The unprecedented standstill resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many industries, including the luxurious world of haute couture and fashion. The halt in seasonal showcases has led to a burgeoning question: what is haute couture without its runways? As it turns out, it could be many things — for one, it has widened the doors for virtual fashion shows!
The latest additions to your to-watch list, the digital foray fashion is making this season is perhaps the most audience-inclusive and riveting rendition yet. The virtual platform has allowed the typically closed-off runways to become an intimate experience — imagine eating ice cream in your PJs with a full overview of the season’s latest trends. While this compromises on seeing influencers and fashion critics dressed in innovative garbs, the trade-off presents a new form of accessibility and redefinition to the scene.
Here’s a look into the digital overhaul of the fashion world:
The Onset of Tech in Fashion
Even before the pandemic, high fashion has been slowly incorporating the digital space into their industry. These are some of the notable attempts at incorporating tech:
Iridescence — First Virtual Clothing To Be Sold
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Created by Dutch digital fashion house The Fabricant, Iridescence is the first-ever blockchain dress that was auctioned off for a stunning USD$9500. Created in collaboration with Johanna Jaskowska (You may already be using some of her futuristic Instagram filters!) and Dapper Labs, the virtual garment is a combination of 2D garment pattern-cutting, 3D design, and rendering software. The result is a glossy, sheer fabric that shimmers in a manner akin to running rivers in moonlight. The floating fabric shifts elegantly, bringing a special luminosity that simply cannot be achieved in the real world.
If you are wondering what you actually do with a virtual dress — think of it as a form of custom filter. After purchase, the hyperreal attire is digitally fitted to the owner’s body. From there, she can now layer it over any photos or videos she desires. The reason for its value is because of its one-of-a-kind blockchain status: considered an irreplicable digital asset, it is both a virtual garment and cryptocurrency. Think of it as an investment!
Balmain’s Virtual Army
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As a French luxury house that has previously engaged high profile models such as Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, it was a surprise when Balmain unveiled their digital supermodel trio — Margot, Shudu and Zhi. These models were designed with different ethnicities in mind; it was sparked by creative director Oliver Rousteing’s exploration of the digital medium as a space for diversity. In this campaign, the hyper-realistic models were (virtually) clothed in Balmain’s Pre-fall 2018 collection. This is typical Rousteing, whose edgy style has pushed for technological inclusion in the house, showcasing that sartorial interpretation goes beyond the physical.
Fun fact: Shudu, touted the world’s first virtual supermodel, has amassed over 200 thousand followers on Instagram!
What You Can Expect in A Digital Runway
Anything, really! Forced cancellations due to COVID-19 has banded together the fashion industry to transform runways into a public affair. Shining a spotlight on brands’ experimentation and how they communicate human design through a screen, this season is all about adaptability. Haute couture is celebrated for its multi-dimensional experience — from sensory indulgence to the emotional takeaway. Seeing how these fashion houses transform 3D experiences into gorgeous 2D adaptations has been a fascinating watch.
Here are some that stood out for me (and also my personal favourites!):
Hanifa Pink Label Congo
Contemporary, ready-to-wear brand Hanifa released an intricate collection (“Pink Label Congo”) inspired by designer Anifa Mvuemba’s hometown Congo and its people’s spirit — a mesh of gentleness, poise and power. Each piece is a dedicated story to the strength of Congolese women and their endurance in adversity. I could not keep my eyes off the Kinshasa Backless Mini Dress, which was a pleated, A-line silhouette in Congo’s flag colours (red, blue, yellow). A bold and daring stand out, in my humble opinion!
Debuting this stunning collection of elegantly modern satins and ruffles are 3D-rendered models. This was a groundbreaking virtual catwalk that was essentially faceless — instead, the garments themselves strut proudly across the screen. Broadcasted on Instagram, this show was a digital innovation and particularly enjoyable for its attention to defining natural curves. The rendering and details are simply captivating!
Viktor & Rolf Autumn/Winter 2020 Change
The hallmark difference between generations: the use of emojis in their online presence. Viktor & Rolf combines the two in their digital debut to create a viral collection that expresses emotional states caused by the global crisis. Poking fun at luxurious couture, the line-up is a mini capsule that plays off the classic negligee, coat and dressing gown silhouette. You can even peep a maxi dress adorned in Android-like emojis. The most eye-catching was the plush white bathrobe lavishly outlined by hearts. In my own narrative, it’s a satirical representation of the digital age frivolously using hearts in texts and Instagram comments!
As the video professionally captures the looks, a dry voiceover explains each piece in a manner too serious. The wry juxtaposition between the elaborate pieces and the sardonic (but optimistic) voice while a symphony plays in the background… Just something about it tickles my Gen Z self, and it is perhaps my favourite meta rendition of digital couture thus far!
Guo Pei Autumn/Winter 2020/21 Couture Collection: Savannah
Guo Pei never disappoints when it comes to her creations and the same applies even when it is conveyed through the screen. A collection inspired by the animals of Savanna, the ensemble crosses grassland wilderness and the fine art of tailorship. Mixing in elements of 3D embroidery and felted wool, the dresses are mounted with hyper-realistic animal heads. Each piece is strongly reminiscent of the animal they represent — a form of exquisite magical realism signature of her works.
This video presentation of this collection, in a behind-the-scenes style documentary, brings us closer to Guo Pei’s unique worldview. An intimate session with Guo Pei, we see her speak on the intent behind her designs. As a fan, this was particularly interesting and illuminating!
These are just some of my favourites. A plethora of other houses’ digital shows await you, which you can easily access in the Fashion Weeks’ sites:
Alternatively, you can try popping in a brand along with the keywords ‘digital/virtual fashion show’ into the Google search bar. More often than not, you will be able to access this season’s digitised runways conveniently on their website, or platforms like YouTube and Instagram.
Upcoming Digital Fashion Weeks
If virtual fashion has piqued your interest, then here are some upcoming shows that you can look forward to in the months to come:
26th – 28th August — Swedish Fashion Association Virtual Fashion Week
After cancelling its previous two seasons, the Swedish Fashion Association is back with a virtual fashion week. They have presently announced pre-recorded product presentations, live interviews and themed conversations. You can also expect designers like House of Dagmar and Rave Review to be in the line-up.
11th – 16th September — New York Fashion Week
New York Fashion Week goes digital with virtual catwalks. While there isn’t much known of this fashion week yet, it has been confirmed to be a paid-for online experience. Keep a lookout on their website or sign up for their newsletter for more details!
17th September — Burberry Spring/Summer 2021 Collection
Set in the British outdoors, the co-ed Spring/Summer 2021 collection walk will be a free live-stream for all to enjoy. This is an effort on Burberry’s part to reconnect with the natural landscape and the community that surrounds fashion. While Burberry has yet to release the time and means for this stream, I’ve already set a reminder on my calendar for this event. Needless to say, I’m excited!
3rd – 4th October — The Circular Fashion Summit
The first-ever VR fashion summit. Focusing on sustainability and zero waste practices, The Circular Fashion Summit will be accessible from your home as long as you purchase their VR Oculus headset. A revolutionary (and safe) way to interact with fashion’s changemakers that will definitely make its marks in fashion history! However, its hefty entrance fee is something to consider. It’s not something accessible for all, but a good experience if you are part of the industry.
While virtual fashion has allowed haute couture to be a shared experience, I doubt the fashion industry going digital will make physical shows obsolete. However, I do hope that the creative experimentation and inclusivity lives on. Perhaps an exploration of both physical and online elements? Only time will tell, but I am feeling positive about the direction of fashion! What were your favourite digital shows? Let me know in the comment section down below!