is our imagination.

Access to new technology is costly, however. Epic Games, creators of Fortnite and the creators of Semblance World, funded the creation of the virtual fashion site. Semblance World will also be launching at Melbourne International Games Week through one of its Epic MegaGrants. This platform will feature the work of some of Creative Victoria’s digital incubators.

Edelkoort believes that the cost will bring together independent designers. Edelkoort sees the future of “collaborations, co-opting and ateliers and workshop where these things can occur in a collective manner”.

This could open up new avenues for collective creativity in the fashion industry. However, promises of freedom, equality, and open access were also made regarding cyberspace’s initial iterations.

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