A Guide to Fashion and Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality Shopping

Tomorrow, I’m speaking on a panel in Toronto’s west-end on virtual and augmented reality as it pertains to the fashion and beauty industries (view the event listing here). Ahead of this speaking engagement, I thought I’d share some of my research in this space. This morning’s post, part one, will look at the different ways the fashion and beauty industries are experimenting with VR. Tomorrow, I’ll share part two looking at AR.

Before we begin, a definition! (If this isn’t new to you, skip ahead)

Virtual Reality (VR) is a fully-immersive experience where you, the user, are put inside a simulated world, usually via some sort of headset. A key player to know in this space is Oculus, which is owned by Facebook. Oculus is known for its headset the Oculus Rift, as well as the Gear VR, which was created in collaboration with Samsung. There’s also HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR, Google Cardboard, Microsoft HoloLens, and Meta 2—and that’s just a good place to start. In short, for now, virtual reality is about leaving this world and entering a new one, and usually requires you to strap something awkward to your face.

Virtual Reality for Fashion

So what does VR have to do with the world of catwalks, flash sales, and pop-up shops?

Hacking the Runway 

Tommy Hilfiger
Tommy Hilfiger experiments with VR at its Fifth Avenue location in New York. Image from the New York Times

Virtual reality is without a doubt democratizing the way we consume fashion, and giving audiences unprecedented access to catwalks, models, designers, and the industry at large. In the near future, it won’t just be fashion’s elite who get to gaze upon runway shows from the front row. Soon, everyone will be invited to check out a designer’s collection by strapping on a headset. In fact, that’s exactly what Swedish designer Ida Klamborn did for her show during Stockholm Fashion Week in February. Three seats in the front row of her show were sacrificed to make way for three robots constructed from wood and frosted acrylic glass. The robots recorded the show in 360 and broadcast it live for anyone to watch via a cardboard headset or even simply via their mobile phones. The experiment was called the Democratic Front Row, and it aimed to expose new audiences to the fashion week runways.

Three front row seats were sacrificed for robots during Stockholm Fashion Week in February. Image via Fashion Nerd
Three front row seats were sacrificed for robots during Stockholm Fashion Week in February. Image via FashionNerd

Topshop, Tommy Hilfiger, and Rebecca Minkoff are all forward-thinking brands who have delved into VR.  In 2014, Topshop made headlines when it held a competition to win a chance to virtually experience the company’s catwalk collection live during London Fashion Week. Five winners were selected for a spot in Topshop’s storefront window of its flagship location on Oxford Street where they witnessed the show in real-time wearing Oculus Rift headsets. For the next three days, Topshop visitors could re-live the show on-demand using the headsets.

In 2015, Tommy Hilfiger transported guests from their Fifth Avenue store in New York to their fall runway show via a Samsung Gear VR Headset (read more on this project in the New York Times here). Also in 2015, Rebecca Minkoff released a fashion-ified version of Google cardboard. Minkoff fans could get an up-close look at her runway show and feel as if they were there. 

Rebecca Minkoff VR

A Media Pass for Everyone? 

Ask any fashion lover where they’d like to go, and they’ll probably tell you backstage. Since VR is all about transporting you into different realities, it has the power to grant you behind-the-scenes access once reserved for models, makeup artists, and those with media passes. That’s how French fashion house Dior approached VR in the summer of 2015 when they came out with Dior Eyes, a VR headset that took viewers into the heart of a Dior Fashion Show.

Dior Eyes

Another place fashionistas might love to venture is to a photo shoot with their favourite model. Elle Magazine invited viewers to do just that when they teamed up with cinematic VR firm Jaunt (notably the same company who developed the VR experience for Rebecca Minkoff). Using Google cardboard, Elle invited viewers to visit the photo shoot starring the musician and The Voice contestant Jacquie Lee.

Stylish Storytelling

Beyond allowing access to live events and behind-the-scenes experiences, virtual reality is also enabling a new kind of cinematic storytelling, which I anticipate will be a huge opportunity for fashion in the future. As the runway show quickly becomes a relic, VR can replicate the immersive experience of a fashion show, since it allows for almost complete control of the senses.

Again, Jaunt is leading the way here. In 2015, the company collaborated with denim brand 7 For All Mankind to create “Visions of California,” a fashion film for Google Cardboard.

While “Visions of California” reads like a kind of animated magazine ad or long commercial, it indicates where the fashion industry is on the spectrum of innovation; Right now, it seems most brands have simply taken the visuals of television and the internet and transported them to a new medium. Much like the internet looked a lot like print for the first 10 years, virtual reality currently looks a lot like the internet.

The Future of Fashion & VR

I anticipate it won’t be long before viewers become active participants in their virtual experiences (we only need to look to the gaming world for evidence this is where we’re headed). In the not-so-distant future, we’ll outfit our bodies with all kinds of clothing to compliment our virtual experiences and produce hyperreal simulations. One company already working on this is Machina. Their OBE jacket (currently in Beta testing), is a fashion-forward jacket that aims to bring your body into virtual reality with embedded sensors.

The OBE Jacket by Machina is an immersive jacket for gaming

Once we’re immersed in new realities, we’ll want to look good, too. I also anticipate it won’t be long before virtual goods become a real thing. Soon, we won’t simply outfit our real bodies, but our virtual ones, too. After all, you did choose your outfit for your Pokémon GO avatar, didn’t you?

Further reading on VR and Fashion: 

Dazed Digtial—”Is Virtual Reality the Future of the Fashion Show?” 

Wired Magazine—”High Fashion is Finally Embracing Virtual Reality”

Amanda Cosco
Amanda Cosco is a Fashion Futurist and the founder of Electric Runway


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