After Metaverse Fashion Week, What Are the Implications of High Fashion Going Digital?

Andrew M. Santos

After trying (and failing) to order a soda from an octopus waiter, I walked awkwardly in circles until finding the luxury fashion district at Metaverse Fashion Week. Bathed in purple light, it looks like the kind of high-end shopping center you’d find in an affluent Long Island suburb — sculpted hedges abut storefronts shaded by black awnings displaying brand names written in gold, one of which spells out Gary McQueen. The nephew of fashion legend Alexander McQueen, Gary had set up a store in the metaverse, or more specifically, in a virtual world called Decentraland, which hosted Fashion Week from March 24 – 27.

Though Metaverse Fashion Week ultimately baffled me, a non-metaverse native, it attracted big brand names in the traditional fashion world — Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Cavalli, Fred Segal, and Tommy Hilfiger — and roughly 108,000 attendees throughout its four-day run, a representative for the event later told me. Together, participating designers and brands sold 7,065 virtual “wearables,” worth a total of $76,757, according to the rep.

Brands from “Web3,” a name for the internet that runs on blockchain technology, also had a significant presence. Rarible, a marketplace for selling and minting digital goods backed by nonfungible tokens (NFTs), sponsored a “street” for new designers, while Boson Protocol, a “customizable brand environment for metaverse commerce,” hosts a fireside chat with Tommy Hilfiger.

As Giovanna Casimiro, head of MVFW, tells me days before the event, a fashion scene has been “brewing inside Decentraland” for a while. Fueled by creators who’ve been visiting this glitchy, nascent metaverse, this digital fashion world is basically an extension of the “skins” players’ avatars can wear in video games. Because of all the time people spent online since the onset of Covid-19, more wanted to express themselves virtually in the way gamers would in multiplayer worlds like Fortnite. “People wanted to customize their photos on social media [by] wearing pieces that maybe were not so conventional…[or] physically possible. That discussion slowly transitioned to the fashion industry,” Casimiro says.

Plus, she adds, metaverse-based fashion offers a potentially sustainable twist on self-expression. Keeping up with the latest looks online could preclude the need to keep buying fast fashion, a wasteful and exploitative industry.

That all sounds good enough, but can digital outfits really replace the need for physical shopping? And how many people truly care about their online avatars’ appearances, let alone how they look in a “metaverse?”

“I’m digitally connected more than I am physically connected,” says Seth Pyrzynski, VP of strategy and innovation for Subnation (a self-described “gaming and esports media holding company”) at Web3. Subnation’s latest efforts within the metaverse space include projects like Artcade x Fred Segal, a gallery featuring NFTs at Fred Segal’s flagship Sunset Boulevard store. “We’ve moved into this phase where this digital life is going to be us,” Pyrzynski said. 

Pyrzynski admits he’s spent a “good bit of money” on his digital branding, dressing his Decentraland avatar in ways that both emphasize his individuality (like its hair color) and indicate his belonging to a “tribe.”

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