Retail customers stand outside in a queue to ensure a safer shopping experience. Dressing rooms are closed. Fashion Week has gone virtual. And today’s fashion design students can’t meet in a studio to cut and sew materials. But the fashion industry isn’t in peril—it’s just taking on a new look.
This month, our research and development team MediaMonks Labs is collaborating with FLUX, our fashion and luxury team, to offer a special Labs report focused on the future of fashion. Bursting at the seams in digital innovation—from production to customer experiences—the report spares no effort to serve looks and inspired insight on the virtualization of fashion in its many forms.
Virtualization is In-Season
For a long time, fashion-forward didn’t necessarily translate to being tech-forward. But in recent years, there’s been a growing desire to shake things up and break free from the cycle of seasonal releases and endless fashion weeks around the world. Suddenly, events that had long been exclusive became available to everyone through social feeds, completely changing the way brands engage with their audiences—like video game-inspired activations.
“It’s not just about the tech changing, but also how consumer behaviors are evolving,” says Ben Lunt, Head of Experience Design, Fashion & Luxury. “Brands knew they’d have to adapt, but the time never felt right until the past year.” Thanks to the pandemic, customer-facing digital experiences are increasingly in vogue—just recently, MediaMonks partnered with Verizon Media and IMG to bring Rebecca Minkoff’s new Spring 2021 collection to fashion lovers everywhere through 3D renders.
It’s not just about the tech changing, but also how consumer behaviors are evolving.
The technology lets people inspect looks up-close from any angle, either on a desktop device or directly superimposed in their surroundings using augmented reality. Previously, Rebecca Minkoff noted that customers are 30% more likely to buy when given the chance to engage with 3D product models online.
3D Production Connects People and Experiences
While the virtualization of the consumer experience has received a lot of attention from the fashion industry, it’s also aiding efforts in design and production. In response to sustainability concerns, today’s fashion students are learning to design in CLO3D, which allows designers to design, develop and sample garments in real time—software that’s also proven useful in the pandemic. The tool does more than let users design and collaborate from a safe distance—it streamlines the entire process.
In the traditional process, draping and patternmaking for each change in design can be time-consuming and wasteful. Virtualized production lets designers visualize these variations at speed, opening them up to more experimentation throughout the process. But it’s not about speeding up an already fast industry. “It’s about pinpointing parts of the process that can be streamlined in order to slow down others,” says Brandi LaCertosa, a Creative at MediaMonks. “We can create more space and time for thoughtful design and production.”
And these same assets can pull double duty by powering the kinds of touchpoints discussed above—or even inspire entirely new experiences. On the Labs team, MediaMonks Innovation Director Geert Eichhorn says: “If you switch to this digital pipeline you can make new products, like exporting designs onto video game avatars or letting users try on outfits with a digital twin.” While the digital twin idea is still some time away, it inspires some of the exciting D2C ecommerce solutions that forward-thinking brands might try out.
New Feedback Loops Transform the Industry
Accelerated production and design can transform the value chain—a linear process that moves from designing and planning to sourcing and supply, and finally the consumer experience—into more of a Venn diagram where different steps overlap. Consider if 3D garments worn by players in a video game were the same used in a virtualized look book for retail buyers—but were originally made during the design and production process of the physical garments.
It’s about pinpointing parts of the process that can be streamlined in order to slow down others.
These assets can also be used for market testing. RTFKT presents 3D designs to its audience, inviting them to vote on those that make it to physical production. Fashion brand Finesse uses AI and social listening to source data-driven designs. Using CLO3D, the brand can act on trends quickly through accelerated production. For brands that serve as tastemakers, this same data can act as a trend forecast report in the design process, helping curate which pieces of the collection to take from runway to production. “Many designers crave an understanding of the people who will wear their clothes,” says LaCertosa. “Take Virgil Abloh for example, who is extremely active on Clubhouse for exactly this reason.”
Emulating the Analogue Aesthetic
Despite the advantages of virtualization, could it all be a fad—is it the emperor’s new clothes, bound to fall out of fashion once the pandemic subsides? Lunt notes that there’s always been a tension between fashion labels—luxury ones in particular—and new technologies, particularly because those brands have honed a more analogue aesthetic that can feel at odds with virtualization at first blush.
“They operate at a deep, impressionistic level,” he says. “If you look at a campaign image from Bottega Veneta, there’s a lot going on there—it touches you at a deep level, but a lot of those soft signals are analogue. Digital currently has its own aesthetic codes which can often be antithetical to luxury.” But it’s not a zero-sum game. By way of example, Lunt mentions Pixar’s painstaking efforts to emulate an analogue aesthetic in its CG films—like the split diopter lens, a unique tool that puts two objects in focus with no continuous depth of field to provoke a specific emotion in the viewer.
Virtualized fashion also runs the risk of falling into “uncanny valley” territory, in which the slightest imperfection in an otherwise faithful reproduction can induce revulsion. “From the way the trim falls when moved to folds in the fabric, the smallest thing that looks off can trigger that response,” says Eichhorn.
But these challenges shouldn’t turn brands away from virtualization. Instead, it should prompt them to think more thoughtfully about where technology has the most potential to fuel creative innovation or build stronger relationships with consumers. “Luxury codes are already evolving to accommodate, appropriate, and ultimately push digital aesthetics forward,” says Lunt. “And you can still take that stylized photoshoot to capture the human element, then use 3D so consumers can see how it actually looks on them,” adds LaCertosa. “It’s about using this technology to support your brand and its aesthetic, not replace it.”
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