Fresh off the runway from New York and Paris, the next stop for the fashion world is decidedly digital: Metaverse Fashion Week, a four-day event hosted on Decentraland, starts on March 24. The lineup is slated to include global fashion houses such as Dolce & Gabbana and Hugo Boss, which will strut their stuff next to upstart digital-exclusive brands and designers making their debut.
The event will be a far cry from the traditional catwalk, but it may offer a glimpse at the future of digital fashion–one where brand is less important than aesthetic.
In 2021, many traditional fashion and luxury brands entered the metaverse for the first time. Nike and Vans opened permanent worlds on Roblox, where users can purchase and dress their avatars in Air Force 1s or skateboards. Balenciaga partnered with Fortnite on a collection of in-game outfits, in addition to launching its own game, “Afterworld,” where fans can try out seasonal collections virtually. Perhaps the biggest headline of the year was D&G’s auction of a nine-piece digital/physical collection that sold for 1,885 ETH—around $6 million.
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Given the enthusiasm with which consumers have embraced NFTs and virtual spaces, it’s clear that luxury and high fashion has a place in the metaverse. But even clearer is that digital users flock to quality, artful products—regardless of whether they were made by Rolex or Timex. Looking at fashion as art, it’s reasonable to think digital fashion will follow the trend of NFT art, with original artists and their collections emerging as the most desirable. In particular, unknown, metaverse-first designers and brands are best suited for this paradigm.
In traditional fashion, designer brands have allure because of their reputation and resources. Generally speaking, when you buy from Tom Ford or Chanel, you’re receiving a known commodity. You have an expectation of quality material, thoughtful design, and seamless production – and thus you splurge for its premium price. But meeting these high standards costs a lot in terms of sourcing, design, and manufacturing, which is why there are relatively few luxury brands. Those constraints in turn create an element of scarcity, furthering the appeal and exclusivity of high fashion.
The metaverse flips that traditional model on its head since concerns about production quality, fit, or raw materials are irrelevant. At a digital event, what’s the difference between dresses by Dior and dresses by digital designers like DRESSX? And if you care about appearances in the metaverse, wouldn’t you prefer a designer who is native to digital artwork and familiar with 3D rendering and NFT implementation? That’s one reason fashion companies are acquiring smaller, NFT-native brands that can operate as digital parallels for their physical brands. Nike’s acquisition of RTFKT looks like a no-brainer when you consider how the market for NFT sneakers resembles that for Air Jordans on Michael Jordan’s online GOAT shop.
Digital fashion also opens an avenue for personal items to hold more than sentimental value. Think about your college ring or varsity jacket from high school. Gucci won’t make a custom NFT or render these collectibles for you, but a plethora of independent brands will offer this service in the metaverse—and do it well. You can then easily swap these wearables on and off to showcase parts of your life that would otherwise be collecting dust in your closet.
At its core, self-expression is the defining feature of both digital and physical fashion, with the metaverse serving as another avenue for creating and expressing identity. The difference is that the metaverse offers a range of personal style choices unmatched in real life. As we enter the era of Web3 and metaverse, consumers will turn to whoever allows them to create the identity they want, regardless of the brand.
Coley Hungate contributed reporting to this piece.