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High-tech fashion: Pandemic shifts focus from physical garments to storytelling and digital aspiration

Blurring the lines between the physical and virtual worlds, high fashion has gone beyond storytelling and aspiration today

For instance, Gucci is designing virtual clothes, shoes and accessories that exist in the digital realm. (Photo: Reuters)

The pandemic has not only changed everyone’s fashion sense, it has also shifted the focus from physical garments to storytelling and digital aspiration. Brands today are engaging consumers on virtual platforms by creating games or avatars, and are seeing new collections and new economies emerging from these spaces.

For instance, Gucci is designing virtual clothes, shoes and accessories that exist in the digital realm. Media reports say Gucci will launch a platform to let users design virtual sneakers and then put them on their feet using augmented reality. “The virtual world is creating its own economy,” said CMO Robert Triefus in a report published in Fast Company. “Virtual items have value because of their own scarcity, and as they can be sold and shared.”

This is not, however, the first time that a luxury fashion label has entered the fast-emerging space. In 2018, Hermès launched ‘H-pitchhh’, a mobile gaming app inspired by its equestrian heritage, as part of its year-long celebration around the topic of ‘play’. Estée Lauder, too, launched four video games to promote its most popular skincare products. The brand introduced ANRcade, a microsite featuring web-based video games that promote the brand’s advanced night repair synchronised multi-recovery complex. What’s interesting is that countries could customise the games to offer free samples or incentives, therefore giving the brand a way to support various merchants.

As the physical and virtual worlds become increasingly blurred, the scope of fashion becomes bigger. Cassandra Napoli, digital media and marketing strategist, WGSN, a global authority on consumer and design trends, says, “Like many other trends, the pandemic accelerated the shift to virtual worlds. As the lockdown stripped people of social experiences, gaming platforms were recognised as a new type of social network for the masses, becoming spaces to meet people and socialise. In 2020, games have allowed humans to safely be the inherently social creatures they are. It’s here that serendipity, adventure, socialisation and discovery co-exist alongside creativity and in-game commerce. As the lockdown hit and users flocked to these spaces, so did many entertainers and brands.

Platforms played host to a new kind of concert with American rapper Travis Scott performing in Fortnite, and a new type of shopping experience as well, with designer Sandy Liang hosting a pop-up shop inside the game Animal Crossing. Months later, we’re still seeing investment in these platforms, proving this avenue of marketing isn’t going anywhere.”

This year, gaming gained mass appeal with 3.4 billion global users, according to data from WARC’s (WGSN’s sister brand) Advertising Opportunities in Gaming Report. “Gaming is courting more women and moms, too, now and attracting both young and mature audiences—there’s truly something for everyone. We’re seeing avatar ranges evolving into the beauty space too. Following the lead of early adopting brands such as MAC, beauty is emerging as the next industry setting out to dominate the gaming world. Razor brand Venus, for example, introduced new ‘skin-clusive’ designs. As gaming gains popularity, we’re also seeing more brands launch branded playgrounds of their own. Burberry, for example, has been busy launching mobile games for its customers to engage with, extending the Burberry universe to new digital and gamified realms,” shares Napoli.

In 2019, Louis Vuitton released a retro-style video game called Endless Runner, which was inspired by Virgil Abloh’s Autumn Winter 2019 show for the brand. The visuals for the game were inspired by 1980s graphics and revisited the New York streetscape set that was built as part of Abloh’s vision for the show.

Heritage has become a strong narrative for storytelling by Christian Dior too. Gucci has taken arts and architecture beyond the boundaries of fashion, with partnership and collaborative art projects. In 2016, the Italian fashion house partnered with four artists to create virtual and real spaces that best capture and reflect Gucci’s history and new direction under creative director Alessandro Michele.

Ready-to-wear brand Genes Lecoanet Hemant, the modern alternative to contemporary dressing, recently launched a new collection, carrying timeless details inspired by its inimitable couture heritage. “The collection carries the essence of time and presents the wearer with a language of expression that transcends fashion and embraces personal style,” says Hemant Sagar of Genes Lecoanet Hemant, whose collection is about reinvented classics in black and white, crafted consciously with love and purposeful design.

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