The Evolution of Craftsmanship: Digitalisation Redefining Luxury Fashion
Fashion’s foray into the digital world signifies the start of a new era in the industry. With the rise of AI models and digital couture, the definition of craftsmanship, marketing and fashion itself is evolving into something bigger.
The evolution of digital fashion is one filled with exciting possibilities. Oscar Wilde famously said: “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.” And since then, we have obscured the boundaries between the two. Imagination and fantasy are components of any art form, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the fashion world is moving further away from realism and embracing the fantasy realm through modern technology. With the growing interest in the metaverse and the virtual world, the fashion industry has transformed itself into a concoction of newfound creativity and innovation through digital couture and virtual influencers.
To stay relevant with the changing trends and customer demands, traditional craftsmanship techniques have evolved over the years, and new methods innovated to achieve nothing short of perfection. In the metaverse, it comes in the form of visual graphics created by coders, illustrators and digital artists instead of an experienced team of Les Petites Mains. Both professions involve a completely different skillsets and tools, but both professions strive for a similar outcome: creating fashion meant to hypnotise and appeal to the large majority.
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When the Dutch digital fashion house, The Fabricant, auctioned off its first-ever blockchain dress, the result was unlike anything that can be achieved in the real world. Created in collaboration with Johanna Jaskowska and Dapper Labs, the virtual garment is a combination of 2D garment pattern-cutting, 3D design, and rendering software. It resulted in a glossy, sheer fabric that shimmers in a manner akin to running rivers under the moonlight. The floating fabric shifts elegantly, bringing a special luminosity that simply cannot be achieved in the physical world. As it breaks the boundaries of physical limitations, the freedom of creativity found in digital fashion gives way to innovation, new heights and a modern reinterpretation of the word “craftsmanship”.
In 2018, virtual influencer, Lil Miquela, attended Prada’s Fall Winter show in Milan — dressed head-to-toe in the brand’s signature pieces — and took over the fashion house’s Instagram account along the way. The collaboration was an impactful and memorable move for Prada, leaving the fashion crowd to wonder why and how a virtual influencer was at a physical, live event. Additionally, virtual influencer Shudu Gram was announced as part of Balmain’s virtual model army, dressed in their Fall Winter 2018/19 collection. With each collaboration, it opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of what digital fashion and virtual influencers could bring to the industry; whether or not it would redefine the meaning of fashion or the degree of impact it would have on the idea of craftsmanship, luxury and marketing in the fashion world.
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This appeal to the digital world attracts a new generation of consumers: Gen Zs and Millenials. Having grown up in the digital era, blurring reality and fantasy, and developing key characteristics of a digital fashion customer. The Fabricant refers to these customers as “Digital Sapients” and according to them, “they number around 3.5 billion individuals globally, with more than 55 per cent of the total purchasing power”. From in-app shopping to embracing the new wave of digital fashion, they’re early adopters of any technology that upgrades and frees up their existence.
As creative agents who craft their own self-expression and curate their virtual identity through the realm of digitalisation, they understand the power and value of community and are willing to work alongside brands who embrace their world of technology. This brings boundless opportunities to brands who are now delving into the realm of the online, from marketing tactics to digital fashion, the world of fashion and art as we know it is undergoing a huge change.
The Birth of Virtual Influencers
Pictures paint a thousand words, and on social media, that’s how the game is played. Grab a follower’s attention with an eye-catching picture and a memorable narrative, and the rest is history. It’s exactly how AI influencers exploded on the social media scene. Visual communication serves as the bridge between non-human influencers and human influencers. But what exactly are virtual influencers?
Born out of the enduring consumer enthusiasm for ACG (anime, comics, and games), these animated models and brand ambassadors are purely computer generated. They’ve become a fast-growing trend that hasn’t escaped the attention of luxury retailers wanting to attract young consumers and offer an experiential consumer experience that continues to thrive in today’s digital world. Like human influencers, they are used to promote products and brands on social media channels, embodying characteristics, features and personalities so realistic that some could easily be mistaken for real people.
Behind each virtual influencer is a creator, a brand and/or an individual responsible for moulding these digital characters and growing their social media platforms. Developing them into internationally recognised influencers followed by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world. With AI models, the world of influencer marketing changed. Professor Sands, a lead author on “Unreal Influence: Leveraging AI in influencer marketing” stated that: while we know they’re not real people and we, therefore, trust an AI influencer less – we found that AI influencers are more likely to have access to larger audiences and higher rates of engagement. People are feigning something new and exciting, and this is exactly what that is.
Digital Fashion and the Idea of Craftsmanship
The most accessible way fashion brands can engage with virtual influencers is by dressing them. As the virtual fashion darling of them all, AI model, Noonoouri pulls off a new chic look every day in visually enticing images. She’s worn Versace’s Spring Summer 22 collection right off the runway and worn iconic archive pieces from Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf and Thierry Mugler. But does this change the way we perceive craftsmanship within the industry?
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The level of access she has to the digital world shines a light on the craftsmanship and creativity that historic fashion brands have to offer. Since the beginning of time, high-fashion and couture business models have always relied on exclusivity, an extraordinary material sourcing selection and bespoke tailoring, it has always been confined to the things we can create and wear in real life. However, in the metaverse, this isn’t a concern. “It’s a digital age where creativity runs free,” says Daniella Loftus, founder of This Outfit Does Not Exist, a platform powering the shift toward digital fashion through education, exploration and exhibition. Now, everything from your physical form to fabrics and silhouettes are up for innovation. Unbounded by physical limitations, designers have the ability to create unworldly things and showcase them through virtual influencers, who bring in a wave of possibilities and a new generation of consumers.
Digital, can offer endless possibilities for presenting the product engagingly and beautifully. Craftsmanship finds no contradiction in the use of technology to uplift the final result of fashion products. “Techniques are plentiful, they can be developed and passed on …they have to be attached to a tangible reality. Fashion is creation, but creation is embodied in tangible products that are underpinned by know-how, by people who have learned [these skills] and who transmit a kind of magic touch to these products… Without craftspeople, where will we be in 10 years?”, stated Bruno Pavlovsky, president of the brand’s fashion division, in a Women’s Wear Daily article. But Rami Kadi, a digital fashion designer, offers a different perspective.
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“When it comes to a physical collection, the focus is on craftsmanship,” she explains. “These artisans are related to the savoir-faire traditions of the maisons. When it comes to the virtual world, it has a new aspect of design that physical collections do not have, there is limitless creativity, aided by coding and computer science, that allows us to redefine the definition of craftsmanship and couture.” He continues, “The combination of digital fashion, whether that comes in the form of virtual models or garments created by software, opens the door to bigger opportunities.”
Creating a new type of craftsmanship, digital fashion implies more than just the use of fashion design Software, explains Professor Lee Lapthorne, the Programme Director for the Department of Fashion at Revensbourne University in London. Digital fashion incorporates a multitude of different skills from various industries, such as gaming or graphic design. And even though digital fashion has gained a lot of momentum in the past year, the luxury sector, along with craftsmanship, will continue to develop, and digital fashion will become a different area within the fashion industry that will grow alongside it.
Craftsmanship is knowledge, and the venture into digital connects the dots between that knowledge to make it more accessible and iconic over time. Although heritage and a brand’s recognition for traditional craftsmanship will always be appreciated and upheld through physical collections, maybe it’s time to embrace the new digital era and embrace the evolution of fashion design.
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