Faithful followers of our blog know that at University of Fashion we love, love. love the history of things. In fact, our founder, Francesca Sterlacci, co-wrote the book, Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry. So we thought before we talk about how the Metaverse is poised to revolutionize the fashion industry, we’d take a look back at the thing we love to hate and yet can’t do without…the Internet.
Did you know that January 1, 1983 is considered the official birthday of the Internet, and that it wasn’t until August 6, 1991 that the World Wide Web went live to the world?
Now, more than ever, we rely on technology. With the click of a button, we order our groceries, hold business meetings, learn fashion design online (thanks UoF) and purchase everything from underwear to luxury clothes…even cars! We are so completely hooked on our electronic devices that to be without them even for a day, it’s like the world has come to an end! And now, thanks to the pandemic, we have become even more reliant. Is that even possible?
Through the internet, we maintain social relationships, communicate with family and friends and interact via Facebook®, Instagram® and all of the other social media platforms, incessantly. The Internet has also expanded our vocabulary. We all ‘surf’ the web, use google as a verb, and learned a slew of new acronyms like HTTP, HTTPS HTML, FTP, WWW, and more.
Well buckle your seat belts folks….here comes the metaverse, (with it the fashionverse) and a new set of vocab terms like avatar, blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFTs, burning NFTs, AR, VR, and Web 3.0.
What is the Metaverse, you ask?
When Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s name change to ‘Meta’ in October 2021, tech giants like Google and Microsoft started investing heavily in it, portending the next big tech revolution. The metaverse, now in its beginning stages, is a digital experience that will evolve into something that blurs the lines between the digital and physical world.
According to Michelle Cortese, a virtual and augmented reality designer, artist and author, the metaverse is essentially, “a spectral layer on top of our existence. It is represented by avatar interactions, and constructed experiences, ultimately altering how we interact online, how crypto is adopted, how brands advertise, all while offering a hyper-real alternative world for people to coexist in. The concept that was beloved by tech enthusiasts, a desire for a decentralized virtual world and a place that is aligned with the physical world, has now penetrated the mainstream landscape. Virtual experiences have spiked dramatically with millions of people indulging hours upon hours as digital avatars into virtual social spaces such as Fortnite and Roblox or digital NFTs and cryptocurrencies.”
Michelle Cortese depicts the stages of the Web and the advancements we have endured to reach Web 3.0 more clearly. “When we say ‘Web 3.0’ we refer to the three stages of the Internet:  the desktop computer dial-up of the 1990s;  the socially-driven mobile Internet of the 2000s and 2010s; and  the “Embodied Internet” or Metaverse – this next generation of the Internet anticipates that people will interface with the web in a more embodied, virtual way.”
All sounds like a sci-fi movie right? But advanced technology is making this possible. Using a combination of technologies and incorporating virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), users can actually “live” inside a digital universe. In the metaverse, users are part of the action.
What does this mean for the fashion industry?
Think of the possibilities for brands to reach potential customers in the metaverse. The fashion industry is already evolving in this advanced digital world and the pandemic offered many in lockdown mode the opportunity to explore the gaming world, a perfect intro into the ‘virtual world’. In the metaverse, the user can shop in digital stores and there is even a “try before you buy” feature where the user can take a 360-degree look at an item. They can zoom in and examine all the details of that piece of clothing before they make a purchase.
Consumers now have the ability to virtually try on products by dragging one or more items onto photos of themselves. So the metaverse is literally bringing the fitting room into your home and can offer the consumer the same experience as walking into a brick-and-mortar store.
The metaverse is therefore quickly transforming the fashion industry. Luxury house Balenciaga is at the forefront of the shift into the digital world. The house (known to embrace virtual apparel) announced plans to introduce a business unit specifically committed to exploring opportunities in the metaverse.
Balenciaga presented its Fall 2021 collection through a gaming app and famously partnered with the video game Fortnite to create a number of “skins” for the game’s characters. At this point, most of the fashion world’s investments in the metaverse have been through video game skins (cosmetics that customize characters), reports Business of Fashion. These developments provide a peek of what fashion in the metaverse could look like.
According to Business of Fashion, digital environments are increasingly transforming from transaction-focused consumer spaces, to multi-dimensional worlds that foster collaboration and creativity. Naturally, fashion is expected to be key player in this coming era.
The metaverse is a virtual reality that redefines how we use technology, integrating both digital and physical worlds. And it’s not some faraway reality, we’re already there. Nowhere is the crossroads of fashion and metaverse more evident than in the current explosion of fashion related NFTs.
So, what exactly are NFTs?
The simplest way to explain NFTs or “non-fungible tokens” are that they are cryptographic tokens which are stored in a blockchain. These cryptographic tokens allow someone to buy, sell, or trade, ‘real’ items such as artwork or real estate. NFTs are especially suitable when they tokenize items that are collectible and unique. In the fashion industry, NFTs now bring a new level of exclusiveness and an opportunity to turn digital designs and collections into an extremely limited, valuable, luxurious, and unique collector pieces. And labels from luxury to activewear are getting into NFTs.
Burberry, for example, partnered with Mythical Games to launch an NFT collection in their flagship title, Blankos Block Party. Working with Mythical Games’ Blankos Block Party, Blanko the shark, can be purchased, upgraded, and sold in-game, the brand moved into the digital space after the success of its own game, B Bounce, which launched in 2019.
Dolce & Gabbana, the Italian fashion luxury house, launched its own collection of NFTs on the Polygon (CRYPTO: MATIC) blockchain last August of 2021. Named Collezione Genesi. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana personally designed a 9-piece, one-of-a-kind collection exclusively for UNXD. Collezione Genesi³ that featured hand-made, museum-grade items across Alta Moda (women), Alta Sartoria (men), and Alta Gioielleria (high jewelry). It is digital couture!
UK department store Selfridges has begun selling NFTs and digital fashion in its Oxford Street store in London, bringing digital goods to real-life shopping and broadening their accessibility in fashion. Combining the virtual and physical worlds, Selfridges has a pop-up that will showcase artwork by Victor Vasarely and new physical pieces from the designer label Paco Rabanne inspired by Vasarely’s work. The NFTs, can be purchased via an in-store digital screen using a traditional credit card, and will include digital versions of the first dresses designed by Paco Rabanne.
Approximately 1,800 NFTs are dropping between 28 January and 12 March, with prices ranging between £2,000 ($2,709.27) to over £100,000 ($135,456.30); select Paco Rabanne NFTs will be sold with their physical counterparts, and the digital versions can be worn in several virtual platforms. Some items will be adaptations of 1960s archival designs that were never produced. Funds raised will go to the Fondation Vasarely Museum in Aix-en-Provence, the artist’s archive that houses and restores works.
Even Barbie is getting in on the act! Barbie is making a splash into the digital art world as everyone’s favorite doll, dressed in head-to-toe Balmain. The two brands are collaborating with a ready-to-wear collection, an accessories line and a series of NFTs. Executives from both companies say the NFT launch is a historic moment for fashion, tech and toys.
Txampi Diz, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Balmain, is betting on the future of NFTs as a powerful customer engagement tool for high-fashion brands. “I believe it is going to completely change the fashion industry, and it will have the same impact as when social media first started or when the internet first launched,” he says in an interview with Forbes.
“It’s a milestone, it’s the first NFT presentation that the Barbie brand has ever made,” says Richard Dickson, Mattel president and Chief Operating Officer (COO) in an interview with Forbes.
Three one-of-a-kind Balmain x Barbie NFTs are currently up for auction via mintNFT, a new marketplace for NFTs that focus on creative collaborations. James Sun, founder and CEO of mintNFT, says such NFT partnerships redefine the meaning of brand ownership for customers, as it symbolizes a purchase into the company’s ethos. “What’s so beautiful is they’re not just purchasing an NFT, they’re saying, I want to be part of this brand on the blockchain . . . It’s very philosophical.”
Kenzo just dropped its first limited-edition capsule collection under the house’s new artistic director Nigo, and will feature floral graphic sweatshirts, long-sleeve T-shirts, a jersey cardigan, and nylon jacket. Along with the limited-edition collection, Kenzo released a limited edition of 100 NFTs, each drop will be complemented by a collection of NFTs that unlock exclusive access into the world of Kenzo.
Each day, more and more labels are joining the metaverse and offering NFTs. Supergucci is a collaboration between the Italian fashion house Gucci and Superplastic. The “ultra-limited” series, Supergucci consists of a multi-pronged approach to be released in three parts. The first drop was on February 1st, and included ten different limited NFTs that paid homage to Gucci’s storied archives with signature prints, icons, and motifs, all revamped to to incorporate the imagination of Superplastic’s synthetic celebrities and artists. In this instance, they are Janky & Guggimon; virtual “humans” created by Superplastic that have already gained a strong social media following. The launch is also accompanied by ceramic sculptures handmade in Italy and co-designed by Gucci and Superplastic.
“Our collaboration with Superplastic dates back to 2020 when we launched the Gucci Sneaker Garage project in occasion of which we dressed Superplastic’s virtual characters with the Gucci Virtual 25 sneakers,” the brand states. “This project therefore represents the natural development of our relationship with this partner that allows us to experiment with Gucci’s codes through new forms of creativity.”
Supergucci allows the metaverse to come into play, too, where users will accompany Janky & Guggimon to the Gucci Vault, an online concept store created from the vision of Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. The Vault will also be releasing restored, reconditioned vintage Gucci pieces in tribute of their latest juncture; works hand-picked by Michele and archivists of the House. There will be two more surprise drops coming soon.
A “Baby Birkin” NFT, which was an animation of a baby growing in a Hermès Birkin bag, just sold in a Basic.Space auction for the equivalent amount of $23,500. Although this is where it can get tricky, Hermés, who owns the trademark for the Birkin bag, was not involved in the issue of the NFT and has send out a cease-and-desist letter to the creator of the NFT. Recently, Hermès filed the lawsuit in New York’s Southern District Court claiming trademark infringement and dilution. Hermès claims the artist, Mason Rothchild, was ripping off Hermès’ famous Birkin trademark by adding the generic prefix “meta” and calling the NFT “Metabirkin.”
The psychology of NFTs
Fashion houses are creating a new world of engagement with a digital experience for its users in the metaverse. Unforgettable items can boost customer loyalty. Consumers may capture, exchange, and appreciate one-off experiences and exclusive moments in time, which is something that all these corporations could use to establish a permanent connection with their clients.
We are living through and witnessing another digital revolution. NFTs and the metaverse are opening up new worlds of economic opportunity and risk. The fashion industry is at the forefront of many of these new developments. As we embark on these exciting new possibilities, some companies are a bit hesitant to rush into the metaverse.
For example, Bernard Arnault, the chairman and CEO of luxury conglomerate LVMH, has stated that is in no rush to charge into the metaverse. The brands under the LVMH label are performing well in the real world as the company reported record full-year revenues and profits for 2021. Arnault stated to WWD, that while he was curious to explore the opportunities of the hotly hyped digital environment, he was also wary of a repeat of the dot-com bubble (LVMH was, after all, a major investor in the ill-fated Boo.com in the late ’90s).
“Let me start by saying that it’s a purely virtual world and until now, we are in the real world and we sell real products. To be sure, it’s compelling, it’s interesting, it can even be quite fun. We have to see what are the applications of this metaverse and these NFTs,” Aunault said in a videoconference with analysts and reporters. “If it’s well done, it can probably have a positive impact on brands’ activities. But we’re not interested in selling virtual sneakers for 10 euros,” the LVMH chairman and chief executive officer added. “In conclusion, I would just say, beware of bubbles. I remember this from the early days of the internet, at the beginning of the 2000s,” Arnault continued, noting there are a multitude of companies building the metaverse. “There were a bunch of would-be Facebooks back then, and in the end, only one of them worked out. So let’s be cautious.”
Buyer beware – what it means that some brands are ‘burning’ NFTs
To give you an idea of just how complex the NFT world is and why you must really study the particular NFT before you buy it (says our founder’s son who has been investing in NFTs), here’s what you need to know about “burning” NFTs and “creating scarcity”. According to Maghan McDowell of Vogue Business, “A key feature of blockchains and NFTs is that they can’t be changed, replicated or deleted, allowing for authenticity, ownership and scarcity. So, what happens if a luxury brand — many of whom are now experimenting with NFTs — wants to change or eliminate an NFT they’ve put on the market? They can burn it. Burning NFTs, which are tokens stored on a blockchain, is the process of permanently removing a token from circulation. This can be done to eliminate unsold or problematic inventory from an NFT drop, or it can be used to engage collectors and fans through “upgrades” that replace an original NFT with something else.”
According to Vogue Business, “For fashion and beauty brands, burning NFTs could offer a way to manipulate scarcity, and therefore price. It could also lead to more intriguing NFT projects, in which consumers must weigh risk and reward by burning an NFT in exchange for something else. These scenarios, among others, are already playing out among artists and gaming startups, paving the way for fashion. Already, Adidas is using a burn mechanism to change the state of its NFTs when NFT owners make a purchase. Apparel brand Champion recently partnered with Daz 3D’s NFT collection, Non-Fungible People, and will use burning to enable peoples’ profile picture NFTs to digitally dress in Champion gear, while Unisocks invites NFT owners to burn them in exchange for physical products.
As we all watch and explore the metaverse/fashionverse, the possibilities are endless and so are the pitfalls, so ‘buyer beware’.
Did you know that UoF has been covering the digital revolution for years? Check out our past blog posts on the topic:
If you’re interested in exploring a career in this new age technology, check out University of the Creative Arts digital fashion MA program