Emerging designers will have to wait a little longer to see their creations ‘walk’ the metaverse runway
Every spring and fall, fashion designers are selected to show their work during either September or February, as part of New York Fashion Week. It’s an event that helps New York earn its title as the fashion capital of the U.S. This year, New York Fashion Week showcased spring and summer collections from emerging and established designers, from Friday, Feb. 11 until Wednesday, Feb. 16.
For the first time in New York Fashion Week history, Digital Fashion Week New York was supposed to open alongside it, according to co-founder and organizer Clare Tattersall. Rather than a physical fashion show, the highlight of Digital Fashion Week, or the “metaverse” as Tattersall calls it, was set to feature a virtual reality runway show, only showing virtual designs. However, due to technical difficulties, including files being too large for the server to run, Digital Fashion Week’s runway show was first postponed to the following weekend on Feb. 18, until ultimately being canceled and fully refunded on Feb. 24.
“Building an environment is one thing, but with placing fashion, there are multiple challenges,” Tattersall said after she canceled the show. “But it’s digital fashion. In order to be different than physical fashion, it’s larger than life, and consequently the files are really heavy for this. The servers were struggling.”
Shortly before the first rescheduled show was set to begin at 9 a.m on Feb. 18., organizers sent out an email postponing it. According to the email, the servers responsible for creating the digital world were not functioning. The new event was supposed to only have four time slots for viewers to enter the digital event instead of the original 30 slots.
The following week, moments before the show was supposed to begin, on Feb. 24, Tattersall sent out another email, apologizing to all ticket holders. “Everyone involved has worked hard to bring you this experience and we all share the disappointment,” the email said, “but we feel that it is no longer appropriate to take your money while you wait patiently.”
Prior to the cancellation, Tattersall was energetic and optimistic about the first metaverse show running during New York Fashion Week.
“I wanted to run it in parallel because I believe very much there’s a new way, a better way to do things,” Tattersall said on the phone. “People tried to persuade me not to do it, that it’s not a good idea to compete. And I I feel it was really a good choice. I feel the industry is ready for something new.”
Digital Fashion Week, started in Oct. 2020 during Brooklyn Fashion Week, where Tattersall had digital models projected onto screens at the event showing digital designs. The technology she planned on using for this new fashion show was completely different then the technology she used during Brooklyn Fashion Week, Tattersall said. For Tattersall and her designers, digital fashion came from a passion of merging technology and drawing software with the creativity and vision of fashion design.
“The metaverse is a world that we can go into that’s going to mirror, really, our imaginations,” Tattersall said. “Usually, you can go in with a headset and feel fully immersed. In this environment [Digital Fashion Week], we have chosen to make it completely accessible to anybody. So it’s streaming pixels. It’s just on a website, and you’re moving into this imaginary world and being a part of it.”
As the audience is immersed in the metaverse, digital models show off designers’ digital fashions. The models will walk through a digital world, showing what the clothing would look like in this online space. Unlike a traditional fashion show, visitors are able to chat with designers and visit boutiques before the show begins. Then, they will watch digital models strut down the runway to music by DJ Cherish the Luv.
These digital garments are also called NFTs, or “Non-Fungible Token.” The goal of seeing and purchasing runway looks from the digital runway show is to build a couture collection for an avatar living in the metaverse, said digital designer Kevin Tung. Although he missed the submission deadline to show at this year’s Digital Fashion Week, he showed his digital collection, “Tinder,” at LUME Studios on Feb. 12.
Designers Oladimeji Abiodun and Ilona Song applied to show at this year’s Digital Fashion Week to gain exposure and publicity for their work without traveling to New York City. Song said she started her digital line when her production team was down during the pandemic after she moved from Russia to California. Prior to her work as a digital designer, Song would sell out her physical capsule collections in Russia immediately.
“But when the pandemic started, I started to digitize my collections because we were not able to like photoshoot collections,” Song said.
According to Abiodun, selling NFTs from a collection can work in three ways. For some designers, they sell the NFT, or the digital rights of the design, and keep the physical copy for themselves. Other designers do the opposite. Or, some designers, such as Song, will offer to make a physical version of the NFT the audience sees on the metaverse runway as soon as she sets up production.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Tung attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. After college, Tung went on to design for White House Black Market, where he is still employed. During the pandemic, Tung saw that the sneaker brand TFKT Artifacts sold a digital sneaker for $15,000. He said it blew his mind and inspired him to create his own digital works in this new age of fashion.
“I just want to double down at that point, because we’re still early in this new revolution of fashion,” Tung said. “This is my time to really show people what I’m about and my design.”
Yet, for designers like Tung, the metaverse offers an opportunity to create their designs as elaborately as they want without the financial burden of producing a physical sample collection. According to Tung, the opportunity to gain a fanbase in the metaverse could hopefully lead to a career as both a physical and digital design house.
“The hardest part about being an upcoming fashion designer right now is the time and money costs,” he said. “For example, if you want to sample a T-shirt at a sample maker, which you need to do, if you want to sell to people, it’s $200 for a single T-shirt, and if you want to make a whole collection, you’re really making tens of thousands of dollars for something that may not sell. So, as a Digital Designer, you’re able to really showcase your talent, and really build a fan base of people who love your designs.”
Ultimately, the goal is to have metaverse fashion held to the same standards and appreciation as the couture we see down the runway during New York Fashion Week, according to Tattersall. She plans on hosting the first metaverse show in conjunction with the next New York Fashion Week in Sept. 2022.
“I see a future where we’ll sort of have our clothes projected,” Tattersall said. “We’ll wear digital clothing and we’ll have clothing that will be projected [on our avatars] that we can imagine.”