The Height of the Digital Fashion Storm
Digital-first brands go physical to provide experiences, others still pursuing personalisation and authenticity. CGI models are on the rise, so are audience’s appetite for control over image and representation.
Last year Hugo Boss launched a showroom in Berlin to showcase its pre-fall collection for 2018, but it was unlike others. Instead of rails of tactile garments visitors were met with a steely table, encased inside it a 65 inch touch screen. The fashion brand had launched its first digital showroom, marking a permanent shift from creating complete collections of physical samples, to ranges that are now entirely and only accessible in digital form.
Boss isn’t the only label approaching a centenarian status to have made radical shifts to pursue a digital presence—it’s been hard for fashion brands no matter how established to ignore the sway that social media, e-commerce and big data have had on the industry within the past decade. The digital storm that’s been brewing is now at its peak, brands who are entirely born online are no longer uncommon.
In Melbourne, Dot Comme started life as an online archive of Japanese designers, featuring the likes of avant-garde greats Comms des Garçons, Yohi Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. Founded by avid collector Octavius La Rosa, the concept has traversed the confines of the digital to its second physical space. Stocking under 200 pieces, the new Melbourne store is minimalist and dotted with iPads that visitors conveniently browse through before being bought selected items on-site to try on.
Dot Comme’s recent physical foray is an example of how digital-first brands are focusing on omni-channel touchpoints and re-contextualising bricks-and-mortar. Brands that started life online have been the most eager to re-imagine physical spaces as consumer touchpoints that compliment digital mediums and connect with audiences through experiences, nostalgia and personalisation.
New York - this April Matchesfashion tested their new townhouse retail space concept in a cumulation of storytelling, party and fashion presentation. 5 Carlos Place in Mayfair will be the permanent site of a 5,000 square-foot storeyed space encompassing private shopping suites, year-round installations, designer dinners and live streamed talks. For a company that generates most of its revenue from e-commerce internationally, the townhouse concept proves to not only be a large investment but a move that shows confidence in the physical space too.
Aside from customer experience and entertainment, the space is being designed to act as a hub of content generation for the brand’s digital and social channels. Accompanied by a point of sale app, 5 Carlos Place will be yet another touchpoint that helps Matchesfashion flesh out and refine a precise view of their customer, offering a higher degree of personalisation. As more brands focus on building relationships with their customers across a “phygital” landscape, there is less emphasis on whether physical or digital is superior and more focus on how to create an omnichannel approach that encompasses both.
Physical and digital brand touchpoints are both equal and complimentary assets.
The use of both physical and digital touchpoints as equal and complimentary assets has been helping brands in their ongoing quest to provide audiences with authenticity and tactile experiences, filling the void left by the supremacy of instant tech and skin-deep social media. Packaging expert Artomatic, as well as Ikea have turned to ASMR or autonomous sensory meridian response to create videos that showcase material products online. Drawing from sight, sound, whispers and crackles the videos capitalise on a tactile digital experience that aims to affect in a physical way.
Although some strive to provide and even fabricate authenticity, others go altogether against the grain. Instagram influencers have changed the rules of celebrity—no longer reserved for actors or musicians, license to power is now measured by number of followers and likes. Lil Miquela who has 1.3m followers, and Shudu who has 138k followers might have seemed like another It girl on the platform collaborating with big-name labels and endorsing fashion houses, if it were not for the fact that they don’t really exist at all outside of images.
Shudu, a black female model portrayed in glossy images is in fact a fabrication of a white male artworker and photographer, Cameron-James Wilson. Lil Miquela who has recently released a hit song is in fact a CGI creation of a Los Angeles startup.
CGI models are not a new phenomenon though, in Japan Hatsune Miku is a virtual idol that’s been performing at live concerts for years, and in 2016 Ghesquiére introduced pink-haired virtual model Lighting, from video game Final Fantasy to model Louis Vuitton’s ad campaign.
The latest controversy over CGI models raises questions over threats to real life models, cultural appropriation (particularly in Wilson’s case), and authority over intellectual property as technology continues to advance and become increasingly accessible. The concern no one has yet addressed is that brands’ and consumers’ quest for unattainable image and control over representation has found yet a new dimension.
Social media, Instagram and Snapchat in particular have allowed users to craft an edited version of themselves, a consciously manicured lifestyle. What users want, or rather what they don’t like they can conceal or remove—beauty editing apps such as Facetune are commonplace amongst beauty bloggers, and allow users to swipe away blemishes, apply makeup and even change their facial features. It’s possible to argue that the altered images of ourselves that many of us share online, is prime evidence that we’re already stepping into virtual territory without knowing or thinking about its consequences.
As tech continues to revolutionise industries including Fashion, brands flesh out creative ways to get to closer audiences who frequent the digital sphere as much, if not more than the physical. The lines between real and virtual become blurred, as consumers gain unprecedented and instantaneous control over how they portray their image and what they want. Perhaps one day CGI models will become as commonplace as those that exist in the flesh—it’s sometimes hard to remember that tech is best utilised to enhance and not replace lives.