FASHION: THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL FASHION
Being stuck within the confines of our homes has pushed us to explore the world through our screens more than ever before; whether that be a phone, laptop or television. This includes the fashion world, an industry that is built mainly upon tangible experiences and property, from stroking a soft piece of fabric as you saunter around a store, to attending fashion shows in historical buildings across capital cities. Nonetheless, online fashion shows continue to grow in popularity, especially with examples such as Rihanna's Savage X Fenty, which was praised for showcasing an inclusivity that is barely existent among other brand’s runways. With the e-commerce industry predicted to rise from 1.32 billion digital buyers to 2.14 billion by 2021, it would appear that customers' preferred interaction with fashion will continue to move in favour of the digital world.
The rise of online fashion shows, however, is a fascinating response to the modern need to be in every location at once. Virtual runways and showrooms fit into our increasingly fast-paced lives perfectly. Fashion seasons in Shanghai have already been leading by example with their online fashion weeks which allow viewers to switch between runway shows and interact with models and designers by sending in questions. unity for industry professionals to use their platforms and reach for greater representational purposes. An example of this is Charles Jeffery who handed his platform over to Black creatives for a live-streamed fundraiser for UK Black Pride.
Considering the success of digital fashion week alongside its ability to uplift marginalised voices and shine a light on pressing topics, it will be interesting to see the development of LFW’s response to growing pressure to take accountability for their influence over fast fashion. Before lockdown, environmentalists like Extinction Rebellion called on LFW to ‘challenge the industry to stop the cycle of overproduction and overconsumption that threatens those that least contributed to it.’ With the world watching intently through their screens and consumer’s increased awareness of exploitation, the question concerning what transparency and solutions LFW can offer next arises.
It would appear industries do possess creative flexibility in their ability to respond and adapt to situations when needed. On the subject Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council said that ‘by creating a cultural fashion week platform, we are adapting digital innovation to best fit our needs today and enacting something to build on as a global showcase for the future.’ We can already see that as more of us tuned into our phones, the fashion industry followed the gaze of their consumers. What happens when that gaze falls onto the topic of ethical and environmental responsibility?
The rise of online fashion shows, however, are a fascinating response to the modern need to be in every location at once. Virtual runways and showrooms fit into our increasingly fast paced lives perfectly. Fashion seasons in Shanghai have already been leading by example with their online fashion weeks which allow viewers to switch between runway shows and interact with models and designers by sending in questions.
So, with the future of the fashion industry looking increasingly digital as FW’s take place online, what will this mean for street style? Street-style is a genre that has become a separate event in itself, especially thanks to the new influx of influencers. Perhaps they will take inspiration from Amsterdam-based digital fashion house, The Fabricant, who in collaboration with I-D, presented a way for people to style themselves without physically wearing the clothing. This idea was inspired by Instagram, and The Fabricant dubbed it a ‘virtual runway where clothing is content.’ Uploading a full-length picture of yourself and dragging an outfit on doesn't sound too far fetched from our increased filter usage - fashion filters are on the horizon. Virtual fashion could have several positive implications for the future fashion industry. For fast fashion brands who shoot vast amounts of samples for their e-commerce sites, they could feature digital products rather than shooting endless samples that otherwise get tossed to the side. Fashion brand Happy99 is an example of a company who promotes virtual products rather than physical samples; their clothing turns 360degrees allowing customers to get a full view of the item. The use of virtual fashion could expand into new ways of customers trying before they buy – think Cher’s closet from Clueless. In the increasingly consumerist world of fashion that showcases a ‘see now, buy now’ mentality, digital clothing could be the next big influencer boosted craze that feeds into fast-flowing trends without quite literally costing the earth.
An example of one fashion runway that caught our eye was Anifa Mvuemba’s debut capsule collection ‘Pink Label Congo’ from her brand Hanifa. The show began with a brief introduction about her homeland, displaying videos and images of its vast beauty, from the capital city Kinshasa to lush rainforests. We then view clips of the civil war in Congo, focusing on minerals, rebels and child soldiers. In regard to Congo, Hanifa said ‘the land is ripe with an abundance of natural resources — the greatest of which are its people.’ Focusing on the often untapped and overlooked beauty of Congo, she further explained that ‘the gentleness, beauty, history, pose, majesty, strength, power and hope of the Congolese spirits inspired this collection.’ The show is available to view via her IGTV and features her 3D designs being worn by invisible models as they strut down a pitch-black runway. With no set design, background or visible audience, the viewer can only focus on the movement of the garments, from the swishing of the exaggerated sleeves on the Kinshasa backless dress to the way the Mai maxi dress drapes across the floor. The display is mesmerising, and you cannot help but become entranced as you watch these well-dressed ghosts parade to the beat. Interestingly, despite Mvuemba’s collection being made up of faux humans, her model's body shapes were still more diverse than most high-fashion runways. There was no identifiable race or ethnicity however – their only defining feature was their body type. With all the attention being on the clothing and how it falls on each model's shape, it could serve as a nudge to other designers as a reminder that high fashion looks elevated on everybody.
Whilst Mvuemba’s models were invisible, the presence of CGI models is not a new one, rather it's a trend that seems likely to imprint itself within the future of digital fashion. Virtual models and influencers such as Shudu, Lil Miquela and Koffi have collaborated with the likes of Balmain, Prada and Vogue. However, these new characters have not been met with a warm welcome. Many have expressed concerns regarding these computerised characters taking up the space of those who are very much real and under-represented. Although the 2019 Runway Diversity Report revealed that two in every five models cast in the major fashion weeks was a model of colour, equal career prospects and treatment of Black models still have a way to go. So, when opportunities are given to a simulated Black woman, created by a white man, it is understandable why many argue against the virtue of their existence.
It is clear to see that the increasing development of technology in fashion is turning our Sims and Stardoll pasts into a virtual reality, pushing the bounds of our own individual imaginations for the future of fashion. The internet has allowed us wider access into a global fashion community; introducing a plethora of individual designers, models and houses alongside their customs and traditions. With the fashion industry continuously intertwining with this digital landscape, we hope that not only will a variety of global Black designers gain recognition for their talents, but that this online innovation will also birth new conversations about how to tackle the problems the industry faces. The time is overdue to utilise creative tools in favour of advocating increased mindfulness regarding representation and environmental impacts. These are the types of fashion houses we wish to see coming up in the future of an increasingly digital fashion landscape.