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A Guide to Fashion and Augmented Reality

Yesterday, we looked at the current state of virtual reality and how leading fashion brands are experimenting with this new medium. Today’s post turns our attention to augmented reality. Where virtual reality gives us the opportunity to enter simulated worlds, augmented reality (AR) layers the digital world on top of the physical world (think Pokémon GO). For now, this new, hybrid world is usually viewed through a screen like your smartphone or iPad.

Augmented Reality for Fashion

Snapchat was the first app to popularise AR, with filters that transformed us into everything from bumblebees to dogs to aliens, and had us puking rainbows in our leisure time. While the app may seem like Generation Z’s biggest timewaster, it actually groomed audiences for understanding the possibilities of AR.

Snapchat Augmented Reality

Snapchat groomed us for augmented reality applications that change the way we see ourselves

Changing the way we see Ourselves

Augmented reality offers us the chance to glimpse at alternate versions of ourselves. At the same time, fashion and beauty have always been industries that are about how we see ourselves. Makeup, for example, has always been a kind of augmented reality, so it makes sense that beauty brands like Sephora have been quick to pick up on the potentials of AR. Last year, Sephora teamed up with Toronto-based facial recognition company ModiFace to create Virtual Artist, an app that allows users to try on lipsticks in real-time on the live video of their mobile phone (Read my article for the Toronto Star on the ModiFace X Sephora collaboration here). ModiFace also has applications that can change your hair colour, skin type, and even facial structure.

Just as augmented reality can help us pick the right lipstick, it may also be able to help us find the right pair of shoes. At least that’s what Converse tried out with their Sampler App. As the app’s name suggests, you can use it to try on any shoe from the brand’s collection, and sample the kicks on your foot in real-time through your mobile phone. Once you’ve made your choice, you can snap a photo to share with friends or on social media, and even order your pair.

The Challenge of Fit 

While lipstick and shoes may be relatively easy to simulate, clothes come with the added challenge of fit. The dream of augmented reality is that one day the technology will provide an alternative to the in-store changeroom experience. Instead of trying on multiple options and sizes manually, we’ll be able to digitally see what clothes look like on our bodies with the click of a few buttons.

While today’s technology may fall short of that dream, there are certainly companies trying to nail down the challenge of fit. That said, developments from the early 2000s like the Kinect Fitting Room at Topshop feel gamey and gimmicky. Rather than appearing as if you’re actually wearing the clothes, it looks as though the clothes are layered on top of your body like a sticker. 

Waking up our Clothing 

Beyond enhancing the retail experience, augmented reality also offers the opportunity to bring our clothing to life. Through embedded sensors, chips, and tags, designers are transformming our clothing into a new interface for communication and expression. For example, in 2013 for Amsterdam Fashion Week, Dutch designer Marga Weimans released the first ever augmented reality dress using a hyperfabric that could change and adapt the viewer’s experience of the dress.

Earlier this year at Augmented World Expo (AWE), I met the fine folks at Octagon Studio, an agency focusing on creating augmented reality applications for education, exploration, and (yes!) for fashion. They teamed up with Marks & Spenser to create augmented reality t-shirts for kids. When viewed through the companion app, the animals on these tees jump out at you.

Augmented Reality T-Shirts

Also at AWE, I had the pleasure of meeting Rafi Albo, a VR and AR explorer and entrepreneur who hacked his Pac Man suit so you can actually play the game on his back. Check out his video here.

Play is the name of the game right now, since few have it all figured out. As games like Pokémon GO continue to make augmented reality a part of our everyday lives, we’ll see more brands and retailers experimenting to enhance retail experiences and wake up our clothing in ways never before imagined.

What did I miss? Let me know in the comments. Catch me tonight speaking on the future of augmented and virtual reality as it pertains to fashion and beauty at Tract 9 in Toronto. View the event listing here click click click.

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