Kicking off London Fashion Week in the experimental spirit that’s long been the city’s creative calling card, is a new piece of virtual fashion design highlighting the major mixed reality movement building momentum across design and display.
Created by the London-based Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) – a development incubator that marries fashion, retail emerging technologies – the concept redresses a 2016 fashion heist when a fraudulent stylist posing as a fashion editor for British group Dazed Media stole garments from a handful of young designers, including Sadie Clayton. One of Clayton’s most extravagant pieces, a sumptuously embroidered bomber jacket has been digitally resuscitated; brought back from the dead in just two weeks with extreme, all guns blazing accuracy via Korean 3D virtual garment simulation software technologists CLO and Dutch fashion animation specialists The Fabricant.
While it goes no further than that as yet (there’s no viewer interaction, no opportunity to move or modify the piece) the results are astonishingly lifelike and undoubtedly prefigure a future where retail will merge with gaming and entertainment; shoppers will own a personal avatar and they’ll fully expect retailers to clothe them exactly as they step into online changing rooms or out into wider virtual worlds. The appeal of un-real is swelling and multi-faceted, practical and expressive.
It’s a prediction driven by three key factors: firstly, avatars are no longer the preserve of nerds trying to cop off in Second Life; eerily accurate simulations are now illusory treats primed for a mainstream, avatar-rapt generation; CGI superstar and one-time
frontwoman Lil Miquela is racking up an additional 100k followers to her Instagram following per month while the fantastical ‘flaw’ obliterating selfie-editing app FaceTune was
Apple’s most popular paid app of 2017, selling 10m+ copies. This summer, Amazon launched Amazon Sumerian (editor) – a tool that devised to allow people with no specialized programming experience to create and publish AR/VR environments – populating them with 3D ‘hosts’ complete with conversational capacity, brand-malleable fleshed out chatbots.
Secondly, motion-capture technology is advancing at such a rate that it’s already possible to emulate the kind of walk-in body-scanning booths originally used by companies such as Bodymetrics (devised to help people select the best jeans for their bum) with just a mobile phone and a tech-ready catsuit. Consider the comedy style but deadly useful Zozosuit – a polka-dotted measurement-taking skinsuit by Japanese fashion e-tailer Zozotown (
Co.) By just shooting themselves with a phone, wearers can create an avatar from which the brand translates its products into bespoke garments. Re-launched in July, it retails at just under 40k yen ($360).
It’s an idea that goes hand-in-hand with the development of concepts such as Save Your Wardrobe – an app (currently in beta) blending computer vision and AI among other things that lets users compile virtual wardrobes of both existing clothes (by taking photos of them) and new items (via the receipts that will automatically generate visuals). Not forgetting Amazon, which is rumored to be developing a magic mirror for at-home scanning, allowing users to upload their digital double directly from their bedrooms into the hungry maw of the brand’s retail mainframe.
Thirdly, and more socially positively than can be said of FaceTune, is the premise of play that avatars will inherently deliver. Self-generated selves over whom we have full control present a major sweet point for an increasingly chameleonic world in which identity play will become the norm . “The more time we spend in a virtual world, living virtual lives and finding new ways to express ourselves on a regular basis, the more this will matter. Giving people the tools to do this themselves with a cinematic quality is inevitable,” says FIA Head of Innovation, Matthew Drinkwater.
Other projects acknowledge a grand reformation of runway etiquette/relevance. For instance, the audience at Danish London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard’s SS17 show DoubleMe wore
Hololens headsets to view her collection, which had been pre-shot as holograms, in virtual reality. Offering intimacy and control, they could walk around them, sidling up close to the details. Jarlgaard reprised the heartland of the idea this year with Meet Yourself – an art installation in which visitors are confronted with a life-size avatar of themselves, a literal head-to-head glimpse of our hyper real futures. Another project with the FIA, this time with Austrian virtual fit app Pictofit and London-based designer Sabinna in 2017 replicated DoubleMe but allowing those wearing headsets to use simple gestures, such as squeezing a thumb and forefinger to flip the model’s outfits instantaneously.
There’s mileage on a grander artistic scale, too, via illusory spatial campaigns that plunder numerous galaxies of arts and entertainment. French fashion monolith
has been ploughing a reality-challenging tech-magic furrow for some time, on its catwalk and in stores. This month, it’s revealed a window design concept dubbed ‘Beam Me Up’ in the Champs Elysees, Paris flagship. Created by Ansel Thompson, art director of the Louis Vuitton image studio in collaboration with British moving image company Luke Halls Studio – a business entrenched in live performances for theatre, opera art and dance – a series of LED backdrops present an intergalactic style spectacle; digital specks of color rain from the ceiling to form digitized models who look up and around with beguiling glitchy inflections, and all within the confines of a teleportation-esque illuminated cylinder.
While not technically virtual it’s wholly illusory – affirming what Halls describes as his ongoing mission to create “sculptural, physical experiences with technology; suspended states that bring product to places where there is no actual product.”
It follows Louis Vuitton’s May 2018 project for Selfridges department store using “Hypervisn” – projections patented by UK technologists Kino-Mo, which create 3D holographic style visuals that appear to hover mid-air. There’s also the brand’s SS15 catwalk show with British set and costume designer Es Devlin, whose work has included vast, theatrical stadium tours for pop artists including the Pet Shop Boys and Kanye West. A retro-futuristic, tech-enhanced landscape of orbiting, holographic revolving heads simultaneously recited lines from David Lynch’s 1984 sci-fi epic, Dune.
Patching the unreal directly into a real-world space without even the need for a headset it preceded the FIA’s 2018 project with Canadian designer Steven Tai and ILMxLAB – the immersive entertainment arm of Disney’s Lucasfilms – where LiveCGX created what’s known as a composite experience. Set against a constantly changing digital backdrop live models mingled with a virtual avatar performing the actions of a motion-capture actress off-stage. The digital muse wore two Tai garments that segued from one to the other sequentially at the behest of a team of ILMxLAB experts, creating a world in full-spectrum flux.
It’s likely to be just the tip of the iceberg as the need to sate un-real appetites grows more vociferous, and the digital world is increasingly recognized as a feasible and indeed alluring alternative reality to the traditional IRL existence. British artist Chris Levine – a creative at the cutting edge of art and science who works with immersive lighting concepts so technically powerful they have the capacity to instigate physical change in those who experience them – echoes Drinkwater by suggesting that the desire for hyper realities and illusion is connected to a newfound appreciation of dimensions that would have formerly seemed too distant or just plain bonkers:
“People are waking up to the realization that reality goes beyond the physical, the material, and that we likely live in multiple dimensions . The digital virtual realm is one of those dimensions, one where creativity is blurring the boundaries of what is real and what is illusion. Our limited bandwidth of perception is ever more challenged as we navigate the bombardment of data to determine what is real and what is illusory.”