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Metallic Wings - The Lazy World Of Metaverse Fashion Week

I don’t know what it is about fashion weeks that makes me so crazy. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I don’t care very much for either style of fashion week: physical or virtual. I’ve attended both, so let me tell you what it was like from the sidelines and the trenches.

If, like me, you grew up being seriously average; the idea of going to London fashion week is an anxiety-ridden experience where, as a 40-something, I continued to be seriously average. In a bid to get my mental health in check and to control the crazy, it was a refreshing advent that the metaverse could provide the anonymity of me being average to becoming a more fabulous version of me. The tl;dr is that this wouldn’t end well.

(Image credit: Getty)
Image: Decentraland

It’s Called Fashion, Look it Up

Before it got chavved up, I had a burning desire to do the Met Gala. Squeezing my average-shaped, heavy, old frame into a piece of art was dreamy for me. Someone who loves everything Siouxsie and Seditionaries, and cut my teeth in an era of John Richmond; my desire to be the mysterious bastard child of Leigh Bowery and Rei Kawakubo will continue to be my bane. Anna Wintour would never in a million years invite me to the opening of a Müller Corner, let alone the Met Gala, so where do awkward sartocrats go to fit in? Well, I started my gala experience in Avakin Life. It had everything I needed: social interaction on my terms, dramatic dressage and the technology of snapshots and screen recording. In those days, and they probably still do, they had competitions where players would participate in creating the best look. Think Covet, but waaaaaaay better and more interactive.

In the metaverse and in gamified metaverse platforms, the template of design has natural limitations. I wanted to take a deep dive into what this means for developers as we enter an age of choice and user-generated content, whilst also critiquing the experiences of users who want more than metallic wings. I had a fantastic guinea pig in Nak3d, my AI fashion startup, and after a lengthy R&D process, we were ready to figure out how this behemoth of multiversal platforms would work with our interoperable fashion.

Being Seen

It’s difficult to be fashionable in most metaverses. The choices of outfits and looks are as unfortunate as it ever was. Looking like you either got dressed in the dark or by your mum is tragic really, isn’t it? If the metaverse is about escapism, then the inventory of looks is about as far away as you’re gonna get from sartorial. My avatar in Spatial looks like crap. Yes, it’s Ready Player Me, and yes, it’s a higher definition than I might find in Decentraland or Roblox, but please, it’s not cool anymore to look like Beatrix Kiddo. It was cool in 2003 though. Yeah. It was cool then.

So what’s with that? Why is everything so rigid in the metaverse? Why is there a one size fits all approach to the metaverse and a more freeform focus to games like Covet? I say Covet, but that’s only because it was the big mover in the fashion space, there hasn’t really been a better alternative to Covet. Avakin Life is close, since it’s a playable metaverse, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that even Avakin Life has its limitations.

It boils down to stability mostly. I’ve talked about how interoperability works in a previous article, but stability is key to this process. Being able to create and upload your own stuff into Call of Duty or Subway Surfers is dangerous. It has a knock-on effect on every aspect of the framework of development, especially in terms of security. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that default objects inside these metaverses particularly look like crap.

My first bit of advice for being seen is like with any social media campaign, plan it. If you know something is on the horizon annually but a few months off, spend some time planning what you will be creating and developing for the event. Participating in events isn’t difficult. You have to a) know what you are developing, sharing, or publishing and b) you’ve read the destination platform documentation. You might also want to think about how you will communicate your “launch” to the various stakeholders, channels, or followers. You will also need to pay some attention to your budget - if you’re a small designer or a start-up atelier, can you afford it? Some platforms that encourage users are neither user-focused nor are they UGC; therefore, if you want to play, you have to pay.

The Z List

In my experience of the metaverse, there’s the really good (such as Yahaha), and then there’s the really bad (make up your own minds). How do you know what constitutes really good? Yeah, really good is all I care about, because as someone assisting the fashion industry with what really looks good, rather than hyperbolic good, this has to translate into games and metaverses too. The quality of the function of fashion is #1, and I’m not entirely sure most metaverses care too much. So let’s look at that.

You’ve got a Dries Van Noten draped top, in its physical form it’s 79% Cotton, 18% Polyamide, and 3% Elastane. It’s short-sleeved. A regular fit. It has a draped neckline. How do we work within those tolerances, or do we develop a wider reach for a new Dries Van Noten audience? If we work within those physical tolerances, we’re effectively working in e-commerce aren’t we? We would be creating 3D photos and models that exemplify the cut of the design and the fall of the fabric. We might use Vizoo or Adobe Substance to get to the core of the textile, we might use Clo3D or Marvelous Designer for styling and presentation. It’s complicated. It’s meant to be. But the complication really starts when we want to build for the metaverse. Let’s take two engines: one uses C# and the other is a part of a JavaScript library family.

In order to ensure the stable and smooth running of these two engines, we don’t need a perfect storm of everything coming together, we need to first create the perfect garment for ourselves or our client, then we need to fit it to the engine. The digital fashion dresses the native avatar (we can do some good QA here), and then to keep the consistency of the garment within the visual frameworks of the destination platform, we have to tread a thin line. Our client (or us if it’s our design) needs to know what we’re creating: is that Dries Van Noten level of quality and care between the physical and digital entities in place? We can’t throw a hex code ecru blob on the upper body of an avatar and say ta-daaaaa! That just looks like baby puke. Instead, what we should do is tend to the texture and tick the boxes:

Does it look like the original physical garment? Does it look like the original digital version? I would assume this ‘original digital version’ is high definition so we can see pockets, seams or finishes like buttons, zips, etc; but when we start squeezing all these quads/tris down to fit the destination, we have to do the same with textures of the garments. So that crosshatch of cotton linen or the Seersucker detail of the fabric is reduced to, well, nothing. It’s a real gift to get that representation in digital, and if I can’t get it, that rings alarm bells to me. If Maison Margiela needs to see that split toe of their tabi boot, they are not going to see that level of detail in some of the more well-publicised metaverses. I would also add a little salt to the fact that there’s probably no one in those metaverses anyway, so, brands; luxury and atelier are simply forking out for a very expensive press release.

What of our C# engine metaverses? Well, C# is good enough for work-a-day graphics rendering. It doesn’t need millions of libraries located in far-flung corners of the web. Sure, it’s not as open as some of the javascript engines (read cheap), but you are playing for quality. So if you want quality, wouldn’t you find a metaverse that is C# focused? Or even C++ based? Roblox uses OGRE (Object-Oriented Graphics Rendering Engine), and that’s ok. Lego’s new educational metaverse will be presented in Unreal Engine. Yahaha uses Unity (of course!), Breakroom too, and possibly even Byte City.

You Can Only Build Something New If You Destroy the Old

Marc Jacobs in Animal Crossing. It was ahmahzing for a while, and then it just looked like crap, suffering from the same disease as anything with metallic wings. A collection of 20 items between MJ and Valentino in 2020 I’m sure was no mean feat, but it looked flat, I don’t care whether there is an #AnimalCrossingFashionArchive or not, I love fashion, and I like quality design and these items were neither. Gosh, I’m coming over all Karl Lagerfeld now. What was it he said? “You can only really build something new if you destroy the old”, so when are we going to do something new in fashion? Do we have to go through the meaningless surface of fashion weeks ad-infinitum? Will anyone develop a system for creating on every platform with little effort? At Nak3d, we managed it, but wow, there were metaverses that we couldn’t go to (because those platforms, games and virtual worlds were/are THE worst in all elements of their ethos). So does fashion need to change, or do we need to change for it? I would say both. Here’s the perfect situation for everyone:

  • Establish the rules of the metaverse: hi-def real-time rendering for desktop and marathon metaverse activities and events (though that’s laughable because not a single metaverse or brand has a handle on content). Low-tri high texture quality for mobile. It makes sense because it’s crazy to maintain shitty DIY rules and documentation because your community wants that. Mate, your community had 25 people in it last week. Think about it.

  • Up your game fashionistas! Look around you, everyone is doing it really well in NFT fashion and in physical. Would you drop a stitch in a Dries Van Noten suit? No? Well, why are you dropping a tri here and a quad there? The same goes for your textures. Yes, some metaverses want you to plonk a PNG over a mesh. There will be no plonking. There will only be careful crafting. Heads high people.

  • Put your consumer first, not your consumption. Build a system where stores are proudly community driven (properly, not snobbily), don’t build an inventory for anyone to put any old dog shit t-shirt into. Roblox’s stores are more bloated than me after a big Sunday dinner, and Decentraland’s stores are bloated with the gym pants worn only by netball teachers in 1985 - have some pride!

User Gratification (is) Cool

So when I ask why everybody looks so awful in the metaverse, you can rest assured it’s because the metaverse makers only care about your money. How much will you give them to sell it in your store? Don’t fall into that trap. They are making a whole load of money from the hard work you are doing in promoting your own stuff. You’re also making your own stuff, and that costs you time. Brands get to work with the metaverse directly, and they make everything look amazing. You might spend 12 hours working on the organza sleeve of an evening dress, and you are still expected to pay to display? Not today Satan, not today.

Over at Yahaha, and in fact, any UGC-based metaverse that doesn’t peacock, you will be expected to make stuff and the creator economy is fair so that you can explore all the possibilities that carefully crafting brings. Every platform should have a fashion week, just like Milan, Shanghai, and Berlin. And it’s average old me who is gonna win at Fashion Week in any metaverse because I have the desire to rise above the crap, the sartorially challenged brands who pay to show their crapola vision through the haze of pixelated neon stripes on an otherwise drab old static dress. It’s average people like me who will see Anna Wintour’s Met Gala and develop the Meta Gala, and do you know why? Because fashion belongs to all of us in the metaverse, and beyond I hope. It’s everything we can learn and transfer amongst ourselves to enhance all our skills at once rather than just work within the limits of some chavvy mesh that we have to ultimately pay for and that we can only wrap a disgusting jpg around for a shit sandwich of a so-called fashion week. If you call that fashion, I’m calling the fashion police.

Image courtesy of The Decentraland Foundation


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