Image: Auroboros Digital Couture
The future of digital fashion is full of exciting possibilities. “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art,” Oscar Wilde famously said. And since then, we’ve blurred the lines between the two. Imagination and fantasy are essential components of any art form, so it’s no surprise that the fashion world is shifting away from realism and toward the fantasy realm via modern technology. The fashion industry has transformed itself into a concoction of newfound creativity and innovation through digital couture and virtual influencers as interest in the metaverse and virtual world has grown.
Traditional craftsmanship techniques have evolved over the years to stay relevant with changing trends and customer demands, and new methods have been innovated to achieve nothing less than perfection. Instead of an experienced team of Les Petites Mains, it takes the form of visual graphics created by coders, illustrators, and digital artists in the metaverse. Both professions require entirely different skill sets and tools, but both aim for the same result: creating fashion that will hypnotize and appeal to the vast majority.
When The Fabricant, a Dutch digital fashion house, auctioned off its first-ever blockchain dress, the result was unlike anything seen in the real world. The virtual garment was created in collaboration with Johanna Jaskowska and Dapper Labs and is a combination of 2D garment pattern-cutting, 3D design, and rendering software. It produced a glossy, sheer fabric that shimmers like running rivers in the moonlight. The floating fabric shifts gracefully, bringing a unique luminosity that cannot be replicated in the physical world. As it transcends physical boundaries, the freedom of creativity found in digital fashion fosters innovation, new heights, and a modern reinterpretation of the term “craftsmanship.”
Lil Miquela, a virtual influencer, attended Prada‘s Fall Winter show in Milan in 2018, dressed head-to-toe in the fashion house’s signature pieces, and took over the fashion house’s Instagram account in the process. Prada’s collaboration was an impactful and memorable move, leaving the fashion crowd perplexed as to why and how a virtual influencer was present at a physical, live event.
Shudu Gram, a virtual influencer, was also announced as a member of Balmain’s virtual model army, dressed in the Fall Winter 2018/19 collection. Each collaboration opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of what digital fashion and virtual influencers could bring to the industry, whether it would redefine the meaning of fashion or the degree of impact it would have on the concept of craftsmanship, luxury, and marketing in the fashion world.
This digital appeal attracts a new generation of consumers: Gen Zs and Millennials. Growing up in the digital era, blurring reality and fantasy and developing key traits of a digital fashion customer. The Fabricant refers to these customers as “Digital Sapients,” and they “number around 3.5 billion individuals globally, accounting for more than 55% of total purchasing power.” They are early adopters of any technology that upgrades and frees up their existence, from in-app shopping to embracing the new wave of digital fashion.
They understand the power and value of community as creative agents who craft their own self-expression and curate their virtual identity through the realm of digitalisation and are willing to work alongside brands who embrace their world of technology. This opens up a world of possibilities for brands that are now venturing into the online realm. From marketing tactics to digital fashion, the world of fashion and art as we know it is changing dramatically.
The Emergence Of Virtual Influencers
Image: Shudu Gram
Pictures are worth a thousand words, and that is how the game is played on social media. Capture the attention of a follower with an eye-catching image and a memorable narrative, and the rest is history. This is how AI influencers exploded onto the social media scene. Visual communication acts as a link between non-human and human influencers. But, exactly, what are virtual influencers?
These computer-generated animated models and brand ambassadors arose from the enduring consumer enthusiasm for ACG (anime, comics, and games). They’ve become a fast-growing trend that has piqued the interest of luxury retailers looking to attract young consumers and provide an experiential consumer experience that thrives in today’s digital world. They are used to promote products and brands on social media channels, much like human influencers, by embodying characteristics, features, and personalities that are so realistic that some could be mistaken for real people.
Image: Business of Fashion
Behind each virtual influencer is a creator, a brand, or an individual who is in charge of shaping these digital characters and growing their social media platforms. Developing them into globally recognized influencers who are followed by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people worldwide. The world of influencer marketing has changed thanks to AI models. According to Professor Sands, a lead author on “Unreal Influence: Leveraging AI in Influencer Marketing,” “while we know they’re not real people and thus trust an AI influencer less – we discovered that AI influencers are more likely to have access to larger audiences and higher rates of engagement.” People are pretending to be something new and exciting, and this is precisely what they are.
The Concept Of Craftsmanship In Digital Fashion
Dressing virtual influencers is the most accessible way for fashion brands to engage with them. AI model Noonoouri, the virtual fashion darling of them all, pulls off a new chick look every day in visually appealing images. She’s walked the runway in Versace’s Spring Summer 22 collection, as well as iconic archive pieces from Alexander Mcqueen, Viktor & Rolf, and Thierry Mugler. But does this alter our perception of craftsmanship in the industry?
Her level of digital access highlights the craftsmanship and creativity that historic fashion brands have to offer. High-fashion and couture business models have always relied on exclusivity, extraordinary material sourcing, and bespoke tailoring, and it has always been limited to what we can create and wear in real life. However, in the metaverse, this is unimportant. “It’s a digital age where creativity runs wild,” says Daniella Loftus, founder of This Outfit Does Not Exist, a platform that is catalyzing the shift to digital fashion through education, exploration, and exhibition.
Everything from your physical form to fabrics to silhouettes is now open to experimentation. Designers have the ability to create extraordinary things and showcase them through virtual influencers, who bring in a wave of possibilities and a new generation of consumers.
Digital can provide limitless opportunities for engaging and beautiful product presentation. The use of technology to improve the final result of fashion products does not contradict craftsmanship. “Techniques abound, they can be developed and passed on…but they must be linked to a tangible reality.” Fashion is creation, but creation is embodied in tangible products that are supported by know-how, by people who have learned [these skills] and who imbue these products with a kind of magical touch… “Where will we be in 10 years if we don’t have craftspeople?” asked Bruno Pavlovsky, president of the brand’s fashion division, in a Women’s Wear Daily article. Rami Kadi, a digital fashion designer, has a different take.
“The emphasis in a physical collection is on craftsmanship,” she explains. “These artisans are linked to the maisons’ savoir-faire traditions.” When it comes to the virtual world, it has a new design aspect that physical collections do not have: limitless creativity, aided by coding and computer science, that allows us to redefine the definition of craftsmanship and couture.” “The combination of digital fashion, whether in the form of virtual models or garments created by software,” he continues, “opens the door to bigger opportunities.”
According to Professor Lee Lapthorne, Programme Director for the Department of Fashion at Revensbourne University in London, digital fashion entails more than just the use of fashion design software. Digital fashion combines a wide range of skills from various industries, such as gaming and graphic design. And, despite the fact that digital fashion has gained a lot of traction in the last year, the luxury sector, as well as craftsmanship, will continue to grow, and digital fashion will become a different area within the fashion industry that will grow alongside it.
Craftsmanship is knowledge, and the digital venture connects the dots to make it more accessible and iconic over time. Although a brand’s heritage and recognition for traditional craftsmanship will always be appreciated and upheld through physical collections, perhaps it’s time to embrace the new digital era and the evolution of fashion design.