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Virtual sneakers for 10,000 dollars? An exhibition gathers digital fashion pioneers

By Weixin Zha


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Picture: Dematerialised exhibition on Cryptovexels

Digital fashion to date has often been in the headlines for its futuristic aesthetics or eye-watering prices. In early March, a virtual sneaker drop fetched a whopping 3.1 million US dollars, with a pair of shoes priced at up to 10,000 dollars. An exhibition at the beginning of April displayed some groundbreaking moments of the phenomenon of digital fashion, which recently capitalized on the boom of so-called crypto art with purely virtual art works selling for millions of dollars.

Those who visited the Metaverse exhibition by digital fashion startup Dematerialised headed to Cryptovoxels - a virtual world on the Ethereum blockchain. Using the arrow keys on their keyboards, visitors could navigate through streets filled with digital art, an experience somewhat reminiscent of the pixelated worlds of Minecraft or Secondlife.

Purely digital fashion is gradually becoming a discipline in its own right, in a world of its own - like the exhibition on Cryptovexels, which is part of a larger online virtual art exhibition. Digital fashion, or 3D models of clothing created using digital software, is already being employed widely by fashion companies in their advertising campaigns, said Catty Taylor, the co-founder of London-based Institute of Digital Fashion, which has worked with the likes of Ellesse and Balenciaga.

Worlds filled with digital fashion

"Now it has morphed into this whole world where digital fashion is like a tangible 3D-object that is really useful and can be used in so many different channels," Taylor said during a talk about the Metaverse exhibition on social media app Clubhouse. Her 'Boob Jiggle T-shirt', which she created in 2017, as well as a digital crystal-studded couture dress she made in collaboration with US couturier August Getty, were featured in the exhibition.

Image: Rtfkt x Fewocious Sneaker (far left) / Dematerialized exhibition on Cryptovexels

Many bigger brands like Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger are working to create their latest collections using 3D design software to cut down on samples and resources. But garments and shoes that are exclusively available digitally have also found a market.

The Metaverse exhibition featured the fiery red ‘Pepa Trousers’ by Tribute Brands - the first label to build a business model around digital fashion and selling to end consumers, Karinna Nobbs explained by phone. She co-founded the digital fashion marketplace Dematerialised and curated the exhibition of 15 items. Also showing at the exhibition was Swedish apparel retailer Carlings which became the first online store to sell digital fashion back in 2018. The silverhood tracksuit by creative agency Virtue in the exhibition commemorated this moment.

Not to be missed were a pair of sneakers from the collaboration between digital sneaker brand Rtfkt and virtual artist Fewocious. Within seven minutes, the virtual shoes raised 3.1 million dollars and became a media sensation. This collaboration is just one example of how digital fashion is benefiting from the recent trend around virtual art.

During the pandemic, the market for digital collectibles such as video game items and art works has boomed. With the help of so-called non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and blockchain technology, these items are given their unique digital identity, and a correlating value. In this way, digital fashion is quickly becoming a collector's item. Its share of the NFT market, however, is difficult to quantify.

Who buys virtual clothes?

"It depends on how you define fashion, but the percentage of fashion is still small," Nobbs said. "Our target audience are quite diverse groups." They range from gamers and the crypto community to fashion consumers - including early adopters of technology with an interest in sustainability and creatives with high aesthetic standards.

"With gamers, we don't have to explain why they should buy digital virtual goods, whereas with fashion consumers, we have to do a lot of education and storytelling, explaining the value of the tech aspect or what an NFT is," Nobbs said.

The ideals behind digital fashion

The exhibition also demonstrates how digital fashion can be used to share iconic masterpieces with a wider audience. The Virtual Fashion Archive by New York-based design studio Superficial has digitized apparel by designers such as Thierry Mugler and Issey Miyake and put the pieces online, so anyone worldwide can see the drape, details and patterns of these garments.

A strong sense of idealism could be felt during the clubhouse conversation among the digital fashion designers gathered in the exhibition. Some see digital fashion as an opportunity to change what troubles them about the current fashion industry. Digital clothing is not exclusive, it can be worn anywhere, by anyone - regardless of gender, appearance or body shape - and it is more sustainable, said Auroboros designer Lisa Sello. The London-based label creates physical couture using natural materials, resulting in garments which grow over time and eventually disintegrate - and the designer duo debuted a digital collection this year, too.

“The more digital fashion appears to these sensory human elements, the more important it will become as well,” Sello said on Clubhouse. “I think especially now, people are really looking for something to guide them almost, not a light necessary but a something that is inspiring. Digital fashion allows for that because it is so new, there are so many solutions that it brings.”
Digital Fashion
Institute of Digital Fashion