April 4, 2022

NFTs and the Future of Metaverse Fashion

Following the success of Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week, RCS showcases a new generation of designers offering more than the emperor’s new clothes
Credit: Hogan, “Untraditional NFT Collection,” 2022. Courtesy of Exclusible
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NFTs and the Future of Metaverse Fashion

RCS: Which elements of luxury fashion should we retain as we move into the world of Web3? What elements that make fashion “exclusive” cannot be replaced?

David Cash: I believe there are elements of the traditional fashion industry that should be considered as we move into the future. For one, there is something beautifully intangible about the gravitas of a live runway. The theatricality of a live event, where anything could go wrong, and the stakes are heightened, sets the fashion industry apart. 

As we move into the digital realm, I hope we consider what we can add to this existing process rather than simply what we can remove. I believe that virtual runways can be just as compelling as physical runways, but at the same time, I am extremely excited about the notion of combining digital elements into physical runway performances. I see a lot of power in blending both worlds and allowing them to educate each other, hopefully resulting in a beautiful confluence. We saw this beginning last week during Metaverse Fashion Week, with retail goods made available for sale in the metaverse that allow for physical products to be purchased. This shift towards the phygital, in my opinion, is where we are moving as an industry. 

Cherie Chun, The Sirens of Sharp Island, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

Olivier Moingeon: Just like luxury in its nascent nature, Web3 challenges the borders of creative imagination, self-expression, and the possibilities for both consumers and creators. The journey is really what counts. As elegance, exclusivity, and desirability are not bound to physical or material constraints, neither is the spirit of Web3. Craftsmanship receives a new level of worship with an added digital layer, operating in the inherent architecture of the brand itself. Digital products will be developed and sold thanks to the blockchain with limitless expression of creativity. 

Esmée-E: As fashion adapts to new technologies, the arts of bespoke tailoring and haute couture are perceived as more precious than ever. Steeped in tradition and perfectionism, hands-on services involving a unique relationship between the creator and the client are now held in higher esteem, since it is only in these fields that the designer can really harness their analog skills and collaborate with the most talented fabric makers using the most creative materials.

Web3 will initially offer more options for fast fashion, ready-to-wear customers, and gamers. The plus side of digital fashion is that it reduces landfill by offering the possibility to carve out your online style using digital-only garments. Crafting our social media identities using a range of branded and unique digital products will be the norm once the world engages with VR technology in the social networking space. 

The prospect of owning and customizing unique and individual virtual and IRL products adds a unique buying experience for the consumer. Fast fashion brands are already adapting and embracing AR try-on technology. As luxury houses adapt to digital fashion this will widen its accessibility meaning that a wider audience can enjoy good-quality design.

 

Cherie Chun, The Sirens of Sharp Island, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: Which elements of luxury fashion should we leave behind as we move into Web3? How can we move past the competitive nature of exclusivity and embrace the Web3 ethos of “open-source” business?

OM: This kind of relationship between a brand and its clients is revolutionary and has never existed before, which demands a new form of client engagement. The NFT is like a golden ticket, producing a situation similar to owning shares in a company or being part of a VIP program. Web3 is an opportunity for luxury brands to develop this new form of engagement, one deeply rooted in community, whereby the creator and the consumer operate in an intertwined relationship. 

Now more than ever, brands have the opportunity to build proximity to their client bases, engaging a new level of brand loyalty and attachment. In this context, both the brand and the community hold each other accountable, fostering innovation through a shared value system. 

Thea Si, Monster in the Dreams, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

DC: One of our mottos for this year’s fashion week was “Everyone’s a VIP in the Metaverse.” This was our tongue-in-cheek way of responding to the shocked faces asking us how we’re allowing “everyone” to attend a fashion show from brands as important as Dolce and Gabbana.

I believe that this accessibility, which is inherent to Web3, instantly sets virtual fashion apart from its traditional counterpart. We don’t compete here, we collaborate. We don’t detract from each other, we add to experiences and work together to do even better. I hope that the metaverse and the Web3 community can positively influence the fashion space to be more open-minded, inclusive, and less private in general. 

EE: I am not sure how effective the open-source business model will be for up-and-coming designers in the long term. The desirability of products with the provenance and heritage of well-established brands will increase as global economies grow and consumers in economically booming nations seek status by investing in and wearing branded luxury goods. 

However, I feel that the window of opportunity is here right now for new brands, as they can adapt more quickly than large companies to Web3. Sooner or later as all large fashion houses reconfigure and skill up, I feel they will dominate Web3 just as they dominate global high streets and shopping malls. The time for new digital fashion businesses is right now, just look at the buy out of RTFKT by Nike.

 

Thea Si, Monster in the Dreams, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: Presenting fashion via Extended Reality (XR) solutions can allow us to present ideas that might be impossible IRL. What excites you about the potential of metaverse fashion?

EE: Metaverse fashion can be playful and hedonistic and a way to escape the confines of daily life and dressing. You can wear a hoodie with glow wings or an oversized, shining crown. Metaverse fashion is fun and a way to align yourself with your metaverse tribe, or indeed create a totally new identity. I am currently working on a metaverse project for an international advertising campaign. It has been very liberating as we are not restricted by manufacturing budget constraints, fabric availability, minimum fabric or print runs. Even though garments for the metaverse are quite often simple designs with a low poly count, the ability to use complicated textures means that there are no limits in terms of print and color.  

OM: The metaverse offers limitless opportunities and novelty, offering creators and consumers the opportunity to reinvent themselves but also embody their inherent values through a digital layer. Our digital identity is steadily growing in significance in our daily lives. Through the metaverse, we are able to express this identity in an entirely new dimension, whether purely digital or even more excitingly phygital. Moreover, the lines between the creating and consuming parties are blurring and intertwining, allowing for a closer form of client engagement and bifurcated value creation.

DC: In metaverse solutions like Decentraland, the only limitation is one’s imagination. Want to have your activation happen in zero gravity? No problem! Want a building to shoot fireworks or flames? No issue at all! Nothing is “impossible” in the metaverse. So when we consider fashion — an industry with an excess of limitations — the virtual realm is quite freeing. And I think that’s why we see so much unbounded creativity in the NFT/virtual fashion space. There are no limitations, so innovations can be limitless. 

Oleg Ratnikov, Metal Dreams, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

 

RCS: NFTs have expanded the field of “Art” to encompass media practices that were historically disregarded by the traditional art world. Has the NFT opened up fashion to a new wave of creatives in a similar way?

Jean-Sébastien Beaucamps: NFTs have already begun to underscore fashion’s interwoven relationship to art, and trends we are witnessing in one sector are being mirrored in the other. Of course, much has been made about world-renowned fashion brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Cartier entering the NFT space with innovative, attention-grabbing releases. But of greater interest is the reception that digital-first drops have received, from brands like Overpriced, self-described as “the world’s first NFT-driven fashion brand,” and RTFKT Studios, the virtual sneaker brand that, last year, debuted a milestone collaboration with crypto artist FEWOCiOUS. Through these developments, we’re watching fashion embrace a whole new swathe of metaverse creators.

EE: There is currently emerging a new wave of fashion creatives predominantly from the 3D modeling, film, and gaming worlds who are trading NFT garments on a variety of platforms. At CSM (Central Saint Martins) we are upskilling our students to create in 3D in a way that subverts and challenges the parameters of software such as CLO3D, Blender, and Gravity Sketch. NFT fashion is gaining momentum and I’m currently mentoring NFT fashion houses while nurturing students keen to enter the NFT space. The ability to buy in crypto on the blockchain and trade garments adds value to NFT products, further driving the movement. 

DC: One of the most powerful aspects of NFTs for artists is that, regardless of their practice, they now have a means of monetizing their work. From trash art to performance art — past practices were not easily saleable in a mass-market context. With NFTs, now fashion brands can sell membership, access, and experiences in addition to their clothing. This opens up a whole new realm of opportunity for communities built around fashion brands and will ultimately allow brands to engage more directly with their consumers in more authentic ways. 

OM: Scarcity, status, and exclusivity are maintained at the intersection of luxury and Web3. However, there is also increased accessibility for a wider audience. Web3 allows for creative expression and new interpretations of fashion and luxury beyond physical constraints, offering true liberty to the creator and opening up an entirely new world. 

Historically speaking, creativity has always harnessed the power of the moment to disrupt existing perceptual structures — from the widespread adoption of women’s pants following WWII to the emergence of the mini skirt during the sexual revolution to the growth of fashion blogging in recent years. Today, we are seeing new attitudes toward creation in Web3, and how success can be distributed among those involved. 

Bartholomew Heritage, I don’t want to go outside, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: As art and fashion increasingly migrate into the metaverse, fostering new hybrid approaches, is it still possible to discern boundaries between these historically separate fields? Are there native competencies and values that will never be affected by this Web3 evolution?

DC: I hope we can continue to blur the boundaries even further! I would love to wear some sculptures as clothing if I was physically able to. However, wearability is often a limitation IRL. Indeed, wearability may be the only boundary between fashion and art, yet it is a boundary that technology can break! The metaverse can achieve this.

OM: The creative industries and, in particular, luxury are perpetually defined by the desire for novelty and innovation while cherishing tradition. Such elements are neither bound by temporal, material, nor demographic constraints. Web3 calls for brands to acknowledge this tremendous opportunity and step into a new sphere of culture, digital experience, and creative translation. 

EE: At CSM, we have always nurtured the crossover between art and fashion. Creating fashion-as-art pieces is our norm, transcending barriers between traditionally separate disciplines. Conceptual art can include fashion. Plus, there is a trend in fashion right now toward surrealism, fantasy, and escapism to a utopian world as new generations face up to a world in turmoil. 

We have just seen the first projects from our BA fashion students stepping into the 3D design world, and we are overwhelmed by their creativity. We have given them the space, equipment, and know-how and they have flown with it. 3D design will now be embedded as part of their design practice, creating and experimenting with 3D digital methods to supplement and cross-fertilize their analog approaches. We are implementing more creative technology into the fashion department at CSM to produce the next wave of digital fashion creatives who cross the boundaries of not only art and fashion but film, gaming, story-telling, and VR experiences. 

JSB: Though historically separate — from a consumer position and through functional considerations — art and the artistic process have always been an integral part of fashion. Art inspires fashion designers, while artists and designers often approach their work with the same intention. That said, the metaverse lifts the tactile layer we associate with material function and blurs the distinctions between digital art and virtual fashion. But boundaries do remain in their potential application, especially with forthcoming developments in augmented reality and AI. You can show off your art NFTs in your wallet or perhaps one day in a digital-twin of your home, but with your fashion NFTs you may be able to dress an avatar or some future rendition of yourself. This is a direct translation of their native tendencies.

 

Bartholomew Heritage, I don’t want to go outside, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: We’d love to hear about your current projects. What are your goals for 2022?

OM: We have an exciting pipeline of NFT drops and metaverse activations coming up in the coming months, which follows our mission to onboard a million women into the NFT space and the wider metaverse. Exclusible will also soon be launching its secondary marketplace, offering credit card payments for increased usability. 

DC: So much has been leading up towards fashion week but we always have a ton on the go. My agency Cash Labs is working with a range of exciting clients ranging from Estée Lauder to Auroboros to Vogue Singapore. Meanwhile, we’re growing the agency and bringing on more top NFT minds while I try to find time within the chaos to work on a book about this space that I’ve been writing. More to come. 

JSB: 2022 will see LaCollection exploring new ways to bridge art institutions with a new wave of collectors. We just announced a $10 million seed round of financing, and their combined expertise in art and tech puts us in a great position to become the most trusted partner for museums, galleries and artists to accelerate their digital transformation. We are also working on a broad range of new experiences — from metaverse-hosted private auctions to visitors journeys from IRL museum exhibitions to our platform where further artworks and conversations will be hosted. We are also planning a number of very exciting collaborations between classical institutions and shooting stars from the contemporary digital art space. We feel so lucky to be here.

EE: While leading our fashion students into the digital world, I will be designing street fashion and sneaker products for metaverses using VR technology, while designing in mid-air via an Oculus headset. I love this approach as it is a highly tactile and fluid way of working, and the ultimate form of escapism — designing new products for an imaginary world.

🎴🎴🎴

All of the designers featured here are based at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

Jean-Sébastien Beaucamps is the co-founder and CEO of LaCollection, and co-founder of NFT Factory. In 2021, he launched LaCollection, with the British Museum as its first partner, to support cultural institutions in engaging the next generation of art enthusiasts. Through NFT Factory, Beaucamps is helping the French ecosystem embrace new technology and bring it to its full potential.

David Cash launched Cash Labs following six years of commercial photo/video production experience. Their work has been covered in publications ranging from Vogue to MTV to Netflix. Following submission of their masters thesis on the topic of NFTs and DeFi, Cash is currently lead curator of Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week, a Metaverse Contributor for Vogue Singapore, and the Editor-in-Chief of NFTS.WTF by Outlier Ventures.

Esmée-E is a Metaverse Streetwear and Sneaker Designer as well as Senior Lecturer in Digital Fashion and Fashion Print at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Following many years as an in-house designer for iconic brands such as Kenzo and Moschino, she now specializes in reworking historical textiles for 3D virtual or animated avatars.

Olivier Moingeon, CCO of Exclusible, is a luxury executive with more than 18 years of experience at Cartier, Goyard, and more recently as CEO of Bastide. He also hosts “The Luxury Weekly” podcast, reviewing the latest luxury news and trends.