This week: Fashion Week arrives in London, Paris, New York. And the metaverse.
SERVING THE RUNWAY
It’s fashion’s favourite time of year, when the world’s major style cities host a marathon of events to showcase their latest designs from fashion visionaries’ Spring/Summer collections.
As usual, the upcoming shows are expected to serve a sampling of all that’s weird and wonderful about the fashion world’s artistic expressions. But what does business as usual look like for an industry that has endured such massive change these last few years?
• After two years of sputtering stops and starts, it was unclear if Fashion Week as we knew it pre-pandemic would ever return. For a time, most brands were driven toward online activations as new variants of coronavirus surged. Some wondered if fashion’s relevance could survive its apparent existential crisis. “Now the whole idea of fashion is starting to be questioned,” The New York Times reported in a recap of the season last year. “What is a trend when we all exist in our isolated bubbles? Who needs professional or dress-up outfits at all when offices are remote and events on hold? What is the point?”
• With most facets of public life more or less recovered, this year may be the first series of Fashion Weeks in full-swing since the world opened back up. In-person shows are the norm again in New York, Paris, Milan and London, with luxury brands like Fiorucci opening limited-window pop-ups and indie brands like Almost Gods debuting its first ever shop in London. Even media brands like Vogue are kicking off fresh in-person initiatives like Vogue World, a fashion show and street fair experience to be hosted by Vogue in New York, made up of curated newsstands, partnerships, and shoppable selection of runway looks from Net-A-Porter, Moda Operandi, and Ssense. “Fashion is changing, designers don’t just do one specific thing anymore – magazines have to do the same thing,” American Vogue creative editorial director Mark Guiducci told Business of Fashion.
• Does that mean digital fashion activations are dead? Far from it. When asked if digital Fashion Week would continue in a post-pandemic world, Joe Brunner, a menswear buyer at Browns, shared a savvy prediction with Hypebeast: “I think it will, especially for new gen brands as it has given them a seat at the table, allowing them to be part of the conversation regardless of whether they’ve secured financial backing.” All signs point to a more blended model, where digital elements are combined with physical shows to both deepen and broaden audience experiences.
“The digitization of Fashion Week will never replace in-person events but it will largely enrich and amplify creative expression and communication,” Pascal Morand, Executive President of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, told Grazia Magazine.
So, physical and digital aren’t mutually exclusive when it comes to the future of fashion. You could say we’ve entered the phygital era.
What the F is phygital, you ask? Allow us to explain.
• Despite its clunky pronunciation, phygital is a pretty straightforward concept. A medley of physical and digital, it refers to the growing principle that the “future of virtual fashion – and the future of the metaverse – has to start with something tactile,” as Steff Yotka writes in Vogue. Yotka spoke with the founder Xydrobe, a company that became a pioneer of the phygital fashion movement when it sold a digital version of Harry Styles' viral patchwork cardigan designed originally by JW Anderson in 2021. The physical garment now hangs in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, while the virtual version, which is identical to the real cardigan down to the thread count, is preserved in a digital time capsule. “It’s about the idea of craft and how you can kind of encapsulate it into a digital format so that it lasts even longer,” designer Jonathan Anderson told The New York Times.
• If you thought NFTs and fashion shows were unlikely bedfellows, think again. “Will the Hottest Ticket at September Fashion Weeks Be an NFT?” reads one WWD headline. This year, major brands like Gucci, Prada, and Jason Wu are offering exclusive access to holders of their NFTs, ushering in a new era of token-gating, a virtual version of the front row’s velvet rope. “More and more, token-gated experiences are going to become the thing for 2023,” Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel, CEO of the NFT platform Arianee, told WWD.
• Phygital fashion isn’t just exclusive to big luxury fashion houses, though. Smaller indies are using the approach to reach a more dedicated audience. For his Autumn/Winter 2022 launch earlier this year, Dublin-born designer Robyn Lynch launched a virtual collection of NFTs developed from a series of collaged images and of memories that inspired his collection. Other indies are resisting the urge to jump on the NFT bandwagon. Tom Horne, co-founder and director of men’s clothing brand L'Estrange, thinks they can feel like a bit of a gimmick for the sake of newness and press, lacking the value that makes the investment worth it. If the metaverse is still a fledgling idea, why do I need to own digital clothes? “I think that the more NFT-technology and the blockchain is used to power new ideas or to solve problems where existing tech fails (rather than being the main event), the better,” Horne explained to Appear Here.
In a world where offline and online life blurs together, is the medium or the message more important?
If Ukrainian brand I AM VOLYA’s approach is any indication, it’s that the integrity of the message, despite the world’s unexpected changes, should be front and centre. VOLYA’s pop-up will support Ukrainian small businesses that have been impacted by the war by expanding their horizons internationally, and will contribute a portion of proceeds to rebuilding homes back in Ukraine.
The medium is the message, the saying goes. But with algorithm updates that shift as often as the wind (that seem to get more nonsensical by the day) we’re not so convinced.
Words by Nicola Pardy, a freelance writer and producer living in New York.