After dialing up the digital aspects of their activations last season, brands this season toned down their online engagement, leading some observers to wonder whether the metaverse had peaked in the fashion world.
At New York Fashion Week (NYFW) in September last year, fintech platform Afterpay released NFT keys that granted access to runway shows, afterparties, and opportunities to meet designers. Despite a number of pain points (many key owners reported that the NFTs didn’t deliver on what was promised), enthusiasts had hailed the venture as the first step towards a multiverse future for fashion. However, Afterpay chose not to repeat the initiative for Fall/Winter 2023.
The fashion week schedule presents brands with multiple opportunities to shine. But even big names that have previously launched major virtual projects were silent in the online arena this time around. For instance, Tommy Hilfiger, which had previously wowed onlookers with its multidisciplinary SS23 spectacle and Roblox presentation, chose not to present in either the online or offline realm.
Eckhaus Latta, Carolina Herrera and Maisie Wilen, all of which had previously released NFTs in conjunction with their catwalk shows, also opted not to launch virtual wares this season, instead focusing on their physical collections.
New York-based fashion designer Vivienne Tam thinks that brands are passing up a lucrative opportunity.
“This is an amazing time to go deeper in the metaverse space,” she tells Jing Daily. “I designed my recent collection to energize the entire Web3 and metaverse community. I want to shape the future, not have the future shape me.”
Tam was one of only a handful of designers to continue their digital journey this season. For her show, the Chinese designer hosted a cross-dimensional experience that saw online and offline audience members interact through “portals” and watch the collection in real time.
The creative used a number of prolific NFT and PFP collectives’ iconography in her designs, including Bored Ape Yacht Club, Cyberkongz, and Cool Cat.
With the big brands stepping back digitally, smaller ateliers filled the gap. Like Tam, BCBGMaxAzria presented its Fall lineup in the metaverse by constructing an entirely digital runway, which avatars walked down wearing virtual versions of the label’s designs.
Charles Hambro, founder of metaverse data platform Geeiq, believes that this significant dip in big-scale digital activations is down to brands struggling to work out where Web3 fits.
“The hype around the metaverse is over. Take Web3 and the great crypto decline, the interest isn't there like it was a year ago,” he tells Jing Daily. “That doesn't mean it's not useful; it just means that maybe fashion hasn't found the most effective way to utilize it yet, hence its lack of presence at fashion week.”
While fashion’s upper echelon turned its back on the virtual world this year, cult favorites embraced it.
“We are providing audiences with a glimpse into the future of fashion and fashion consumption, where accessibility and timeliness are key. This approach could also be relevant to offline fashion weeks, where the audience will be able to discover new immersive ways to explore,” founder of virtual fashion platform Zero10 George Yashin says.
Zero10 joined a handful of metaverse advocates, each committed to spotlighting the power of Web3 in fashion. The digital marketplace partnered with genderless label Private Policy to create three augmented-reality counterparts from its latest collection.
Talent support program On|Off also captured the attention of the capital’s style-savvy crowd by hosting the incubator’s first real-time virtual fashion runway that lauded the rise of emerging designer labels including Valaclava and Oscar Keene. The outfits were then transformed into digital wearables in collaboration with Brand New Vision.
British label Ahluwalia, which embraced NFTs last year, focused this season on a different type of digital solution. The labels’ products in its Fall/Winter 23 show were each fitted with digital IDs that provide information on their provenance and supply chain credentials.
Indeed, Web3’s reputation has been damaged by scams, scandals and poor execution. With skepticism on the rise, designers are turning to more reliable alternatives.
At Milan Fashion Week (MFW), most brands steered well clear of hefty digital campaigns. But interest in Web3 was still evident. For example, Prada invited Gmoney, NFT collector and founder of luxury lifestyle platform 9dcc, to sit front row at its show, which the high-profile, metaverse aficionado shared via his socials. He boasts 51,000 followers on Instagram and 297,000 on Twitter.
The Web3 kingpin has built up a strong rapport with the Italian label, and is often snapped sitting among Prada’s elite audience at its shows and sporting the house’s latest items.
That interest in the metaverse this season is muted is undeniable. But experts aren’t concerned.
“The brands that missed out this Fashion Week will be back. We’re still very early for Web3 and the opportunity is incredible,” Tam says.
With Web3’s place in fashion as yet undefined, many observers believe a backslide is necessary for the technology’s maturation in the fashion world.
As Hambro explains: “I think in time, when Web3 has established a more solid foundation, it will become so embedded in not only fashion, but mainstream culture, that we won't notice it's there.”