When it comes to the metaverse, Stefano Rosso has always been one step ahead of the curve. While others turned their back on the prospect of a new virtual reality, the son of OTB Group and Diesel founder Renzo Rosso was already working behind the scenes, applying his wealth of fashion and business knowledge to building something special.
“I remember having several conversations with people telling me that this is the future,” Stefano Rosso says. “But I think, only following COVID-19, have we seen more willingness to really deep dive into this space.”
Rosso’s virtual community platform D-Cave debuted its inaugural project in collaboration with timepiece maker Bulova in early 2022. The first-of-its-kind partnership brought together watch aficionados and Web3 pundits to deliver an exclusive edition of the brand’s distinctive Computron design through tokens and special physical assets.
A few weeks later Diesel launched its own non-fungible token (NFT) series, which Rosso also worked on behind the scenes. At the same time the buzzy, Gen-Z favorite was generating widespread recognition thanks to its Y2k-inspired runway shows and 1DR it-bag, the label unveiled its D:VERSE platform and first ever “phygital” collection that integrates digital and physical elements to enhance the shopping experience.
The project aimed to empower its community through creative autonomy.
“We did the initial drop in March last year, but we’ve also rolled out a series of side projects linked to that NFT drop to keep the engagement with our community healthy and strong,” Rosso explains. “We even asked them to co-design one of the shoes linked to an NFT. These are the things that generate engagement, loyalty, and future brand lovers.”
The power of the online gaming world has been an enduring beacon of inspiration for Rosso. The businessman and Web3 enthusiast spent a number of his formative years playing on consoles. But it was only in his later life that he recognized the true potential of the technology and its community.
Rosso worked as North America CEO at Diesel from 2017 to 2020. While serving as a board member at OTB Group, which operates leading luxury brands Maison Margiela, Marni, and Jil Sander, and the Aura Blockchain Consortium, he turned his attention to crafting the D-Cave concept, which brought together his love for gaming and fashion for the first time.
The past year saw a wave of brands tap the gaming industry, like Dior’s collaboration with Gran Turismo 7 and Balmain’s Need For Speed wearables. Rosso believes there’s more to the trend than short-term hype.
“Gaming is really changing the entertainment system,” he says. “The way gamers interact with their fan base is amazing, because there is a live dialogue. You don't really get that in any other form of entertainment.”
The gaming world was Web3’s first iteration.
“Video games are the first real digital environment where younger generations are sharing not only a moment of leisure, but their life, the music they listen to, and what they like to do,” Rosso says.
Today, gaming is going from strength to strength: platforms such as Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft have become the bedrock for social interactions between members of the younger generation.
“I used to go to the park. Now, kids are going to Fortnite,” Rosso adds.
Rosso wants us all to embrace the metaverse, though it isn’t easy. Barriers to entry, such as a lack of funding, education, and resources make it difficult for brands to break into the expanding new digital world, and for consumers to understand it.
“We still have the implications of not everyone owning digital wallets and crypto, which is preventing the environment from being super-friendly and seamless,” Rosso explains. “Consumers still don’t understand the meaning of digital asset ownership because of complex blockchain technology. Plus, people are also having a hard time psychologically engaging with the online spaces, because they’re not aesthetically there yet.”
Being an early Web3 adopter gave Rosso the time to cultivate a roadmap to success.
But Rosso doesn’t want to be labeled a pioneer. “I don’t see myself as an expert. Because everything is so new, there are no real experts yet in this space,” he says.
What’s clear is that Rosso has built solid foundations in the metaverse, a position that’s only set to strengthen as he continues to explore and experiment with new ideas.
But how is success quantified in a world that’s still nascent? It’s a question that’s vexed many since Web3 rose to prominence. For Rosso, it’s about adopting a holistic approach.
“You can’t measure your success off of how much you’ve sold, because if that's your key performance indicator, it’s a delusion,” he says.
Amid the NFT craze, brands need to consider their relationship with Web3 as a long-term endeavor.
“You’re building a relationship,” Rosso says. “It isn’t just a date.”
Tapping social channels such as Twitch and Discord have helped Rosso generate an active and loyal audience base. For its Bulova partnership, D-Cave invited renowned professional esports collective FaZe Clan to help boost exposure among gaming fanatics. The platform also hosted an interactive pop-up event in 2020, which featured appearances from sports and gaming personalities, alongside prize-winning tournaments.
As Web3 becomes evermore embedded in the world of luxury, Rosso believes in keeping a clear mind and not getting swept up in the hype.
“You need to create full engagement across your community, which is something brands don’t understand,” he says. “They always have the mentality of, one project, one capsule, one campaign. They don't realize that this space is really going to change the way they communicate and interact with their fan base.”
Tunnel vision has led to a slew of failures over the past year, including Porsche’s recent NFT flop.
Rosso believes the key to survival is riding the wave of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“Everybody wants to drop something for a marketing stunt. But if one day is amazing, or one day is bad, it isn’t enough. You need to keep going and learning and doing,” he says.
When asked about what comes next, Rosso alludes to a couple of “very good projects with some big brands” that are in the pipeline.
“It's just about waiting for the market to get back into a decent shape,” he says.
He’s also committed to demystifying the technology and its implications, particularly given the volatile economic backdrop.
“There are a lot of question marks still surrounding the metaverse,” he says. “But I want to help people see that it’s a place where they can express their creativity in ways that they couldn't do before.”
He might not want to be seen as a pioneer, but Rosso’s agenda-setting mentality places him front and center of the digital fashion vanguard.
As Rosso says, “The sky is literally the limit.”