The pandemic continues to unravel both our social lives and social fabric, but changes are not limited to the corporeal; our social media lives are changing too. Gaming has become global, communal and interactive. An August 2020 eMarketer survey pegs the number of digital gamers in the United States at 174.7 million or 52.5 percent of the population. Amazon just introduced a gaming platform called Luna which will stream more than 100 popular video games and will integrate with Amazon-owned Twitch, the live-stream gaming platform. Stastia breaks down the 2020 gamers by age, finding that 38 percent of those gamers are in the predictable 18 to 34 age range, less predictably, 34-54-year-old gamers make up 26 percent. Gaming content has evolved and broadened its scope. It is no longer strictly the purview of young men in their parents’ basements, fashion is becoming a player. A few luxury brands spotted the trend early, setting up camp in the gaming sphere well before the pandemic struck. Early brand adoptors include Gucci and Farfetch.
Gucci has been dabbling with fashion time travel under creative director Alessandro Michele and now the legacy brand is exploring the metaverse. Gucci was the first luxury label to design virtual couture for Drest, a styling game developed by Lucy Yeomans, the former editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar U.K. Drest was introduced in October 2019. Now, according to Fast Company, more than 200 luxury brands are designing for the game including Christian Louboutin, Prada, and Virgil Abloh’s Off White. You can purchase virtual clothing in the app for your virtual closet and should you find the look irresistible, Gucci can fulfill your real-life purchase, (Farfetch fulfills for the other brands) as long as you transact with real money.
[callout]Animal Crossing is the number-two best-selling video game of 2020 and Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Anna Sui have taken to the game hoping to raise their virtual profiles.[/callout]
In the summer of 2019, Gucci collaborated with the popular online game Tennis Clash, allowing players to discover and purchase apparel for gaming avatars and their human counterparts. During that same summer, the brand added an arcade tab to the Gucci App where Gucci Ace, a ping pong game, Gucci surf, and Gucci Bloom, a fragrance game, have been available for a luxury/e-sport/olfactory-ish experience.
More recently, the fashion brand has developed a new AR playground for designing branded fantasy sneakers that have no connection to a physical product. In the soon-to-be-launched Sneaker Garage, players will custom design Gucci sneakers or purchase virtual sneakers designed by Alessandro Michele himself. Fast Company reports, “Michele designed a pair of 80s-inspired sneakers that are only available on the platform; customers will be able to try them on using AR technology with Gucci’s app.”
Gucci is not alone in the domain of imaginary sneakers. Recent coverage in Forbes describes Aglet as a Pokémon-Go styled app that layers the virtual world over reality. The app, designed for sneaker-heads, leads players on a journey to specific AR-enhanced destinations. Players walk (counting steps is a part of the game) in search of points and prizes. Players earn virtual currency to be spent in the app on virtual shoes, many of which are versions of current styles from Nike, New Balance, Adidas, and other brands. Aglet is also working with leading sneaker brands to drive traffic into physical stores through brand challenges and promotions. The points systems are the gateway, but actual coin is being spent in this app. In a podcast interview, Aglet founder Ryan David Mullins detailed “glass case” virtual shoes available for serious money including a virtual pair of Jesse Owen’s track sneakers worn in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and a virtual interpretation of the sandals worn by Jesus during the resurrection. Mullins said people are paying up to $800 for the “top-shelf, one of a kind” virtual footwear.
Mullins’ previous job was at Adidas where he was involved in the Adidas MakerLab initiative, which linked Adidas with cutting-edge designers. The selected designer group worked with classic Adidas designs. Adidas then manufactured the designs and sold them as genuine limited editions of the classics. Perhaps Mullins’ earlier work hints that Aglet, like Gucci, is angling to build a bridge between fantasy and physical commerce and in turn, fantasy and physical currency.
The Digital Scarcity Model
Scandinavian brand Carlings released a virtual, limited-edition Fall 2019 streetwear collection. The BBC interviewed the brand director Ronnie Mikalsen. “It sounds kind of stupid to say we \’sold out,\’ which is theoretically impossible when you work with a digital collection because you can create as many as you want. We had set a limit on the amount of products we were going to produce to make it a bit more special.”
A Trip to the Islands
According to NPD, Animal Crossing is the number-two best-selling video game of 2020.
Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Anna Sui, and The Biden Harris campaign have taken to the game hoping to raise their virtual profiles. The presidential campaign is selling yard signs to display on player’s virtual islands. The designers are using the gaming platform as a playground and brand promotional tool. Budding designers are selling virtual skins for Animal Crossing avatars to wear in the game.
I Virtually Have Nothing to Wear!
A recent article in Wired detailed a session at the Virtual Beings Summit 2020, which was held online in May 2020. A number of the panels were held inside Animal Crossing with avatars speaking on behalf of their human counterparts. While the summit was a serious endeavor organized by the advertising scion and virtual beings entrepreneur Edward Saatchi, the gaming nature of the participants led to silly avatar presentations. Saatchi’s avatar wore the ubiquitous pandemic facemask with a hula skirt, while venture capitalist Ryan Wang presented as a purple-haired baby.
While the summit presenters decided to go full-on camp, virtual apparel could find a market if the WFH lifestyle continues. We are all tired of our faces in boxes on screens, wearing the same clothes. Perhaps a well-dressed version of an idealized self might be worth paying for, if not for ourselves, maybe for a slovenly co-worker!
Cyber-celebrities presented at the summit. A virtual Deepak Chopra led a meditation as his avatar encouraged summit attendees to transform through pure consciousness. Virtual Instagram celebrity Lil Miquela, who has now evolved into a virtual pop-star and virtual social activist, was there too. Lil Miquela’s breakout moment was in a Calvin Klein ad in which she starred alongside the very analog Bella Hadid. While virtual models have not overtaken their human counterparts, in an age of pandemic, a human-like avatar who is practically indistinguishable from the flesh-and-blood variety might become a trend. Avatars don’t travel, don’t require over-scale hair and makeup stylists, and they never sleep. Some designers are choosing to skip models and avatars altogether, just presenting the clothes, strutting on a 3D runway (this is a great link).
The Final Frontier
The pandemic may have fueled a wave of aspirational avatars experiencing a better reality than life in a global health crisis. So, let’s take virtual reality to the next level. Fashion can move off-planet, literally. Astronauts modeled Elon Musk’s stylish new Space X spacesuits, bringing a cyber-fashion market within reach for designers and fashion brands. As people increasingly escape to other worlds, a whole new market for stuff without the problem of becoming outdated, unsustainable and disposable becomes real. Avatars are merging with real life; the smart brands are racing forward to make the best of both worlds.