Digital realities are being created left and right, especially as a reaction to a world on lockdown, forcing us to connect in a non-physical realm. The fashion industry has been utilizing these technological advances, such as AR, VR and XR to further promote their brand, or sometimes even to create their entire brand. Damara Inglês, a London College of Fashion graduate, has been extremely prominent in the fashion field with all-things digital. She learned 3D modelling softwares in university and has now worked on one of the most realistic immersive XR fashion shows titled The Fabric of Reality. In 2019, she won the Kering Award for Sustainability due to her amazing work with AR. She used this innovative concept to change the way we perceive clothing into an eco-friendlier manner. Currently, she is conceptualising her own studio, KAZUMBI, to create a collection of digital objects that will blend in aura, memory and much more. We could not be more intrigued by her queer, gender-bending and progressive designs. In the interview below, we dive deeper into her digital passion.
Video courtesy of Damara Inglês
First off, I want to congratulate you on your amazing work The Fabric of Reality, an immersive VR fashion show. Could you tell us how this project came about?
I had to rush from Milan to Lisbon due to the quarantine and received this briefing from Matthew Drinkwater of the Fashion Innovation Agency. I was instantly aware that this would be something truly exciting, ground-breaking and pioneering. I was offered the chance to collaborate with a Virtual Reality designer and felt that SUTU would be the best fit to my aesthetic. The briefing was breathtaking and a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine… how can the sensation of a fashion show be translated into a virtual experience. Having in mind that this project is a 1st-of-its-kind, I tried to rely on the briefing to be the guide the creative direction and flow.
What was the inspiration behind The Fabric of Reality?
Due to the pandemic, we were almost like cavemen, restricted to our modern “caves” that are now connected to the outside world through a new layer - that of virtuality. When divers explore the depths of the oceans they wear diving suits and oxygen tanks; when astronauts explore the heights of the cosmos they also wear Spacesuits and helmets...what do we wear as early explorers of the virtual age? I use my Avatar asa vessel to inhabit the virtual, so on Symbiotic_Wear. The Avatar was a vessel. In relation to the Story World, the main inspirations are elements that humans can only explore via technology, filled with darkened/void/silence and connected light. Whilst, the deep ocean creatures that communicate through lights in the darkness of the deepest oceans; creatures like bloody-belly comb jellyfish, salp colonies and sea slugs, the cosmos and the chaosmos (that is the composed chaos, a cosmos of dynamics and constant change and morphology), there is this tension of being simultaneously filled with void/darkness and with lights. It's like satellites and lightyears that keep spontaneously long gone moments like a supernova… seemingly eternal to the human eye. In relation to the Avatar, I took inspiration from the iconic Angola's Pensador - a deep wooden sculpture.
Image courtesy of Damara Inglês
Do you think fashion brands, which are not currently able to host physical fashion shows or even produce garments, could become more reliant on XR technology past this sanitary crisis?
Definitely! The quarantine has impacted our forms of interaction, and possibly some changes are here to stay. The cultural, financial impact that this pandemic has created is yet to be seen or speculated about - we are still living it. But this pandemic has impacted most industries, specifically in relation to fashion. For months the digital/virtual interactions were the only tools at hand. I think that regardless of the previous barriers that fashion brands had in relation to the digital/virtual, they have seen digital and virtual solutions as the most effective way of bonding with their audiences and consumers. I hope that brands take this moment of potential cultural shift as an opportunity to pioneer new formats of being, experiencing and dressing ourselves our avatars. For the sake of experience and innovation, but above it all for the sake of nature and sustainability. We need to take this opportunity to slow-down the fashion industry's constant acceleration of novelty, and to read the consumer and find new motivations. From polluting the land with pesticides, tinting rivers with toxic dyes and draining an entire sea for cotton mass-production, fashion is arguably the second most polluting industry, after oil. It has long been known as the maker of dreams, it is about time both the industry and the consumers face its reality.
I want to rewind a bit. How did you get started with AR and VR?
I started by making collages, then I'd digitally superimpose impossible things onto my body - like trash water, flying dollar bills or an electric blue acrylic toilet seat. For my BA project I conceptualised this app where users could purchase physical garments and then update them digitally, via augmented reality. The idea was to this place where you could buy the work of favourite 3D artists/designers and wear it on your body. It was a very ambitious project for my set of skills so I applied for virtual and technology workshops like the Fashion Futures LCF x Microsoft and the Modual: Immersive at the Somerset house. These were extensive and creatively eye-opening experiences that made me minimally literate in 3D. I also got to support the Virtual Anthropology lab. A friend then told me about Digi_Gxl, a disruptive 3D design and developing collective, consistent of womxn (in the most inclusive sense, including trans-women and non-binary) safe place of interchange of skills and other forms of support, really helped me understand better what I wanted to do and the ways I could do it. I started working in AR with Vuforia - Unity and from then on started future-dreaming through my creative practice.
LCF x Micro, Images courtesy of Damara Inglês
Have you had to face any difficulties on your journey? Do you have any advice for anyone reading this wanting to get started with XR?
The main barrier was the fear that tech focused skills would be too difficult to retain. The lack of representation does not stop me from chasing my dreams, but it is always important to feel that you are included in any environment. In that sense I have been very lucky, from the support from my university in terms of technical workshops and learning support, to the wonderful DIGI_GXL community. I found that in tech, like in any industry, it all comes down to finding our people. Digital skills are important when tackling big issues because the digital is an ever growing medium of interaction, through which information travels faster - as agents of change, the goal is to take power by surprise.
One of the current biggest problems in the fashion industry is the lack of diversity. You, however, come out with amazing androgynous designs and filters. How do you go about combatting this issue in your field of work?
In fashion there is a lack of diversity in representation and that of voices as well. Through representation of different bodies and personas (I often use my friends as muses as can be seen on my instagram profile @soft_wear), and of personally relevant themes like queerness, feminism, performance, ethnic and cultural activism. I find that simply expressing what genuinely occurs in my and in the world, is in itself an act of expanding the diversity of narratives/voices. Naivety, experimentation, and a sense-of-adventure are activism in a culture of groupthink. Connecting with creatives regardless of ethnicity or gender identity and telling my story, searching for new stories beyond Western centrism. Also, by inspiring minority youth to follow tech related careers. Last year I had the honour of delivering a workshop on "CTRL_YOUR_FUTURE" at Truman's Brewery. It was an initiative between Digi_Gxl and the Institute of Coding, where minority women learned different tech related skills: my workshop was about Augmented Reality Fashion Activism.
What is the next project you are or will be working on?
I am currently conceptualising KAZUMBI, a creative studio that will blend the notions of Object and Aura, Experience and Memory, Neo-Mythology and Technology.
Image courtesy of Damara Inglês
Who do you envision your audience to be?
Anyone, digital natives, virtual explorers, extended reality adventurers and XR collectors.
Where do you see yourself in the future? What are some of your goals and aspirations in terms of your work?
I see myself continuing to use technology as a tool to improve the sense of sustainability, diversity and dreaming within the fashion field. For me understanding the connection we have with clothes that are not left behind, is a crucial step towards sustainability as a general practice in fashion. By exploring the connection between an individual and their garment, I aim to expand the sensation of fashion beyond its materiality, a way of deepening the bond between consumer and object and therefore turning that object into a fundamental rather than disposable. But which is the formula of consumer-object connection, when will objects be as valuable as the brand logos they carry?
Lastly, do you believe in a future where fashion, and even human life as we know it, will solely exist in an XR reality?
I believe in all possibilities (Laughs). Who is to say we are not already existing solely in an XR reality? As digital inter beings , our lives are already augmented by devices, social-media platforms and filters. We already are cyborgs, constantly attached to external devices that keep us connected. Maybe life is a simulation (Laughs). Sometimes I do dream about being fully digital and live virtually happily after… Until someone hacks the cloud of me.
Images courtesy of Damara Inglês
Needless to say, Damara is shaping the fast-growing industry of digital realities. Her passion and ambition seep through her creations, elevating the quality of her work. She is pioneering a new, inclusive and totally ground-breaking way of life. YUGEN is impatiently waiting for her next pieces of work, and will be eagerly watching how she will shape the digital fashion industry. Make sure you stay tuned for Damara's upcoming projects.
By Juliette Eleuterio