Individuality And Creativity: Where Fashion And The Metaverse Could Collide
© Illustration by INJECTION - Lin
Is the fashion industry making the most of the opportunities for creativity provided by the growing Metaverse?
The Metaverse. A phrase that either instils confusion and maybe a bit of fear or unbridled excitement. It is a concept that is hard to grasp, with terminology that is futuristic even to some of the most technologically minded among us. Even still, many people across different countries with various interests and backgrounds are attempting to understand its workings so as not to miss out on some of its disruptive breakthroughs - in the most positive sense of the word. For the fashion industry, in particular, the Metaverse offers the opportunity for uninhibited creativity. The question is whether it will be seized.
The Metaverse is a shared virtual space encompassing websites, social media, virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, in which people can "live" a fully immersive digital life. Though still in its infancy and development, it is hoped that it will become a place where we can interact, work, learn, shop and play - just as we do in the real world.
To some, it may seem somewhat paradoxical that fashion can be made virtual when the primary function of clothing is to, well, clothe us. What is the point of digitalising something that’s very nature requires physicality? However, others promote the concept that fashion is an art form that transcends functionality, a means of self-expression and creativity that has existed only in a physical space, so far. If we take this point of view, why can’t fashion be as innovative in the virtual world as it is in our real one?
For the fashion-conscious, clothes can feel like an extension of our personalities, and this is backed by psychology. The clothes we wear are one of the main factors in others’ first impressions of us, and they can influence how we feel and act. So, it’s pretty important for our mental well-being that we are able to dress in a way that best represents who we are - but this can be hard even if we want to. When you put on an outfit for an event, how many times does the devil on your shoulder tell you that you’re too over-dressed or too under-dressed or that somebody will pass an underhanded comment on what you’re wearing? Perhaps the Metaverse could provide a safe space, free from the fashion-related standards society has put in place in the physical world, and allow for unrepressed individuality. In fact, many have branded it "an escape from the real world” as it allows you to create an avatar that looks and dresses however you want it to, welcoming you to present a true version of yourself. The Metaverse is a blank slate for the development of our virtual identities, and we have yet to impose societal structures that put limitations on this. It poses a genuine opportunity to explore and present the “real you,” even when this feels less possible otherwise.
What’s more, the physical restrictions intrinsic to fashion as we are used to are, for the most part, alleviated in virtual reality. We all saw the Coperni dress at Fashion Week in September and gawked, but a garment like this could never be accessible on a large scale - it simply isn’t feasible in the natural world. Yet, in a digital space, we are not bound by tactile materials or even the laws of physics. You could actualise a colour-changing dress made of glass if you wanted to. Just imagine the potential scope for creativity if we can realise the wildest artistic concepts from our deepest imagination.
© Harper's Bazaar - The Coperni dress
Yet, these boundaries aren’t being pushed: we’ve created a virtual world where anything is possible, but we are using it in a way that mimics what we already have. According to Vogue Business, only 40% of people say their style is more surreal in the Metaverse than in the physical world, with the rest saying their URL style is similar to their IRL style. This is hardly surprising when the virtual fashion options are no more varied than the real-world ones. While brands are chomping at the bit to make a name for themselves in this new digital space, from Gucci’s NTFs to Balenciaga’s Fortnite collaboration and Nike’s virtual trainers, their innovation is all too often focused on the virtual experience rather than what we really love them for - their clothes.
Does it not seem a waste to have practically limitless design possibilities and simply make clothes that are replicas of those that already exist physically? The Metaverse is an untapped resource for the exploration of imagination, self-expression and individuality - but how are everyday people like you and I supposed to take advantage of this if the sources providing us with the means to do so aren’t? In a tale that is as old as the fashion industry itself, commercialisation seems to be the driving force of its development. Brands know what sells in real life, so they play it safe and offer us the same things, just digitally.
Most of the discussion surrounding the Metaverse, and fashion, in particular, is future tense: Mark Zuckerberg says avatars will become as commonplace as a profile picture, and Morgan Stanley predicts the virtual luxury market could be worth $50 billion in less than ten years. This seems unlikely if the fashion industry doesn’t start optimising the potential of the Metaverse and providing what consumers and users of a virtual world need: the opportunity to explore our identity and individuality as creatively and uninhibitedly as possible. We don’t want to see a pixelated version of the Dior Saddle Bag; we want a version of it that can levitate next to us!
As fashion royalty, Diane Von Furstenberg says, “style is something each of us already has; all we need to do is find it.” As we learn to negotiate a virtual world different to our physical one, representing ourselves authentically is more important than ever. But how are we to find our unique style if we are being presented with limited options?
If fashion is a form of art, then the Metaverse has gifted us with a new medium. For fashion to have an exciting and empowering virtual future, it must not let profit be the killer of artistry.