Digital fashion is the culture surrounding the designing, collecting and wearing of garments in the digital realm. As it responds to technological innovation and concerns about the sustainability of physical fashion, the exciting possibilities of digital fashion are being embraced by creative independents and major labels alike.
Video Games: the Foundation of Digital Fashion
Digital fashion in a gaming context has existed for at least 20 years (the exact origins of fashion in gaming are difficult to pinpoint), with many citing the Final Fantasy series as the original purveyor of style and fashion within this area. It could also be argued that early lifestyle-simulators such as The Sims (2000), or the interactive social platform Second Life (2001/2003), hallmark the beginning of social digital fashion—and that it is the social context that elevates clothing from functional to fashion.
It is at this intersection between video games and digital socialising that digital fashion, in its modern form, will be at its most prolific and effective.
Milestones in Contemporary Digital Fashion
Building on the foundations laid by the 3D and gaming industries, pioneers of the field have brought digital fashion into an everyday context. Early innovators include:
Lilmiquela — Fashion’s first CGI influencer, created by Trevor McFedries & Sara Decou in 2016.
Carlings — the Scandinavian brand released the first digital-only clothing collection in 2018.
The Fabricant — created and registered the first digital garment (the Iridescence Dress) on the blockchain in 2019, creating the first fashion garment NFT.
DressX — a digital-only, NFT fashion marketplace launched in 2020
The Strengths of Digital Fashion
Creating digital fashion is more accessible — there are no material or manufacturing costs.
Unconstrained — digital fashion is not limited by the laws of physics.
Unlimited scalability — You could make 1 million editions of a garment at no additional cost.
Customisability — users can customise their clothes without the risk of damaging them.
Connecting real and digital — our real wardrobes can be recreated in the digital world.
Immortality — NFT clothing will survive as long as you want it to.
Perhaps the most important development in digital fashion is the use of NFTs to register items on the blockchain. This brings real value to digital work by embedding provenance and proof of scarcity within the asset itself. The emergence of NFTs as the delivery method for digital fashion has established the framework for collecting and wearing fashion in the metaverse.
With its emphasis on uniting the real and digital worlds, it is no surprise that creating a true metaverse will also unlock the full potential of digital fashion. The metaverse will allow users to digitally recreate their wardrobe, and wear personal items within new and existing social contexts and platforms.
As outlined in the previous section, the first step in moving towards a true metaverse was taken with the development of the NFT, which allows creators to register digital fashion in a cross-platform format on the blockchain. NFTs also give users true and transferrable ownership of digital items.
The main challenge in creating a true metaverse is universal cross-platform compatibility. Once this is achieved, digital collectible fashion items collected on one platform, will be available to the collector on all platforms, thus allowing users to wear their wardrobe across the entire metaverse.
Fashion is the primary means through which we can express ourselves in a social context and digital fashion allows us to do so with fewer restrictions; freeing the individual from the social and physical constraints of the real world. While digital fashion is still in its infancy, there are many ways digital fashion can be used today.
Social Media and AR Dressing
The invention of AR dressing has given individuals the power to have garments digitally rendered onto photographs of themselves. Users can buy digital garments, and wear them in a social media context, wearing creations that are designed and ‘manufactured’ in the digital world. Platforms such as ZERO10 offer users this ability to digitally augment their real selves on social media platforms.
Digital Fashion in Gaming
With the advent of online multiplayer gaming, digital avatars became a means of visually signifying one’s status within the closed world of a video game. In this gaming context, the avatar is either a facsimile of a person’s real-world self, or a digital alter-ego.
Creating garments on the blockchain enables designers to develop NFT fashion with in-game usability. Users can dress their avatar’s in digital garments developed by their favourite brands.
Social Media Meets Gaming: Social VR Platforms
Between the worlds of social media and gaming is an emerging middle ground: social virtual reality platforms, such as Decentraland and Sansar. These platforms combine the social function of social media, and the immersive interface, rendered environments and avatar systems used in gaming, uniting them as a virtual reality experience. Social virtual reality platforms are early components of the metaverse, and will allow users to cultivate sophisticated avatars, and signify their personalities through digital fashion choices.
The perceived potential of digital fashion within the metaverse is best indicated by the exponential rise in collaborations involving high-fashion brands and gaming/3D design companies. Many fashion brands have begun the process of cultivating a digital presence in anticipation of serious growth in digital consumption.
Afterworld: Balenciaga’s fashion video game (2020)
In 2020, Demna Gvasalia worked with Streamline to create “Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow”, a video game designed to showcase their Fall 2021 collection. This ambitious project used Unreal Engine to build an immersive, playable world to showcase meticulously crafted digital garments.
Gucci & Roblox (2021)
As part of there centenary exhibition, Gucci partnered with gaming platform Roblox to curate a virtual garden in which players could discover and purchase digital collectible Gucci garments and accessories, with many digital pieces selling for more than their physical counterparts.
Louis Vuitton: Louis The Game (2021)
To celebrate their 200th annivesary, Louis Vuitton created an interactive mobile game. Featuring a customisable avatar, a host of collectible fashion accessories, and even a randomly distributed set of 30 NFT items. Louis The Game is an immersive digital fashion experience with collectibles at its core.
UV Zhu, our first digital fashion collaborator, is a self-taught 3D artist based in China. Working with Marvelous Designer and Cinema 4D, UV creates avant-garde, digital clothing, and situates it in alien worlds of his own design. You can find out more about his work here.
UV & Dissrup’s “Acid Pool” capsule collection demonstrates the new possibilities offered by the collision of digital fashion and NFTs in the early metaverse.
A Cross-platform Wardrobe
Comprised of 3 pieces: a coat, a mask and a pair of shoes, the Acid Pool collection is a complete outfit covering each of the garment, accessories and footwear categories; a concise overview of incorporating fashion and gaming in the metaverse. Each asset is offered in high- and low-poly versions, enabling compatibility with multiple platforms.
These high- and low-poly options allow users to move their items between different platforms, meeting the requirements of low-poly sandbox games such as Minecraft (or Enjincraft), and high-fidelity virtual environments such as Sansar. This flexibility is indicative of the potential of the metaverse: as more platforms embrace cross-platform usability, users will be able to move their wardrobe seamlessly between myriad social and gaming environments, giving players the opportunity to keep their digital avatar consistent across their entire digital experience.
Digital Fashion as Investment
Thanks to NFTs, digital fashion now comes with provable ownership and scarcity.
Acid Pool uses different classes of scarcity to attribute relative value to selected pieces of the collection. Once bought, these digital assets are now the property of the collector, and are not confined to the world of a single game or platform. Collectors can move their items between platforms, maintaining real-world value that can be exchanged on the secondary marketplace.
Digital fashion items registered on the blockchain are an investment. Each has provable ownership and rarity, and can therefore be attributed economic value. This is the paid-to-play gaming model that has been introduced by revolutions in blockchain gaming: users are now able to earn money for time invested in gaming, and can build value in their collection of digital collectibles.
Increasing interest in digital fashion collectibles among high-fashion brands indicates recognition of the potential of digital fashion to cater to the new physical/digital dynamic emerging from technological developments, namely NFTs, VR, and AR dressing. With these new tools, brands can create powerful digital fashion for users to invest in as they begin to interact with the early metaverse.
Within this metaversal context, digital clothing will accrue economic and sentimental value as it accompanies us on our adventures, and users will be able to invest in fashion items designed and worn by their favourite creatives and cultural innovators. Transparent ownership gives digital fashion items the capacity to become heirlooms; documenting metaverse history and cultural milestones.
As digital fashion gains mass adoption, we will see new use cases emerging—gamers will sell the garments they were wearing when they won an E-sports championship, and digital fashion designers will dress celebrities in custom outfits for metaverse events. In the future, digital garments will become memorabilia, inextricably linked to past exploits in the digital world.
Acid Pool encapsulates the vision of a cross-platform cultural landscape in which we can retain true ownership of our digital self, and embrace limitless self-expression, facilitated by digital fashion.