February / March are important months in the world of fashion, being the period when the “Big Four” cities – New York, London, Milan and Paris – each hold their own flavour of Fashion Week, giving home-grown and international designers and fashion houses opportunities to show off their collections and lines for the end-of-year autumn / winter season (with each city also hosting a further Fashion Week in September / October where they look towards the following year’s spring / summer season).
Over the last couple of years, these mega events have had to re-invent how they operate and reach their audiences thanks to Covid, with Zoom, Instagram, TikTok, AR and more all being experimented with and leveraged in one way or another. And while 2022 has seen many of the barriers to audience-based events relaxed (such that 5-day London Fashion Week, for example, will feature some 250 designers and fashion houses present their work to audiences at events across the city), some designers are retaining a virtual edge to their work, thanks largely to the all of the buzz around “the metaverse” and things like NFTs.
As reported by the likes of Vogue and Glamour UK, both the New York Fashion Week has, and the London Fashion Week will, feature designers with digital “metaverse” offerings – one of whom in particular has seen Second Life as having powerful relevance when it comes to fashion.
The individual in question is New York fashion designer and 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, Jonathan Simkhai. As a part of the New York Fashion Week event, he offered a special preview of some of his designs from his Autumn / Winter 2022 (AW22) collection at a special fashion show that took place in Second Life.
In all 11 pieces from the collection have been visualised for Second Life by none other than Mishi McDuff (aka Blueberryxx), founder and owner of SL’s popular Blueberry brand (and, I will admit, one of my go-to designers on the admittedly rare occasions I feel I need to spruce up my virtual wardrobe). In bringing the designs to SL, Blueberry has also given them a special “metaverse flair” – utilising the unique advantages of the digital world to offer twists to some of the items that cannot be replicated in the physical world – such as a sequined dress that gradually loses its embellishments and morphs into a bodysuit as the model walks the runway.
The items were presented to an invited audience of models, influencers, celebrities, and journalists from the fashion, technology and lifestyle industries. They had the opportunity to see the virtual items ahead of Simkhai presenting their physical world equivalents on the New York catwalk, so the guests could witness the virtual garments and their unique properties up close – and even try them on.
This may sound like something straight out of 2006-2008, when many physical world brands tried to hop into SL in the belief it would magically allow them to grow their market influence, but actually it isn’t. The Simkhai / Blueberry relationship is far more symbiotic and engaging, and for two reasons.
The first is that as well as being presented to invited guests, the Second Life Simkhai collection will be the subject of a series of catwalk shows open to Second Life residents on Thursday February 17th / Friday February 18th, with shows set hourly from 13:00 through 16:00 (inclusive – see the Destination Guide link at the end of this article). Not only will these serve to show the designs to the Second Life community, they will also – according to Vogue’s Maghan McDowell – allow SL users to purchase them at around L$1,000 per item.
The second reason is that Simhkai – who has already utilised the likes of Zoom and Instagram to engage with clients, customers and audiences and build “communities” – sees Second Life as a vibrant community into which he can tap in a bi-directional manner: he can bring his designs to a new, digital customer base, and he can offer existing customers a new and exciting way they can represent themselves, as he noted in talking to Maghan McDowell:
This is about introducing the brand to a new customer. And for my customer who might not feel like the metaverse means that much to her yet, this will be a nice introduction and discovery. My design philosophy is leaning into dichotomies or juxtapositions. We are all so obsessed about looking at fashion history, but this is really about looking forward and looking into the future, with Covid giving us a kick in the backside.
– Jonathan Simkhai, Vogue Magazine
In this, Blueberry is a particularly good partnership brand: not only has the brand achieved in excess of 20 million unit sales in the course of a decade, it has encouraged a loyal customer base, become a watchword for digital quality and also embraced platforms beyond SL. All of which adds up to the potential for a genuinely symbiotic relationship; given this, it will be interesting to see what comes of this initial experiment.
And how did Blueberry and Simkhai get their VIPs into SL? Rather ingeniously, as McDowell (again) explained in Vogue:
Before attending Simkhai’s virtual show, guests first submitted images that were turned into avatars, then selected which Simkhai piece they wanted their avatar to wear. Guests were dropped into the space via a link, viewing the collection — and other guests — from unique angles, just as they would in the physical world.
– Maghan McDowell
It’s a novel approach – one potentially not that easy to scale without a lot of work – but for small, specialised events, it is something that could help to get SL seen as a potential platform for a variety of events, presentations, etc., where previously it has been ignored. These may not do much to grow the platform’s retained and engaged user base, but that doesn’t mean they cannot help in terms of more focused engagement with the platform by a broad cross-section of possible audiences.
In covering the broader scope of fashion and technology – including the inevitable love affair with NFTs (albeit one with perhaps something more quantifiable for the purchaser that much of the dross / ponzi acts we’ve thus far seen) – the Vogue piece in particular makes for an engaging and informative read. It’s just a bloody shame that it sits behind a pay wall; hence why I include the Glamour piece; it is shorter and less detailed, but it does cover similar ground in talking about the Blueberry / Simkhai experiment and the “metaverse dabbling” (so to speak) of other designers such as Roksanda Ilinčić.
More is promised in terms of digital fashions in the coming year, and it really is good so see Second Life to be sitting pretty much at the centre of things at this point in time. Kudos to Mishi and Jonathan Simkhai in their collaboration; I genuinely hope it continues. And full marks to Jonathan Simkhai for not just going after the (yet to be proven) world of NFTs, but for leading from the front and dicing into the potential of Second Life.
I can’t operate in fear of being criticised, otherwise I would have quit this job six months into it. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. So many New York designers went to Paris to show — and we are going to the metaverse.
– Jonathan Simkhai, Vogue Magazine
With thank to Vikki Vortex for access to the Vogue article.