The new world of virtual clothing is coming for your cashmere-wrapped jugulars.
In May 2019, the digital fashion house The Fabricant sold virtual dress ‘Iridescence’ for $9500 via encrypted blockchain technology at auction. The shiny, digital couture item is designed to be “worn” on the owner by tailoring it to their photos with photo editing software.
In the year since, brands and online retailers such as Tribute, Dress X and Replicant.Fashion have begun offering similar, cheaper IRL-virtual-sartorial-fuckery products with social media in mind. Garments range from anything as familiar as a white graphic t-shirt and a hoodie, to the middle ground of tight orange PVC trousers, to the extreme end of large plastic ‘bird house’ structures that engulf your head.
As if we (I) needed any more fuel for our (my) embarrassing online narcissism, I tried on the weirdest and most wonderful digi-clobber I could lay my hands on.
It works like this: you search for what you want, click to buy, then attach a photo to have the piece tailored to. In my case, this involved posing like an influencer in my local area. Thankfully passersby would just think I was one of them #ootd pricks and wouldn’t see the giant condom (see below) encasing me, since it would be added later on.
Once I felt like I’d done the clothes artistic justice, I sent the photos off to have them virtually tailored. It takes a few days for the images to come back, which throws in a jarring, past-future excitement, similar to getting a roll of film developed.
This is one image that came back:
I ballsed up my influencer colour palate on the very meta Yves Klein trench coat by Ophelica. I attempted to match the blues of my PreppyPark outfit, with the dirtied blue of the neglected Citroen DS and the sharp blue of the coat, but the sheer digital power of the coat’s colour is too strong.
Styling is an issue, too. My mini-collar didn’t mesh with the coat’s draped collar, but how was I bloody meant to know it was going to be an open trench? And the way the coat folds at the bottom seems like an arbitrary smattering of blue or silver. But hey.
The big sell of digital clothing is that it’s more eco-friendly than both fast fashion’s constant turnover and regular fashion’s seasonal product lines. Virtual fashion has no environmental footprint besides the design and fit process, creating an economy where, according to The Fabricant’s blog, there is “no such thing as factories, supply chains, retail outlets or sample sizes. There are no delivery trucks to fuel, no clothes to launder and no closets to declutter.” Fashion designers are already awakening to the vast possibilities that 3D rendering offers in terms of creativity and experimentation.
So, does that mean the future of fashion – or at least fashion on Instagram – is nipping out in a beige skin-tight onesies to have your style and personality added in post-production? I decided to put it to my 17.1k Instagram following to see the reaction.
@jvp73 who usually comments “mate” a lot, but who didn’t say mate, but did say: “super influenced! Haha” on the blue trench. The “Haha” makes me dubious. Then I got “have you read snow crash?” by a self-proclaimed troll who occasionally takes jabs at me. I read the Wiki blurb and still couldn’t tell if it was a jab. Something about a computer virus.
Next was an extremely promising response from Mr Christopher Morency, the Editorial Director at Highsnobiety who said “Damn man I’m not even mad at that coat”. This is coming from a super influential, highly fashionable human man. Comments aside, the internet remains very much unbroken.
Turning to the more zany pieces from Passgoaltriple, @chalamet_tea, wrote: “So it would be interesting to think about the world where we live in, and to speculate that what would be the most practical way to solve it.” Just. Think about the world. That _we_ live in. And then like, solve it?
One of my actual “mates” commented “Hahaha”. So I texted him and asked him to explain. He avoided the question and said he’d consider the condom suit if it had a straw-hole for G&Ts.
Others were more positive. We had “omg!! So cute!!” from @alias_lmw, and “FANTASTIK” from @maximeangle, and “Interesting designs but such a cool idea” from @indiaphillips. All in all, there is some potential here.
Digital fashion has certainly got some hurdles to jump, and while I don’t think digital clothing will ever replace actual clothing entirely (see The Emperor’s New Clothes), it could at least negate some demand. A more eco-conscious clientele might seek it out as a way of satiating a need for newness. But Richard Biedul, model / Artistic & Creative Director, isn’t convinced.
“I fucking hate the idea that people are spending money on this. Why spend money on something that is totally intangible to satisfy a need to impress people online?” he tells VICE. “I have no interest in buying ‘notional’ products for my ‘notional’ self. It’s hard enough getting dressed every morning without worrying about how my digital self should also be dressing.”
I imagine the majority of the population feel similarly to Richard. However, as the chasm between virtual and real life continues to crumble, it might make sense to start investing in your online identity.
Richard would like to see virtual try-on replicas of physical pieces, helping e-commerce overcome the online fit problem. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to digitise your wardrobe, making styling quicker, or the ability to intuitively design and customise your own digital pieces. One next step is allowing real time augmented reality fits for unlimited photos.
“Both as a wearer and a designer, it gives you unlimited options for self-expression and creation,” says Regina Turbina, the designer behind Ophelica. “It’s a new way of interacting with fashion and the world – making it a better, brighter and cleaner place.”
Yes, digi-clothing is cringey, but Instagram is full of cringy shitebags too. And some of the clothes are actually alright? The more insane designs have their place too. With friendship groups beginning to resemble a cluster of camera phones, I can see people messing around and having fun with it.
As more designers turn to the virtual to create ever more outlandish and stylish designs, I’ll be keeping a Chrome tab open for digi-fashion for sure.