Behind the scenes: Second Life & designer fashion – a chat with Blueberryxx

2 months ago 40
Metaverse Fashion Week SL: the Jonathan Simkhai collection by Blueberry, February 2022

As I noted in In Vogue (+ Elsewhere): Second Life and Designer Fashion (and courtesy of the likes of Vogue and UK Glamour), Second Life has been making headlines in the world of fashion of late, coinciding with the “Big Four” fashion cities – New York, London, Madrid and Paris – host their semi-annual Fashion Weeks.

The reason for all the media interest – with still more to come! – is because amidst all the on-going hype around many fashion designers diving into the waters of NFTs and the like, New York fashion designer Jonathan Simkhai decided to go a step further and team-up with Blueberryxx and her Blueberry team to offer a special preview of a selection of pieces from his Autumn / Winter 2022 (AW22) at a special show in Second Life ahead of the items being unveiled at his New York Fashion Week show – with the added element that some of the collection would later be made available for sale within Second Life.

Metaverse Fashion Week SL: the Jonathan Simkhai collection by Blueberry, February 2022

In all, 11 of Simkhai’s AW22 collection were given a Second Life “makeover” by the Blueberry team (with one being given that special SL zing, converting from a shimmer gown to a leotard whilst worn). These were initially presented to a special gathering of VIPs from the physical world – models, influencers, celebrities, and journalists  from the fashion, technology and lifestyle industries – at a previewing show held in-world on Tuesday, February 15th, 2022 – itself an interesting challenge, one worth of exploration – and Blueberryxx was willing to take the time to do so with me.

As people frequently point out, for those unfamiliar with Second Life, getting to grips with the platform is no easy matter; just getting comfortable with the viewer and figuring out the basics controls can be difficult enough, leave alone anything else. And when you have a group of dignitaries coming into the platform to see a show, you need to be able to make everything as seamless as possible, and add a little fun to the process.

To achieve this, the Blueberry team did a number of things. Ahead of the event, they prepared bespoke avatars for each of the VIPs, modelled around a photograph of each guest’s face. Each guest was also able to select an item from the SL “Simkhai collection” in which their avatar could be dressed.

On the day of the event itself, the VIPs were able to log into SL and there avatars at the venue, where the real magic began, as Blueberryxx explained:

We wanted to make sure the outside press would have an easy time therefore and so shine a more positive light on SL. We knew that if they had to learn how to cam during the show they were going to have a hard time. And while we  would have loved to have models controlled by humans, the mainstream press hasn’t always been kind to Second Life, and we didn’t want to risk distractions and negativity in having a model crash or fall off the runway or anything like that; we wanted guests focused on the show and the outfits
So we made it almost like watching a short movie: we scripted a Second Life Experience which could take the VIP avatars, seat them at the main runway, and then control their camera for them as the models moved. Then we used Corrade to control the models, allowing us to move them smoothly and have pre-loaded animations ready to play on them.

– Blueberryxx

For those unfamiliar with Corrade, it is an open metaverse scripted agent (bot) library that has a lot of extensibility. For the Second Life Metaverse Fashion Show, it meant that the 11 models (plus the Jonathan Simkhai avatar) could be placed on a “base vehicle” pre-loaded with animations (a basic walk and a series of modelling poses), which could then follow a scripted path along the catwalk runways (each base turning transparent just before the model appear on the catwalk), giving the illusion each model was “walking”, with keyframes being used to halt each base and trigger the poses.

All of the movements of the bots on their “vehicles” was coordinated by a central script system, resulting in a smooth, professional show easily equal to any physical world catwalk show, perfectly timed and executed and with none of the pitfalls of using “regular” avatars. Meanwhile, the venue’s Experience ensure the VIPs received smooth views of the passing models and their outfits, unencumbered with having to worry about the complexities of using the viewer.

Six of the bots backstage “walking” on the animation stands that (when transparent), moved them along the catwalks to give the illusion they are “walking”. The gaps between them would be filled as the remaining five return to their “rest” points

Following the VIP show, Blueberry hosted a total of 8 “public” shows across Thursday, February 17th and Friday, February 18th 2022 for Second Life users. For these events, members of the Blueberry bloggers group were able to witness the show just as the physical world VIPs had, joining the Experience and then letting that take over seating them, etc. Non-group members could then view the shows from adjoining regions, with the 11 models completing walks around runways that extend out and around the venue from the end of the main catwalk.

This split between “VIP” and “non-VIP” apparently caused some grumbling at some of the shows, as it hadn’t been fully communicated ahead of the event. But on the whole, everything worked well: the extended catwalks around the main venue region meant those on the adjoining regions still had plenty of opportunities to appreciate the designs as model parade along them.

Metaverse Fashion Week SL: the Jonathan Simkhai collection by Blueberry, February 2022

Despite the grumbles that were voiced, the majority of the “non-VIPs” at the public shows (myself included) were content to sit at the edge of the main venue region and cam over to watch things (which also gave me the opportunity to sneak some backstage looks to see how things were being run!). And the Blueberry team is certainly keen to make improvements in the future.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive (I was prepared for the worst!), and we’re grateful for the understanding shown with the parts we messed up; we promise to do better in the future – more interactive features for watchers, more seating and even swag bags! 

– Blueberryxx

One of the attractions of the public shows was that Vogue had indicated the Simkhai / Blueberry outfits seen in the show would be offered for sale in-world. As there were no vendors at the venue (which would have perhaps been an ideal place to commence sales to SL users), Blueberryxx was happy to explain what was happening:

We will be offering a sub-set of those in the show, with the actual styles still subject to selection by Jonathan. We’re also discussing future opportunities for styles to be produced and sold in Second Life. However, they will all be charged at Blueberry prices; there is no premium to be charged.  

– Blueberryxx

The scripted agent representing Jonathan Simkhai and his models on the main catwalk

In this, it is important to note that the garments produced by the Blueberry team for Second Life are not the same as the six NFT items being produced and sold by Everyrealm, and which were also referenced in several of the articles published after the VIP show.

Those NFTs (which Everyrealm are calling a “Metaverse Fashion Week Wearables Collection“), are being produced for use via the Ready Player Me platform, theoretically allowing them to be use across multiple games / platforms – although they do come at a premium: prices range from US S250 to – wait for it – US $2600 for the “one-off”.

Metaverse Fashion Week SL: the Jonathan Simkhai collection by Blueberry, February 2022

All of which perhaps underlines a further value of Second Life; a major issue with NFTs is that despite the claims of “democratisation” of art, etc., they largely lean in the other direction – exclusivity through scarcity.

However, within Second Life, everyone has the opportunity to be included in the experience of appreciating / wearing luxury fashions at prices that aren’t going to hurt the bank balance. And this is something that an exploratory partnership between a top New York fashion designer and a top Second Life fashion label can only expand – and hopefully it will if Blueberryxx has a say in things, as she noted to me as we ended our conversation.

My brand is all about approachable and comfortable and a easy to enter community, something Jonathan understands, so we are in discussions about a possible future permanent collection collaboration.

– Blueberryxx

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to setting some of the initial Blueberry versions of Simkhai’s designs becoming generally available in SL, and – hopefully to seeing the discussions of around further collaborations bearing fruit in the future.

My thanks to Blueberryxx for her time and assistance in writing this piece, and to Sophia Harlow for putting us in direct contact outside of SL.

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