THE DIGITAL FACE OF FASHION - AN ACCESSORY AND A NECESSITY

Whether it be the GOAT app letting its users try on the Dior Air Jordan 1's using AR technology, or the majority – if not all – of fashion week’s designer shows happening online, the fashion industry is currently facing a digital exodus. It could be that brands are using digital technology to help sell a physical product, or that the whole brand and product only live in a digitized world. The possibilities while marrying the fashion industry and modern technology seem endless. While this combination has the greatly important factor of being sustainable, less wasteful, is it in our future for fashion to be fully digitized? Will we leave behind our physical clothes for a life of Fortnite skins and Sim’s wardrobes?

The Fabricant The Fabricant The Fabricant

Images courtesy of The Fabricant

Different Types of Reality

The most commonly used type of digital reality, as for now, by fashion brands is AR, short for augmented reality. AR only seeks to enhance the physical world by overlaying computer made images – think of Instagram face filters and Pokémon GO. This is a commonly used technique by retail brands, such as UNIQLO and their ‘Magic Mirror,’ which lets you try on a digitized version of a clothing item, fitted to your body type. Whether it be through a smart mirror or your own phone, this sales-encouraging technique, although still under development, will surely become the new norm in ten to twenty years, as more and more brands will adopt it.

On the other hand, virtual reality leaves behind the physical world to give its user a fully computer-based reality. For this experience, a headset is required, making it less accessible. However, VR still has its merits within the fashion industry. The luxury brand Balmain has taken advantage of this technology to create a VR experience in their Milan boutique. When customers put on the provided headset, they enter a world inspired by the AW18/19 collection. Some brands have started experimenting with the possibility VR offers, and we could only be excited at what is to come from them. Extended Reality is perhaps the lesser known reality but the one with the most potential to harness. XR is an umbrella term signifying the use of all or a combination of different realities. Due to its complex nature, the possible outcomes of XR have only begun scratching the surface – yet they are still breath-taking. Perhaps one of the most successful attempts is Damara Inglês’ The Fabric of Reality, a fully immersive fashion experience. The audience could watch the show through a VR headset, or simply through a computer. Months and months of work unfolded into a beautiful imagery which seemed taken from the future.

Smart Clothing

Fashion and the world of savvy technology have come together to create some enticing products. Whether it be heat-adjusting coats or watches that track your running patterns, garments are being made for a user-super-friendly experience. And those possibilities are only expanding. In 2019, Levi's paired up with Google to produce a smart jacket able to answer calls, skip music and navigation pins from Google maps. The classic Levi's Denim Trucker jacket has has quite literally been woven with Google's Jacquard technology. A discreet bluetooth tag has been placed on the left sleeve and, depending on your movement, it can do all sorts of actions linked to your cellphone. And, just in case you forget your phone, the jacket's Always Together feature will alert you that you are moving too far away from it. While this jacket gives its wearer extra technology, it also makes them somewhat more independent, making them use their phone less. While it is interesting to see technological pieces such as the smart watch or AirPods become a fashion accessory, having the garment become the technology could increase the possibilities. Having a garment connected to the digital world and the Internet could become the future, as humans are trying to find solutions for an easier, and more direct way of living.

Levi's Google Jacquard Jacket

Image courtesy of The Daily Times

The Birth of CGI Models

Now that we have differentiated the three main types of digital realities, we can further look into how they are shaping the future of the fashion industry. Let’s take it back a few years, when the mysterious Lil Miquela made her first appearance on Instagram and instantly saturated our feeds. Conspiracy theories were debating on who and what she was. The simple answer was that the world was not ready to accept the power technology holds. The fully digitized model has made appearances next to Bella Hadid and Zach Sang and has been seen wearing Christopher Kane, Mowalola and Off-White. Lil Miquela is not the only digital influencer, though. Since her success, we have seen the rise of new influencers such as Shudu, Blawko, Bermuda, and many more. As the CGI models gain momentum (and followers), their brand deals will keep expanding. Most people would wonder if virtual influencers would ever takeover real influencers. However, this is not an accurate question to ponder upon. Virtual influencers are just as real as ‘real’ influencers. Although they exist within a different reality, it is still under the arc of our universe. Now, whether or not the Lil Miquela’s will surpass the Rickey Thompson’s, that is all up to the numbers they produce.

Lil Miquela & Bella Hadid

Image courtesy of Calvin Klein

Fashion Week Goes Digital

Since most IRL fashion shows are cancelled this year, it is going to be interesting to see what fashion houses have come up with as an alternative way of show casing their collections. Last season we mainly saw photoshoots with either the designer itself wearing the garments, like Vivienne Westwood, or had their team posing in them, like Gucci. This season, though, since everyone has gotten more accommodated to social distancing, hopefully brands will come up with something more innovative for their audience. For example, in 2019 London College of Fashion partnered up with HoloMe to livestream a Giorgio Armani show in an innovative manner. The viewers could actually superimpose an AR rendered version of the models onto their surroundings, making the show feel much more personal and, ironically enough, real. This trend will most likely be more prevalent with the bigger fashion houses in the near future, in order to break the elitist nature of their shows. In addition, it would be a great way to keep everyone safe and Covid-free.

The Future of the Garment?

With AR and VR taking over the fashion industry, one can wonder what the purpose of the physical item of clothing really is. The Scandinavian brand Carlings had an interesting take on this topic. In 2018, the brand came out with Neo-Ex, a fully digital collection, which could only be purchased for digital use. This was in response to the ‘one outfit, one photo’ mentality many influencers have adopted. By purchasing a digital clothing item, which Carlings will then fit to your body, no waste is actually produced. This type of business is gaining traction not necessarily from the big corporations, but rather from independent creatives who are designing everything from virtual manicures to outfits. Although this concept may not convince everyone at first, the results are astounding. The difference between the ‘real’ clothes and the digital clothes were almost unnoticeable. 

Carlings Neo-Ex

Photograph courtesy of Carlings

Digital for Survival

In fact, for the fashion industry to still exist in the future, it may be necessary to go completely digital. We need to remember that fashion is a luxury. And as far as it is going, we will hit a point where humans will no longer be able to afford this luxury. Textile waste, water consumption for dyeing and carbon emissions emitted for physical samples are problems that are all exponentially growing. Converging to a largely digital wardrobe would solve all of these ongoing issues. Furthermore, having digital fashion shows would enormously reduce the CO2 emissions produced by having everyone being flown out to around the world. And while there seems to be a need to going digital, that does not mean it will not be a source of innovation, entertainment and art form within itself. Though the dangers posed by the physical fashion industry are frightening, the path to going digital can still be enjoyable, rather than worrying.

The Fabricant

Image courtesy of The Fabricant

While we still have a few restraints on how fashion and the digital world can merge, it is definitely the path the industry is taking to evolve. It is at the same time frightening and exciting, as the lines between the physical and the computer based are being blurred on the daily. But who can say what the future holds? Will we never want to get rid of the touch and feel of physical garments? Or will these merely become a utilitarian object, while online is where the style and flamboyance of fashion is shown off? Maybe this is a path we will be forced to take in order to significantly reduce pollution produced by the fashion industry? There are so many questions which will only be answered by time. In the meantime, we will be on the lookout for those innovative technologies which could provide an exciting future for us.

by Juliette Eleuterio


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