- Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week, the first of its kind four-day event, received far more industry attention than any digital fashion event before it.
- Our analysis found that the media discussion focused on luxury fashion, with brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Dolce & Gabbana being among the most influential ones, while Estee Lauder gathered media attention as the only cosmetics firm taking part.
- We suggest that fashion brands can capitalise on the metaverse by moving the industry’s needle forward in the direction of both inclusivity and innovation.
Two years ago, at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, the fashion industry was grappling with how best to present collections and keep brand narratives strong in the digital sphere. Since then, many high-tier labels (not to mention a handful of celebrity ambassadors) have been embracing NFTs and crypto, utilising the virtual landscape to stay culturally relevant, curate experiences and extend influence to reach a whole new digitally-savvy online audience.
Two oft-cited examples of positioning fashion brands in the digital world involved the metaverse concept: Balenciaga’s collaboration with the video game Fortnight and the virtual Gucci Garden experience on the online platform Roblox. The metaverse, while it might seem to be a buzzword and an overhyped concept being pushed by zealots, is increasingly viewed by the fashion indusry as a way to immensely enhance life’s interactions and experiences beyond the physical and temporal boundaries.
And now came the Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW): the first of its kind four-day event, which was held on the blockchain-based platform Decentraland from 24-27 March 2022. The glittering event was not just a milestone for the world of fashion but was also a cornerstone for the concept of the metaverse and everything it is going to become in the near future. It curated a compelling mix of fashion, art, brand activations, panel talks, music, and commerce that emphasised its staying power.
Its arrival was timely — peak hype even, as the metaverse and NFTs moved into the popular lexicon. The media’s verdict has been mixed: according to the reviews, the graphics were rudimentary compared to previous digital fashion events, such as the Gucci’s Roblox garden in 2021, and the experience was often compromised by glitches, including massive delays or events turning into black screens of code. But according to brands and metaverse consultants, the event was a success in terms of excitement and eyeballs.
More than 60 brands, including Dundas, Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Imitation of Christ, Tommy Hilfiger, and Estée Lauder, presented 500 looks—some strictly for the metaverse—while others offered physical counterparts. The event was covered by a number of industry publications, such as Vogue and Elle, as well as more general outlets like Forbes and Fortune.
Luxury fashion in the spotlight
Analysing 274 English-language articles published in top-tier outlets in March and April, we found that Luxury fashion was the most often reffered-to segment in the media debate around the event:
Media outlets noted that while luxury fashion brands have built their legacies on being inaccessible to most, virtual reality is changing their approach. In this regard, Metaverse Fashion Week was an opportunity to introduce premium brands to new customers and to expand their points-of-entry. Not everyone can sit front row at New York Fashion Week–but anyone with WiFi and computer access could experience Metaverse Fashion Week.
The most widely covered part of the show was the luxury shopping district modelled after Avenue Montaigne, where brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Elie Saab, Etro, Dundas, Jacob & Co., Franck Muller, Imitation of Christ, and Nicholas Kirkwood had virtual stores. Journalists noted that it looked less like the famed Paris shopping street and more closely resembled the Miami Design District, where all the stores are modern architectural gems, and the wares inside are displayed like museum artefacts.
For example, Dolce & Gabbana and Dundas used their respective spaces as retail storefronts for wearable designs, which were sold following their runway presentations, while Elie Saab used his virtual presence to present a selection of gowns and drive traffic back to his e-commerce site.
Cosmetics was the second most talked-about sector by share of voice because of the many media mentions of Estée Lauder, the only cosmetics brand to participate in the metaverse. In doing so, it spotlighted one of its most popular products, the Advanced Night Repair Serum, by giving avatars a free virtual glow—a nod to the product’s hydrating qualities. Creative director Alex Box designed a so-called “radiance aura” that avatars could try out by standing under a supersised, digitised version of the signature brown bottle and activating a full-body glow.
Digital fashion brands including The Fabricant, Auroboros and DressX also received attention: for example, Auroboros has collaborated with architecture studio Voxel Architects to create a rocket-shaped virtual building to host the closing event of Metaverse Fashion Week. In addition, a small part of the discussion focused on watchmaking, with high-end luxury Swiss watchmakers leading the way in crypto and metaverse themed watches.
Tommy Hilfiger and Dolce & Gabana lead the way
We used Commetric’s proprietary ‘media conversation impact score‘ metric to identify the organisations with the biggest impact on the media discussion around Metaverse Fashion Week.
We determine an organisation’s media impact in the context of a topic by looking at its media influence score calculated in terms of coverage by high-profile media outlets, topic relevancy score measuring its contextual relevance, and media visibility as measured by the number of mentions.
We found that Tommy Hilfiger, a brand that isn’t considered luxury but rather premium, emerged as the most influential one.
Tommy Hilfiger joined the Metaverse Fashion Week conversation with a pop-up virtual retail space in Decentraland, showcasing its spring 2022 collection and opening a digital store for visitors to buy NFTs connected to the label. Visiting avatars were met with floating 3D incarnations of physical merchandise, something which, in the real world, is more of a runway novelty than standard practice in visual merchandising.
When it comes to digital retail, Hilfiger has long operated at the forefront of innovation. The American powerhouse has been hosting see-now buy-now fashion shows with shoppable live streams and integrated AR technology since 2016.
But Hilfiger first entered the Metaverse via the gaming space, creating a Tommy Hilfiger Island community within the social simulation video game series Animal Crossing in 2020. Most recently, in December 2021, it partnered with the Roblox community creators who reinterpreted some of the brand’s signature pieces. The resulting collection of 30 digital wearables was available for players to purchase for their avatars to wear within the Roblox gaming universe.
Dolce & Gabana came second in terms of influence for unveiling 20 full looks of Metaverse wearables that were specifically designed for the Metaverse Fashion Week. Playing on the term catwalk, it used cat-faced avatar models to showcase the collection. After the show, the full collection became viewable in an exclusive Dolce & Gabbana pop-up in Decentraland’s Luxury Fashion District, curated by luxury-focused marketplace UNXD, one of the core partners of Decentraland in curating traditional fashion brands at MVFW.
Recently, Dolce & Gabbana sold a series of NFTs for about $6 million as part of another collection co-created with curated NFT marketplace UNXD. D&G‘s next step into the Metaverse was the launch of the DGFamily NFT Community, which intends to give members exclusive access to physical and digital drops and wearables.
Another brand that collaborated with UNXD was Elie Saab, which said that embracing digital innovation allows it to expand the horizons of its universe to new communities and push the boundaries within this world.
D&G was followed by London’s iconic luxury department store Selfridges, which teamed up with Paco Rabanne to launch a virtual shop in Decentraland. The launch took inspiration from Selfridges’ location in Birmingham and featured plenty of immersive experiences as well as story-telling that highlighted work from the past through NFTs. Commentators noted that as more brands are becoming interested in the digital space, it seems like few are getting it right like Selfridges, whose store launch combined its own storytelling with new and exciting technology, resulting in the perfect entry to the metaverse.
Meanwhile, Italian brand Etro staged a virtual catwalk show within Decentraland’s digital Luxury Fashion District featuring 20 looks from its new Liquid Paisley gender-fluid capsule range, which was a contemporary take on one of the house’s most iconic codes in a vibrant palette of fresh and joyful shades.
The brand attracted media attention namely with its emphasis on a collection without gender boundaries. Analysts remarked that Etro has always epitomised the spirit of travel and now this represented a new journey into the magic of the metaverse. In addition, the label hosted its first virtual pop-up store, allowing customers to purchase its ready-to-wear and accessories by landing directly on etro.com or to customise their avatars with collection items.
Philipp Plein was under the spotlight with its top-selling item on the Decentraland marketplace – a reassuringly expensive digital $17,610 gold puffer jacket complete with an ultraviolet backpack and floating monster accessory on a snowboard.
CEO Philipp Plein, the maverick showman behind the eponymous label, thinks that the metaverse will develop much faster due to current technology. To address a vast untapped market — according to research by Finder.com, only 2.8% of American internet users currently own an NFT — he’s embarking on an education drive to make the metaverse more accessible to regular folk.
Like the rest of the population, the majority of Plein’s consumers don’t have crypto wallets, so when he launched NFTs he sold them on his own website where people could pay with regular credit cards or ApplePay as well as cryptocurrency. Last year, he began offering cryptocurrency as a payment option for physical goods on both e-commerce and in-store.
The closing show was by Dundas, which also showcased a series of its digital dresses at its pop-up store in the Luxury Fashion District. A curated capsule of the brand’s latest styles were showcased at the fashion show and store via UNXD. These were available for pre-order at the official site of the brand, while bespoke styles by Peter Dundas were designed specifically for the MVFW.
Some brands were part of the conversation even though they didn’t take part in the actual show. Many journalists gave an example of digital fashion’s success by mentioning that last year, a bee-embroidered Gucci bag sold for 350,000 Robux — roughly $4,115 — and is only available for use on Roblox.
In fact, Gucci emerged as the most influential company in our recent digital fashion analysis, as many publications reported that it’s no longer just designing physical products, but also virtual clothes, shoes, and accessories that exist entirely in the digital realm. It’s part of the brand’s bet that in order for luxury fashion to thrive in the next decade, it needs to be seamlessly integrated into the digital worlds where consumers are increasingly spending their time.
We also found that the most influential spokesperson in the debate was Alex Box, a prominent female artist in the metaverse space, who partnered with Estеe Lauder to create an original NFT wearable inspired by the brand’s serum, Advanced Night Repair.
Alex Box was quoted as saying that the metaverse opens up new possibilities to experience the narrative of beauty. She also explained that for this exclusive Estee Lauder wearable, she’s translating the essence of Advanced Night Repair by immersing users in ‘Radiance Aura’, a twinkling constellation of glow and magic.
In this context, media reports also quoted Stéphane de La Faverie, global president of Estee Lauder, who said that when people discover the brand in the metaverse, it’s a gateway for them to engage with it online and in the physical world.
In the meantime, Alissa Aulbekova and Paula Sello, co-founders of Auroboros, explained that their space in the metaverse was built as an explorative scape for the visitor to not only learn more about the collection and Auroboros, but to engage in a way that would not be possible physically: “Inspired by organic, mystical shapes, it is designed for all guests to enjoy the performance and see the collection up close from a 360-degree angle.”
The most influential non-fashion spokesperson was Andrew Kiguel, chief executive and founder of Tokens.com and executive chairman of the Metaverse Group, who commented that companies were using the event partly to figure out how a potential new wave of customers will want to shop in digital environments: “This is the next way the internet is going to get used, and in two, three years, no one’s going to be talking about the metaverse’ it is just going to be part of your everyday life.”
And metaverse expert Cathy Hackl, who is popularly known as the ‘Godmother of Metaverse’ and who serves as chief metaverse officer at consultancy Futures Intelligence Group, was cited as saying that the event sent a signal that virtual fashion is here to stay and will continue to be something that is of interest for brands.
Echoing her comments, the Decentraland Foundation’s guest curator David Cash said that his company sought to present fashion in every form possible, from runway shows to retail experiences, fashion presented as art, film, photography, and even fashion presented in ways that extend beyond the confines of reality.
In a similar fashion, Decentraland Foundation’s Creative Director Sam Hamilton said that through MVFW, the company endeavoured to broaden the horizon of what ‘metaverse’ means: “We just levelled up the playing field for the world of fashion and decreased the limitations. Even in the metaverse, you’ll be needing a ‘fit’.”
The most prominent celebrity in the debate was TV fashion guru Gemma Sheppard, who was the first stylist to enter the metaverse, where she charged real money to style people in a virtual world. Partnering with Metaventures, a company funding start-ups on the Metaverse, as well as the gaming platform Roblox, Gemma, who found fame on Channel 5 ‘s 10 Years Younger in 10 Days, offered fittings and styling tips to metaverse.
How can fashion comms capitalise on the metaverse?
According to Morgan Stanley, Web 3.0 revenue opportunities for the fashion and luxury industries could amount to $50 billion by 2030 with the bank’s analysts predicting that NFTs and social gaming presented the main areas for growth. In a way, the MVFW offered a glimpse of what might happen by 2030.
But what insights can PR and comms draw from the first-ever metaverse fashion show? Here are a few tips, based on our analysis:
- Move the industry’s needle forward in the direction of both inclusivity and innovation. To a certain extent, MVFW could be viewed as a legitimate effort to “democratise” fashion, rendering a traditionally expensive and exclusive event (Fashion Week) accessible to the countless people who would otherwise be barred by geographic or economic barriers. However, those barriers in the real world aren’t going anywhere anytime soon: a Dolce & Gabbana show in real life will still be reserved for an elite audience. At the same time, the event moved the industry’s needle forward in the direction of both inclusivity and innovation, and brands should continue pursuing this by validating the metaverse as a new venue for advertising and reaching consumers. In today’s highly-fragmented media landscape, luxury fashion in particular has a hard time making an impact on younger generations. The metaverse presents a great opportunity for these brands, as many metaverse-based platforms are dominated by younger audiences. By effectively and authentically becoming a part of the metaverse, brands can execute strategies to not only become noticed by younger audiences, but to change the perception of their brand among this much-valued cohort.
- Don’t overhype it. The risk of hyping a metaverse fashion event is there because the 3D design capabilities of platforms are currently restrictive and the end result can be underwhelming – thus those who aren’t evangelists of digital fashion might find it off-putting and could be turned off from other events in the future. Because digital fashion events are still so nascent and vulnerable to criticism, and because the crypto community is so powerful, multiple experts approached by the media declined to go on-record with criticism for fear that it would jeopardise future projects. “Someone always has to be first, and by going first you don’t always get it right,” said Max Vedel, co-founder and creative director at Swipe Back, a metaverse creative agency that has worked with Gucci, Nike and Swarovski. “That shouldn’t be seen as a negative. [MVFW] is the first foray for a lot of big names into the metaverse and while they didn’t always get it right, there were some pretty amazing shows on display.”
- Don’t forget to engage with the real world. Existing in a digital world doesn’t mean forgetting about the real one and addressing its problems via corporate activism. Our recent analysis showed that political activism – a new territory for the fashion industry – can actually bring very favourable media coverage for brands. Around the 2020 US election, some fashion houses did a good job of making their campaigns non-partisan and managed to engage users in discussions about the importance of voting. As such, the fashion brands we analysed demonstrated that corporate activism doesn’t always have to mean taking sides. Moreover, non-engagement brings risks too at a time when consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z-ers, expect brands to take stands, with more and more US shoppers starting to understand their purchasing power not just only in economic terms but also as an enactment of practical ethics. For fashion houses, corporate activism could bolster their reputation when it authentically aligns with their pre-existing brand values, even in the digital world.